A modest thought: standing for worship

Something lighter today. In some old Universalist baptism rites, we hear this traditional question with Satan taking on a new guise.

Renouncing, therefore, the fellowship of evil, will you endeavor to learn of Jesus Christ, and co­operate in the study and practice of his religion?

Fellowship of Evil? Sure I’ll renounce it, especially if it means I don’t have to move folding chairs. Members of fellowships will get that one.

I hate folding chairs. I hate moving them and having them bang my shins. I hate the noise the metal ones make. I hate time it takes. I hate how uncomfortable they are. But they’re pretty darn common for new churches (and some old ones) and I want to make operating a new (and probably small) church as easy as possible.

Here’s a radical thought. Do without them and stand. OK, a few chairs for those (no judgements) who need to sit; perhaps already in the borrowed room. A few wingbacks or the like in the Garden Club room the congregation rents, say.  Plus prime reserved space for wheelchair users. Cushions for small, collapsing children? (No need to wrestle with strollers!) Everyone else, up.

Not so strange a thought. In my experience, people often stand for an hour or more after the service to enjoy one another’s company and a cup of coffee. And we Protestantish types do have standing services, though we don’t often think of them as such: graveside services, small weddings, devotions at campgrounds.

But we think of church and we think of seats, if not pews. Why? Many Orthodox Christians don’t, of course, so perhaps that’s the influence of reading Orthodox missological works lately. (More about that soon.)  But as I’ve written before, it was only a few generations back that owning or renting “a sitting” was highly identified with church membership itself. And those days are over. Of course, you would grow weary in the second or third hour of worship, and would want a rest, but again those days (for Unitarian Universalists) are past.

Provided people are warned, a standing service has some advantages:

  • a wider variety of meeting space available
  • time and volunteer labor saved moving chairs; perhaps a saving of fees, too.
  • standing worshippers take less space
  • freedom of movement fights fatigue
  • standing worshippers can, as a group, better shift to accommodate newcomers. (Think of how people self-organize in an elevator.)
  • likewise, they can better shift to focus attention away from how few there are in a large space

It is, however, strange. And there would be pressure to keep the services briefer than usual. (Is this bad?) But it’s worth an experiment. And I’d like to hear if anyone has tried this.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. No No No No NO! I agree that folding chairs lack aesthetic appeal, but there are comfortable ones these days, they can be managed quietly, and people should not feel conspicuous for choosing to sit. This is hardly the way to invite the overworked, overstressed of the world into our services. And on a class basis, might I point out that the most common female occupation is “retail sales associate,” which mandates extensive hours of standing and highly irregular lifting and moving tasks. Many of said workers have physical problems that cannot be addressed due to lack of health insurance, aggravating the issues caused by the job.

    Let me repeat:


  2. Yes yes yes yes YES!

    I too rather like the Eastern Orthodox approach, with minimal pewage around the perimeter of the worship space and everyone else standing. For all the reasons you mention Scott. But also, I have back problems and have never found a chair that does not cause me pain or increase my pain – even with a triple maximum dose of Aleve in my system. What I like to do – but can’t because of the leadership roles I play in worship – is arrive just as things have started up and stand at the back, out of sight for most of a congregation. But it is the rare congregation that allots space for people who prefer or need to stand.

    Of course, it would be necessary to educate people to arrange themselves in ways that do not block short or behind tall or those in chairs behind everyone on their feet, and such. But we already have to figure out how to avoid sitting behind people with larger stature and hats or hair that block sight lines.

    Besides, think how easy it would be to do inclusive, participatory liturgical dance (not the pretentious performances that has sometimes been inflicted on congregational “audiences”), the easy egalitarianism of the space and motion through it.

    Absence of more than the necessary chairs would allow with great ease orienting to floor plans and specific services with a circle one week, a long-aisle rectangle, a short-aisle rectangle

    So let me repeat:


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.