Why do people kneel before entering a pew?

People kneel before entering a pew for several reasons related to worship, reverence, and tradition. Kneeling is a common practice in many Christian denominations as a gesture of humility before God. Some specific reasons people kneel include:

  • Showing reverence and submission to God
  • Following church customs and traditions
  • Preparing for prayer
  • Demonstrating humility
  • Honoring the presence of Christ in the Eucharist

Showing Reverence and Submission to God

One of the main reasons Christians kneel before entering a pew is to show reverence, respect and submission towards God. In the Bible, kneeling is often associated with worship, obedience and surrender to God’s authority. By kneeling, believers recognize God’s power and humbly place themselves under His lordship.

In the Old Testament, kneeling was a common posture of reverence and worship before God. The psalmist says, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). Daniel kneeled in prayer to God three times a day, even when it was illegal (Daniel 6:10). Solomon knelt in front of the altar when dedicating the temple to the Lord (2 Chronicles 6:13).

When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he told them to go into their room, close the door, and pray to the Father “who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6). Kneeling in prayer recognizes that God deserves our honor and submission. As Paul says, one day “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). By kneeling before we enter the pew, we submit ourselves to God’s authority.

Following Church Customs and Traditions

Another reason people kneel before taking their seat in church is to follow the traditional practices and customs of Christian worship. Kneeling in reverence before God has been a tradition in the church for centuries.

In the early church, kneeling was closely linked with penance and repentance. Sinners would kneel before the bishop when confessing their sins. By the 4th century, kneeling had become a common posture for prayer and penitence during worship services.

During the Middle Ages, kneeling became an expected practice before entering one’s pew. Kneeling cushions or hassocks began to be used in churches to make the posture more comfortable. With the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, kneeling continued in Anglican and Methodist churches but was rejected by some Puritan groups who felt kneeling should only be done during communion.

Over time, kneeling before being seated in the pew became a widespread tradition across many Christian denominations including Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist churches. For many believers, it is simply ingrained as a ritual act of preparation for worship. It connects them with centuries of Christians who have practiced kneeling reverence within church traditions.

Preparing for Prayer

Kneeling before taking a seat in the pew helps mentally, physically and spiritually prepare for prayer and worship. By shifting the body into a humble posture, believers can remove distractions and focus their minds on God.

Kneeling engages the whole body in a physical expression of submission to God. In prayer, it represents “bowing our hearts” to seek and honor God. As one Anglican priest described, “It signals our intention to submit to the Lord…a pause between the world outside and the worship of heaven.”

In some church traditions, kneeling is specifically intended to prepare for prayer. Eastern Orthodox churches encourage kneeling during personal prayer upon entering the sanctuary as a way to prepare for divine worship and leaving worldly concerns behind.

Kneeling to pray before being seated allows believers to quiet their minds, humble themselves before God, and lay any cares or worries at Christ’s feet. It facilitates reflection and readiness to commune with God during the service.

Demonstrating Humility

Kneeling also expresses humility and human frailty before God. By taking a crouched position, believers recognize their dependence on God for mercy and grace.

In Scripture, kneeling represents lowliness and destruction of pride. For instance, on his knees King Manasseh humility repented before God (2 Chronicles 33:12). King Solomon knelt with arms spread toward heaven, aware of his unworthiness before the Lord (1 Kings 8:54). The proud refusal to kneel means rejecting God’s authority.

As finite creatures, human beings are humble “dust and ashes” before their infinite Creator. Kneeling visualizes and embraces this humility. Athanasius, a 4th century church father, wrote “The Lord Himself prostrated upon the ground in the days of His flesh, praying to His Father.” Jesus Himself demonstrated humble submission by kneeling to pray in Gethsemane before his crucifixion.

Believers kneel not because they are unworthy to enter God’s presence, but because they recognize their dependency on Christ’s mercy and grace to do so. It is a posture aligned with the prayer, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (Matthew 8:8). Kneeling spiritually prepares worshipers to exalt the greatness and glory of God.

Honoring Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist

For churches that celebrate Holy Communion, also called the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, kneeling before entering the pew prepares believers to honor Christ’s true presence in the sacrament.

In Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant denominations, Holy Communion is more than just a symbol. They believe Christ becomes truly and substantially present under the form of bread and wine through the mystery of transubstantiation or sacramental union.

