What Should I Expect?
The Place of Worship
As you enter, you will notice an atmosphere of worship and reverence combined with the sounds of children in motion as they experience the worship service. Episcopal churches are built in many architectural styles, but whether the church is large or small, your eye will be drawn to the altar and to the cross. On or near the altar, there are candles to remind us that Christ is the “Light of the world” (John 8:12). We also have flowers to beautify God’s house. At the front of the church, there is a lectern and a pulpit for the proclamation of the Word. Here the Scriptures are read and the sermon is preached.
The Act of Worship
In the pew, you will find the Book of Common Prayer. This allows the congregation to fully participate in every service. You may wonder when to stand or kneel. Practices vary. The general rule is to stand to sing (hymns are found in the Hymnal in the pew rack). Other songs may be printed as part of the service. We also stand to say our affirmation of faith, the Creed, and for the reading of the Gospel. Psalms can be sung or said, sitting or standing. We sit during readings from the Old / New Testaments, the sermon, and the choir anthems. We stand or kneel for prayer to show our gratefulness to God,
The Regular Services
The principal service is the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion). In some churches, it is celebrated without music at the early Sunday morning service. Weekday celebrations are generally without music and without sermon. When celebrated at a later hour on Sundays, or on great Christian days such as Christmas, music and a sermon are customary. Another service is Morning Prayer. The parallel evening service is Evening Prayer. These services consist of psalms, Bible readings, and prayers, and may include a sermon. They may be with or without music. While some parts of the services are always the same, others change. At the Holy Eucharist, for example, two or three Bible selections are read. These change each Sunday. So do the psalms. Certain prayers also change, in order to provide variety. Page numbers for parts of the service printed elsewhere in the Book are usually announced or given in the service bulletin, but do not be embarrassed to ask your neighbor for the page number. You will find the services of the church beautiful in their ordered dignity, God-centred, and yet mindful of the nature and needs of human beings.
Before and After
It is the custom upon entering church to kneel in the pew for a prayer of personal preparation for worship. In many churches, it is also the custom to bow to the altar on entering and leaving the church as an act of reverence for Christ. Most Anglicans do not talk in church before a service, but use this time for personal meditation and devotions. At the end of the service, some persons kneel for a private prayer before leaving; others may sit and listen to the organ postlude.
Coming and Going
Ushers will greet you and provide you with a service bulletin. If you need assistance walking to a pew, they are happy to help. If you have questions about the service, they will answer them. Following the service, the priest greets people as they leave.
What Clergy Wear
To add to the beauty and festivity of the services, and to signify their special ministries, the clergy and other ministers customarily wear vestments. Choir vestments usually consist of an undergown called a cassock and a white gathered overgown called a surplice. The clergy also wear a cassock and surplice. Another familiar vestment is the alb, a white tunic with sleeves that covers the body from neck to ankles. Over it (or over the surplice) ordained ministers wear a stole, a narrow band of colored fabric. Deacons wear the stole over one shoulder, priests and bishops over both shoulders. At Holy Eucharist, the priest wears a chasuble (a circular garment that envelopes the body) over the alb and stole. The deacon’s corresponding vestment has sleeves and is called a dalmatic. Bishops sometimes wear a special headcovering called a mitre. Stoles, chasubles, and dalmatics, as well as altar coverings, are usually made of rich fabrics. Their color changes with the seasons and holy days of the Church Year.
The Church Year
The Anglican Church observes the traditional Christian calendar. The season of Advent, during which we prepare for Christmas, begins on the Sunday closest to November 30. Christmas itself lasts twelve days, after which we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany (January 6). Lent, the forty days of preparation for Easter, begins on Ash Wednesday. Easter season lasts fifty days, concluding on the feast of Pentecost. During these times the Bible readings are chosen for their appropriateness to the season. During the rest of the year, the season after Epiphany and the long season after Pentecost (except for a few special Sundays), the New Testament is read sequentially from Sunday to Sunday. The Old Testament lesson corresponds in theme with one of the New Testament readings.
You Will Not be Embarrassed
When you visit our church, you will be a respected and welcome guest. You will not be singled out in an embarrassing way, nor asked to stand before the congregation nor to come forward. You will worship God with us.