Whether it’s Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Baptist Chorale, or the congregation of the First Whatsit Church of Whoville; we stand to sing. It’s a fact of human physiology that we can sing louder, longer, lustier, more easily, and more expressively when we are standing.
However, there are people who cannot or should not stand, whether it’s because of artificial joints, a crutch conferred by high-school sports, or even just a sprained ankle. So we announce a hymn and say,
“Please stand if you are able.”
That has always bothered me. It stuck in my mind like a postage stamp on my tongue, and the longer it was there, the more distasteful it got, until I realized the problem. Someone says, “please stand if you are able.” If I’m in the congregation and remain seated, I am publicly admitting to a disability! They intend to be kind to me, but it sounds like they are daring me to stand. If my disability is new or temporary, I don’t think of myself as disabled, so I struggle to stand. I might not get there until halfway through the hymn, compounding my embarrassment. If I’m just dizzy, does that count as “not able”? Meanwhile, from the chancel, one sees wobbly people, holding tightly to the pew in front of them, a cane in one hand.
My thoughts zipped along with the blazing speed of a Galapagos turtle. It only took a few years to think of a solution: instead of “Please stand if you are able,” I now say, “Please stand if you like.”
On occasion, I add, “Or you can remain seated. Or you can walk around to stretch your legs. Or you can do jumping jacks in the back—it’s your Father’s house, you can do whatever you like.”