Living Language: "Please Stand"

May 29, 2024
Scattered Tiles with Letters

“Please stand.” The words are so easily offered in preparation for a hymn. Yet they assume that everyone present is able to stand and that those who are not able to stand will just understand that they aren’t expected to do so. Yet, many of us have been trying other ways of indicating when people might stand for a part of worship. We know that people who may be visitors or new to the congregation rely on these cues.

We want to be welcoming churches. We may have created parking stalls that work for those exiting their vehicles in wheelchairs. We may have added ramps, extra-wide doors, and specially equipped stalls in the bathroom. After all these approaches to creating a welcoming space, it may be our words that diminish the welcome.

What are the alternatives to “please stand”? We may try:

•     “Please rise in body and in spirit, as you are able.”

•     “Please rise in body and in spirit, as you prefer.”

•     “You may wish to stand for this hymn.”

But we are still focusing on rising as the action that is considered appropriate, when rising may not be possible, either permanently or temporarily, for various people in the congregation, such as a young parent with a baby asleep in their arms, a person who moves around in a wheelchair, someone with back issues (who actually may prefer standing for most of the service rather than sitting), or someone who is feeling physically, emotionally, or spiritually tired that day.

Consider also that a person might really like to be “able” to rise or “prefer” to rise or “wish” to rise, even though for them, currently or permanently, that is not possible. “As you are able” still focuses on ableism more than inclusion.

Some might suggest using “in body or in spirit,” but does this mean that those who rise with their bodies are not rising with their spirits? One perhaps could use “in body and/or in spirit,” but the phrasing becomes awkward to share.

Language is a challenging, wonderful, and mysterious entity. When we try to not voice one thing, we may inadvertently declare something we didn’t intend. The intention to use language that is truly inclusive begins just there, as an intention. But we must continue to ask ourselves, “How will people receive these words? What will they mean to people in the congregation who come with differing abilities, differing needs, and differing approaches?”

There is no one simple answer for how we include everyone. We keep learning, listening, and trying out various ways of offering the invitation, and we take time to listen and engage with people in order to learn from them how they are receiving the words. We take the lead. We don’t leave it up to those with differing abilities to just fit in. We will also have to get over the idea that we all have to do the same thing at the same time. So, you might try:

•  “Please present yourselves, body, mind, and spirit, as is comfortable for you today.”

•  “Please choose the posture of prayer (song) that fits for you right now.”

Please let us know what other phrases or approaches you have developed.

Of course, these are not as simple as saying, “Please stand.” But the point is not to keep things simple, neat, and tidy. The point is to find the language that welcomes the beautiful diversity of people created in God’s image into the sharing of worship.

Susan Lukey, Editor