The renting of pews was the primary way that churches in many denominations collected funds prior to the twentieth century. Most of the time families were seated in separate pews. The closer a family sat to the altar or pulpit, the higher its social or economic position. See Free Pew.
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.