It is generally my habit when attending church to sit on the end of the pew. This past Sunday morning, just as the worship period was starting, my Mom & Dad, who were greeters that day, came to my pew, and because they'd need to leave a minute or two early to get to their greeting spot to greet people leaving the building, they suggested I move in toward the center of the pew rather than them going in to their normal spot, and having to climb over me later or me having to leave the pew to let them out. It made sense.
Except that I have a bit of a problem with crowds. It's not always a real problem; sometimes it's just a minor discomfort; sometimes it's not even a problem at all. When I was asked to move inward, red flags went off in my brain, but I didn't have time to consider the issue; I just moved inward.
As soon as I was inside the pew and trapped, I instantly locked up. I mouthed some of the words to the songs, but was not singing; I was panicking. I needed out. All I needed was to get to the aisle, or better yet, outside the building. I was useless.
About half-way through the sermon, some things the preacher said distracted me enough that the panic attack started fading, and by the time of the invitation song, I was okay.
Later that day:
That night, knowing my parents were still greeters, I sat on the pew in front of our regular pew, so that I could have my own end of the pew. It might not have been a problem for me to be pushed inward that night, but I wasn't taking chances. One of the women on the row behind our normal row questioned me about it, and I explained that I wasn't about to get trapped inside the pew again. She said she understood; her husband, when he was alive, would only sit on the end of the pew because otherwise it made him panicky.
That triggered a memory I had when I visited Stephen and Esmé last. Talking to one of the women at church there, I mentioned that the pews in their new building were exceedingly long, and she mentioned that the members of the church realized that too late, discovering after the pews were in that most of the men avoided the inside of the pews.
After returning from that memory, I looked around the auditorium at where the men sat. I saw one man who was not on the end of a pew.
My brain clicked: Men have some sort of aversion to being trapped on the inside of a pew.
Since a huge bulk of church attendance involves sitting in a pew, and there are relatively few pew ends available, I wonder if many men might not have a natural unrealized aversion to church attendance because of this. I know that in my own case, I often dreaded going to University church here in Abilene; I couldn't really verbalize what exactly I dreaded; I just knew that University was too crowded and that made me dread the idea of going. Once I started attending with Mom and Dad at 5th and Grape, one of the reasons I found attendance to be easy there is because I was physically comfortable; I never felt crowded. (Although this past Sunday night, a friend whom I told about my panic attack put 2 and 2 together and said something to the effect of, "Oh, that's why I always see you go out the side door instead of the door everyone else uses, which would entail going through a gauntlet of hand-shakers and greeters. I've always wondered.")
In other words, perhaps something as simple as replacing the pews, or rearranging them so that the men don't feel trapped, would make more men feel comfortable in the assembly building, and perhaps, such as in my case, remove a sense of dread toward attending.
Just a thought.