Watching the congregation from pulpit and chair, ministers soon learn, if they didn't know before, that many people sit in the same seat, or at least nearly the same seat, week after week. And when they've come as a couple to church, and one of them dies, the other, after an absence, returns to church and usually sits in a different part of the sanctuary. It's just too painful to sit in the old place where one sat with one's beloved, by one's self. So they make a change.
(There are exceptions to this rule, of course. The one I remember most vividly was a woman who had been attending the same New England Unitarian church for nearly her whole life, and when she lost her husband of nearly 50 years, she began a practice of hanging out in the vestibule with the ministers until a stranger came in, then attaching herself to that stranger and asking them to sit with her. Sometime during the service she would confess to that stranger that when her husband died, she had tried all other parts of the sanctuary and didn't like any of them and then had decided that what would make her old seat, "new" was to invite a newcomer to sit in it. She always thanked them, invited them to coffee hour, introduced them around, and disappeared. That church had a good retention rate of visitors, and every new member class produced at least one, usually several people who told that story of being welcomed and made to feel useful on their first visit.)
These past few weeks a newly widowed woman has come back to church, and she has also tried new places to sit in the sanctuary. Last week she found a seat in a nearly empty section of the sanctuary only to discover that it fills up late with young adults and their babies. (Ministers see all these little dramas...you don't think we notice, but we notice everything.) But this week, I was gratified to see, that she was sitting in a new place with another widow...a woman who, this time two years ago, had to find herself a new place of sanctuary in the sanctuary.
This is a big church, and most people are a part of a discrete sub-group and of course, ministers don't know everything but I didn't think that these two women knew each other. But somehow, they got together and they sat together during a mother's day service without the spouse who was, for each of them, the center of their lives and even their motherhood. Somehow the larger community that is the church worked its little magic, and this minister saw it and found it very, very good.