(My faith is an important part of my life. I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine. If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)
(Before the notes come flocking in, I am well aware that kneeling is problematic for some folks. They simply can’t do it. Most of us can. I ask only that, if you are able, you consider if you should.)
Sit. Stand. Kneel.
It is a dance during worship. Assuming the posture that moves the worshipper toward the appropriate mindset for that moment in the service. In the Episcopal church, we traditionally add a little juggling to make the dance more intricate. Controlling a Book of Common Prayer (BCP), a hymnal and the bulletin is a skill that takes years to perfect. It’s probably a good thing that we have begun to move away from that complication in our worship life.
I was not always conscious of that dance. I simply went along with whatever was being done by the rest of the congregation. When I began to think about my life in faith, and especially about prayer, the value of those positions began to crystallize for me.
Sitting is the base position for worship. We sit while we hear the sermon and the lessons. It is a position of waiting and a position for hearing teaching.
Standing is a position for proclaiming our faith, and hearing the Gospel. It’s also an old-school way of showing respect. We also stand when we sing. Because that’s just good sense.
Kneeling is a position of humbleness and submission.
When I moved to Richmond, the one thing that surprised me the most about the worship in the Episcopal churches I visited was that almost no one kneels. That varies a bit based on the congregation, but the amount of kneeling is very much lower than what I have been accustomed to over my life.
There are a variety of places where we are given the option to stand or kneel. The default here seems to be always standing. It strikes me as a loss to the worship. Eliminating a whole category of the dance of worship feels wrong to me.
The one place that it really strikes me is at the Confession. I was a bit surprised when I looked at the BCP and realized that there is no instruction (the technical term would be a “rubric”) concerning what position we should adopt for confessing. It does note that after the confession the Bishop or Priest stands to offer the Absolution, so it seems to assume that at least they are in a position other than standing.
In the 1928 BCP and in the Rite 1 service the invitation to confession says, “Let us humbly confess…” It strikes me that if we are “humbly confessing” the things we have done that fall short of the expectations of the Divine, then we ought to be on our knees.
It was awkward when I was on a congregational staff to be the only person in the congregation who went to their knees. It was not a visual that I thought useful, especially as the “new guy” on the ministry team. When my place of worship changed, I struggled for a while since almost no one knelt either. It really shouldn’t matter whether I’m alone in this piety or not, I suppose, but it was nice to see a couple other folks who choose to kneel at that part of the service.
In the end, this is mostly a matter of tradition. Just as Article XXVI of the Articles of Religion (an historic document from the beginning of our American version of the Anglican tradition) states that the unworthiness of the minister does not nullify the effect of the Eucharist, my bet is that the position of the worshipper doesn’t negate God’s ability to hear our prayers. The rest of it falls under the category of “personal piety”.
At the same time, the dance of worship can offer a physical reminder and representation of what we are trying to do. A reminder to humble ourselves strikes me as a valuable piece of a life in faith. Spending a little time on our knees isn’t a bad practice for the whole church, I think.