What to Expect
Episcopalians worship in many different styles, ranging from very formal, with vestments and incense, to informal services with contemporary music. Yet all worship in the Episcopal Church is based in the Book of Common Prayer, which gives worship a familiar feel, no matter where you go.
Worship in the Episcopal Church is “liturgical.” The congregation follows service forms and prayers that don’t change greatly from week to week. This gives worship a rhythm that becomes comforting and familiar to the worshipers.
For the first-time visitor, liturgy may be exhilarating or confusing. Services may involve standing, sitting and kneeling, as well as sung or spoken responses, that may provide a challenge for the first-time visitor. Here’s what to expect.
We begin by praising God through song and prayer, and then listen to as many as four readings from the Bible—usually one from the Old Testament, one from the Psalms, one from the Epistles, and always a reading from the Gospels. The psalm is usually sung or recited by the congregation.
After the sermon, the congregation recites the Nicene Creed. Written in the 4th Century, it is the Church’s statement of what we believe.
Prayers of the People
Next, the congregation prays together—for the Church, the world, and those in need. We pray for the sick and for those who have died, and thank God for all the good things in our lives.
The congregation formally confesses their sins before God and one another. This is a corporate statement of what we have done and what we have left undone, followed by a pronouncement of absolution. In pronouncing absolution, the presider assures the congregation that God is always ready to forgive our sins.
The congregation then greet one another, usually with a handshake and a message of “Peace” or “Peace be with you.”
In the Episcopal Church, the entire service is referred to as the Holy Eucharist. The actual taking of bread and wine is the central focus of the service.
The priest stands at the altar, which has been set with a cup of wine and a plate of bread or wafers, and begins the Eucharistic Prayer. The priest blesses the bread and wine, and the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer. The bread is broken and offered to the congregation, as the “gifts of God for the People of God.”
All baptized Christians‚ regardless of age or denomination‚ are welcome to receive communion. Episcopalians invite all baptized people to receive, not because we take the Eucharist lightly, but because we take our baptism so seriously.
To receive communion, follow others to the altar and kneel or stand in an open spot at the communion rail. A minister with bread will come around first. Simply hold your open hands out in front of you, one on top of the other. The minister will place a small wafer in your hand and say, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.”
You may eat the bread then or hold it until the wine comes. A minister with a chalice of wine will stop in front of you and say, “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” You may either drink directly from the chalice or, if you saved your bread, simply dip it into the wine and consume both together. When you have received both bread and wine, you can stand and return to your seat.
Visitors who are not baptized Christians are welcome to come forward during the Communion to receive a blessing from the priest. If you wish to receive a blessing, instead of holding your hands out to receive the bread, simply cross your arms over your chest. The priest will take it from there.
At the end of the Eucharist, the congregation prays once more in thanksgiving, and then is dismissed to continue the life of service to God and to the world.