What to expect on your first visit...
Sunday is traditionally when Episcopalians gather for worship. The principal weekly worship is the Holy Eucharist, also known as the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion. In most Episcopal churches, worship is accompanied by the singing of hymns, and in some churches, much of the service is sung. At Grace Church we offer a Sunday worship service at 10:15 AM. In addition, we also offer the Holy Eucharist with prayers for healing on Wednesdays at 12:10 AM.
Episcopalians worship in many different styles, ranging from very formal, ancient, and multi-sensory rites with lots of singing, music, fancy clothes (called vestments), and incense, to informal worship 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.
Liturgy and Ritual
Worship in the Episcopal Church is said to be "liturgical," meaning that the congregation follows certain forms and prays from texts that don't change greatly from week to week during a season of the year. This sameness from week to week gives worship a rhythm that becomes comforting and familiar to the worshipers.
For the first-time visitor, liturgy may be exhilarating... or confusing. Worship may involve standing, sitting, kneeling, sung or spoken responses, and other participatory elements that may provide a challenge. However, liturgical worship can be compared with a dance: once you learn the steps, you come to appreciate the rhythm, and it becomes satisfying to dance, again and again, as the music changes.
The Holy Eucharist
Our Sunday worship service, called The Holy Eucharist, comprises two parts: The Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Table. In spite of the diversity of worship styles in the Episcopal Church, Holy Eucharist always has the same components and the same shape.
Order of the Service
We begin our worship by praising God through song and prayer, and then listen to three readings from the Bible: usually one from the Old Testament, something from the Epistles, and (always) a reading from the Gospels. A response to the First Reading, almost always a Psalm, is sung or recited by the congregation.
Next, the presider (usually the priest) interprets the readings appointed for the day in a homily.
The congregation then usually recites the Nicene Creed, written in the fourth century, which outlines the church's statement of our belief in the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even though we recite the Creed, there is no assent to any creed that is required. We acknowledge that there are various ways of understanding and interpreting the traditional ‘words’ of the Christian faith, and we encourage people to think for themselves and engage in study, prayer, and discernment.
Next, the congregation prays together--called the Prayers of the People. These prayers change from week to week, and offer prayers for the church, the world, those in need, the sick, and we thank God for all the good things in our lives. The presider (priest, bishop, or lay minister) concludes with a prayer that gathers the petitions into a communal offering of intercession.
In certain seasons of the church year, 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 Liturgy of the Word is complete with the congregation greeting one another with a sign of "peace." Immediately following this, the worship services moves from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Table.
The Liturgy of the Table
Next, the priest stands at the table, which has been set with a cup of wine and a plate of bread or wafers, raises his or her hands, and greets the congregation again, saying "The Lord be With You." This begins the Eucharistic Prayer, also called "The Great Thanksgiving," in which the presider tells the story of our faith, from the beginning of creation, through the choosing of Israel to be God's people, through our continual turning away from God, and God's calling us to return. Finally, the presider tells the story of the coming of Jesus Christ, and about the night before his death, on which he instituted the Eucharistic (thanksgiving) meal (communion) as a continual remembrance of him.
The presider blesses the bread and wine, and the congregation recites the Lord's Prayer. Finally, the presider breaks the bread and offers it to the congregation, as the "gifts of God for the People of God."
The people then come forward and share the consecrated bread and the wine.
All are welcome at the Lord's Table. All baptized Christians--no matter 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.
Visitors who are not baptized Christians are welcome to come forward during the Communion to receive a blessing.
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.