Kneelers are an attractive sight in a church, but are they used? Just what has become of the act of kneeling in our worship? In church after church it is increasingly ignored.
Does it matter? Yes, it does. When kneeling is requested in a service, disregarding it becomes a further troubling example of the attitude ‘I’ll do what I want’ creeping into our congregations. This is actively encouraged when service sheets give the option ‘Kneel or Sit,’ as they may be found doing now even in our cathedrals.
Some will be prevented from kneeling by age, infirmity or injury. Many have no such excuse, in which case refusal to kneel shows a failure to grasp what we are about in our worship.
The custom of kneeling is a bodily expression of devotion and humility before the glory of God. To use our bodies in this way is a mark of a truly incarnational faith, which affirms that what we do with our bodies is inseparable from what we bring to God spiritually. Slackness in basic bodily reverence is likely to reflect, or lead to, slackness of spirit. Just as important is the truth that obeying together an instruction to kneel is designed to create the sense of a community at prayer, rather than a collection of self-contained individuals.
What can we do to remedy this situation? Or are we, without a struggle, going to abandon kneeling, in the same way that most churches have haplessly surrendered any attempt to establish pre-service silence? To insist afresh that kneelers are for kneeling may seem a small point, but a revival in the disciplines of bodily reverence in church will remind us that God is God, that we are not his equals, and that it is our privilege and our duty to offer him bodily our praise and love and penitence. Calling us to get to our knees together might increase our sense of being one in Christ.
The atheist H.G. Wells remarked that if he believed what Catholics believe he would never dare to enter a church except on his knees. Is it to be an unbeliever who reminds us of what is right and proper conduct for the Christian family at worship?