(First posted in 2010 when the PC movement was more of a curiosity than a religion.)
A few months ago I attended a funeral at a suburban Presbyterian Church and noticed something in their printed order of worship which I found to be very funny and thought-provoking. In their bulletin, the instruction, “Stand,” is always followed by, “as you are able.” Now, I am completely used to seeing those same four words after the instruction to kneel at my own Lutheran church but was taken aback to realize that Lutherans have not given any consideration at all to worshippers who are, for one reason or another, unable to stand. Actually, the words, “if you are able to get back up,” might be a more appropriate concession during parts of the service where kneeling is suggested.
Of course Presbyterians are not kneelers, I guess because Calvin was a lawyer before he was a pastor. Lawyers are not accustomed to kneeling. Luther, on the other hand, had become well accustomed to kneeling as a Catholic priest and made that submissive position a regular part of Lutheran worship. I suspect that, if Presbyterians were kneelers, both kneeling and standing would be considered optional based on ability. Only sitting would be required of Presbyterian worshippers although Lutherans will probably continue to require both sitting and standing. It is interesting that neither group requires singing, leaving that entirely up to the discretion of the individual worshippers.
It seems that there are two or three things we could do to either eliminate these differences and move slightly in the direction of church unity or to present more rational and defensible instructions. We could add the phrase, “…as you are able,” to instructions to sit and to stand. This would accord wheelchair bound individuals and hemorrhoid sufferers the same accommodation we now accord those who are unable to kneel. I have no idea whether the Presbyterians would be willing to go along with making sitting optional.
Or, we could, in a blow to the political correctness movement, eliminate all such qualifying phrases and just print the simple instructions: Sit, Stand, Kneel, Pray, Sing, etc., and just leave the choices up to the individual worshippers. After all, if someone who is unable to kneel, were to kneel, or if someone who is unable to stand were to stand, those would be miracles worthy of celebration and thanksgiving and not at all something to regret or criticize. (People who are unable to sing, me included, frequently sing, but such instances are not normally considered miracles.)
Finally, we could truly celebrate our Christian freedom and print after each such instruction the phrase, “…if you want to.”
Of course there are environmental considerations which probably rule out any expansion of these qualifying phrases since printing of “as you are able” twice in each bulletin times 250 or so bulletins per week times 52 weeks per year (104,000 words) has a carbon footprint approximately equal to the difference between one 60-watt incandescent light bulb and one of those squiggly little fluorescent bulbs Al Gore wants us to use.
And, if the subject is brought up in a Lutheran congregation, someone is bound to play the “change” card.
Here’s a note added April, 2011. Fifteen months after writing the above I saw this in the bulletin at a big Methodist church:
*Congregation standing. If standing is uncomfortable, please remain seated and continue your participation.
As I implied in Big Methodists, it is tough to out-accommodate Methodists, though there is still little consideration for those who are uncomfortable sitting…or who simply prefer not to participate. This is closer to allowing the worshipers to do whatever suits them…which seems quite reasonable to me. Anyway, I still like those big Methodist churches and am increasingly uncomfortable with the PC movement.