Posted by Kay Morgan-Gurr on 9 April 2015

1. The Introduction

We’ve all heard it - the introductory words of the worship leader: “Let's all stand to worship”. It’s usually at this point I’m trying to stifle the impish desire to shout out, pantomime style: “Oh no we won’t!”

I’ve also witnessed a worship leader shout: “Let’s all raise our arms - go ahead, raise them up to show God our worship!”, just as a gentleman with no arms entered the room. After some mutual giggles between this gentleman and myself, he said, “Well, I’m doing it in my heart….”

Even though I and some of my friends can sometimes see the funny side, this language isn’t very inclusive.

It sounds such a small and silly thing doesn’t it? But for those of us who can’t stand to worship, whether that’s temporary or permanent, it’s more than just words.

A young man I know, who uses a wheelchair, once asked his mom if she could stand him up when they sang. No small feat for mom, because she would have to support his weight for the entire time of worship. When she asked him why, his response was quite sad: “Because that man said I have to. God won’t like my worship if I don’t stand.”

Now, we all know that isn’t what the worship leader meant, but in a small way my young friend was right. Sometimes, those of us who can’t stand (or raise our arms) feel as though our worship is invalid when non-inclusive phrases like this are used.

There are many ways to be inclusive with our language, but for some of us it’s going to require a new approach to our phrasing and changing long held habits in the way we introduce worship.

Phrases such as “Can I invite you to stand if you’re willing and able?” are better, not just for those who are disabled but for anyone who for many reasons, just doesn’t want to stand.

2. What Song Are We Singing?

Assuming your church or event has accessible formats of song words (large print, braille etc), you will find these come with a few issues too! To have these words ready for those who need them, those who produce them need the time to…. produce them!

I’m all for the Holy Spirit moving and guiding, but I do believe He can guide and inspire during our preparation just as much as He can during the meeting. If we think like this, it means that when it comes to the worship time everyone can join in, without excluding our friends who are blind or have poor vision. Of course, we can be forgiven for the occasional impromptu song when the Holy Spirit speaks, but to choose all the songs as we lead means a good proportion of folk who can’t see screens will be excluded from worship.

Another issue that comes up when using accessible formats is finding the song that’s currently being sung if no one has introduced it. I have been sitting next to a lady using braille who managed to find the song we were singing, just as they moved onto the next song. What made it amusing was the song’s refrain: “…And the Blind Will See”.

I am told by experienced worship leaders that announcing which song is being sung next can “spoil” the flow of worship. Could I be really cheeky and reply to that statement? Please forgive my rudeness in this, but surely not introducing the song spoils worship big time for those with sight problems?

But in announcing the next song, we hit another problem! Is the song listed under its first line, its title or its refrain, chorus or bridge?

It’s a minefield, but it’s also something bigger. Accessible Worship is a gift. What do you think?

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