Therefore, kneeling before approaching the altar to receive communion shows reverence and awe in the real presence of Jesus Christ. At a Minimum, most churches practicing communion encourage kneeling to pray as part of preparation to receive the elements. Kneeling focuses the heart and mind on the miraculous grace about to be received in the body and blood of Jesus.

When Should People Kneel in Church?

While practices vary, here are some common times when kneeling is encouraged during church services:

Time Explanation
Entering the pew To reverently prepare for worship
During prayer To demonstrate humility before God
During confession To show repentance and sincerity
Receiving communion To honor Christ’s presence in the sacrament
Benediction To receive God’s blessing

However, practices vary between church traditions, so visitors should observe others or ask about customary postures. Some denomination strongly encourage kneeling during the entire service as a form of worship.

Kneeling Posture and Placement of the Body

Proper kneeling posture demonstrates an attitude of humility before God. Here are some guidelines for appropriate kneeling:

– Back straight but relaxed
– Head bowed slightly forward
– Hands folded or extended in front
– Eyes open or closed, as preferred
– Bottom resting on heels or bench

In some churches, attendees kneel on the bare floor. More commonly, cushioned kneeling rails or hassocks provide padding and support.

Many modern churches have continuous cushions that run along the entire pew. In traditional pews, kneeling cushions may be located near the aisle’s entrance. Worshippers kneel on the cushion facing the altar for a brief prayer before taking their seat.

Kneeling Cushions

Kneeling cushions or hassocks provide comfort and proper postural support:

Feature Purpose
Padding Reduces pressure on knees and shins
Tilted front Maintains correct spinal alignment
Secured to pew Prevents slippage
Sturdy Supports body weight
Low profile Allows easy foot access

Quality cushions improve kneeling comfort while maintaining a reverent atmosphere.

Exceptions and Alternatives to Kneeling

While kneeling is a common practice, some exceptions exist:

  • Medical conditions – People unable to kneel due to pain or physical restrictions may sit or stand instead.
  • Age – Elderly worshippers often kneel lightly or remain seated.
  • Children – Young children may sit on a parent’s lap rather than kneel.
  • Denominational traditions – Some church traditions do not practice kneeling.
  • Personal preference – Individuals may choose not to kneel for personal reasons.

In these cases, sitting quietly or bowing one’s head can serve as alternatives to demonstrate humility and reverence.

Kneeling in Scripture

Here are some biblical examples of kneeling in worship, prayer, reverence, and repentance:


– “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (Psalm 95:6)

– “I bow my knees before the Father” (Ephesians 3:14)


– “Solomon knelt down before the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven” (2 Chronicles 6:13)

– “Daniel got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10)


– “Then Abram fell facedown, and God said to him…” (Genesis 17:3)

– “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17)


– “Manasseh was in distress. He…humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. When he prayed to Him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty” (2 Chronicles 33:12)

– “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell to his knees before Jesus” (Luke 5:8)

Theological Significance of Kneeling

Beyond tradition, kneeling holds theological meaning for Christian worship:

  • Recognizes God’s supreme glory and authority
  • Demonstrates the humility and unworthiness of human beings before a holy God
  • Pictures dependence on Christ’s mercy and grace for salvation
  • Opens the heart to commune with the Lord in prayer and worship
  • Prepares mind and body to receive Christ in the Eucharist

The simple act of bending one’s knees bears witness to core truths of the Christian faith.

Kneeling in Other Religions

While especially significant in Christianity, kneeling is practiced across many faiths:

Religion Kneeling Practices
Islam Kneeling in daily prayers facing Mecca
Judaism Kneeling during confession prayers
Hinduism Kneeling to touch forehead to ground before deities
Buddhism Kneeling with forehead to ground in prostration before Buddha

Across faiths, kneeling postures demonstrate humility, respect, repentance, and devotion.


Kneeling before entering the pew has been a significant act of Christian worship for centuries. Though cultures and practices vary, common motivations for kneeling include reverencing God, following church traditions, preparing for prayer, showing humility, and honoring Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Beyond a ritual posture, kneeling engages the body in expressing theological beliefs. For many worshippers, a brief pause to kneel before being seated helps spiritually focus the heart and mind on communing with God.

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