Pulpit at Blenduk Church in Semarang, Indonesia, with large sounding board and cloth antependium
"Two-decker" pulpit in an abandoned Welsh chapel, with reading desk below
Ambo, in the modern Catholic sense, in Austria
19th century wooden pulpit in Canterbury Cathedral

Pulpit is a raised stand for preachers in a Christian church. The origin of the word is the Latin pulpitum (platform or staging).[1] The traditional pulpit is raised well above the surrounding floor for audibility and visibility, accessed by steps, with sides coming to about waist height. From the late medieval period onwards, pulpits have often had a canopy known as the sounding board or abat-voix above and sometimes also behind the speaker, normally in wood. Though sometimes highly decorated, this is not purely decorative, but can have a useful acoustic effect in projecting the preacher's voice to the congregation below. Most pulpits have one or more book-stands for the preacher to rest his or her bible, notes or texts upon.

The pulpit is generally reserved for clergy. This is mandated in the regulations of the Roman Catholic church, and several others (though not always strictly observed). Even in Welsh Nonconformism, this was felt appropriate, and in some chapels a second pulpit was built opposite the main one for lay exhortations, testimonials and other speeches.[2] Many churches have a second, smaller stand called the lectern, which can be used by lay persons, and is often used for all the readings and ordinary announcements. The traditional Catholic location of the pulpit to the side of the chancel or nave has been generally retained by Anglicans and some Protestant denominations, while in Presbyterian and Evangelical churches the pulpit has often replaced the altar at the centre.

Equivalent platforms for speakers are the bema (bima, bimah) of Ancient Greece and Jewish synagogues, and the minbar of Islamic mosques. From the pulpit is often used synecdochically for something which is said with official church authority.

Location of pulpit and lectern

In many Reformed and Evangelical Protestant denominations, the pulpit is at the centre of the front of the church (and any altar or communion table off to one side), while in the Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican traditions the pulpit is placed to one side and the altar or communion table is in the centre. In many Christian churches, there are two speakers' stands at the front of the church. Often, the one on the left (as viewed by the congregation) is called the pulpit. Since the Gospel lesson is often read from the pulpit, the pulpit side of the church is sometimes called the gospel side.

In both Catholic and Protestant churches the pulpit may be located closer to the main congregation in the nave, either on the nave side of the crossing, or at the side of the nave some way down. This is especially the case in large churches, to ensure the preacher can be heard by all the congregation. Fixed seating for the congregation came relatively late in the history of church architecture, so the preacher being behind some of the congregation was less of an issue than later. Fixed seating facing forward in the nave and modern electric amplification has tended to reduce the use of pulpits in the middle of the nave. Outdoor pulpits, usually attached to the exterior of the church, or at a preaching cross, are also found in several denominations.[2] If attached to the outside wall of a church, these may be entered from a doorway in the wall, or by steps outside.

The other speaker's stand, usually on the right (as viewed by the congregation), is known as the lectern. The word lectern comes from the Latin word "lectus" past participle of legere, meaning "to read", because the lectern primarily functions as a reading stand. It is typically used by lay people to read the scripture lessons (except for the Gospel lesson), to lead the congregation in prayer, and to make announcements. Because the epistle lesson is usually read from the lectern, the lectern side of the church is sometimes called the epistle side. In other churches, the lectern, from which the Epistle is read, is located to the congregation's left and the pulpit, from which the sermon is delivered, is located on the right (the Gospel being read from either the centre of the chancel or in front of the altar).

Though unusual, movable pulpits with wheels were also found in English churches. They were either wheeled into place for each service where they would be used or, as at the hospital church in Shrewsbury, rotated to different positions in the church quarterly in the year, to allow all parts of the congregation a chance to have the best sound.[3] A portable outside pulpit of wood and canvas was used by John Wesley, and a 19th century Anglican vicar devised a folding iron pulpit for using outdoors.[3]