The Episcopal Church is made up of a wide range of different people and cultures. Such beauty is reflected not only in the membership of our churches, but also in the richly diverse ways in which our members worship each Sunday and on special occasions throughout the year.
As a visitor to Saint Michael's, you are a respected and valued guest. We welcome you and hope you will let us know about your visit. You may do this by filling out and placing a visitor information card in the offering plate. Should you need assistance, we are happy to help you with the order of worship and hope you will find the following information helpful.
At the heart of all Episcopal worship is the red Book of Common Prayer, which outlines the official standard of worship and belief for Episcopalians. Within it is the principal weekly service of the Holy Eucharist, which is also known as Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Mass. For each Christian season of the church calendar year, the Book of Common Prayer lays out the form that services should take and provides the text for most of the prayers. The Book of Common Prayer provides a fixed framework, but not a rigid one. The details vary from church to church and are a matter of tradition and taste with worship services ranging in style from traditional to more contemporary.
The service bulletin designates specific pages in the Book of Common Prayer with “BCP,” which will enable you to fully participate in today’s service.
A calendar of readings from the Holy Scriptures—the Lectionary—lays out which biblical passages are read each Sunday. In every case, while a priest leads the service, the congregation participates extensively by singing hymns and speaking or singing prayers, the creed (statements of our beliefs), responses, and psalms (sacred poems).
Exactly what one does when—when do you sit, stand, kneel, genuflect, cross yourself, say "Amen"?—can be puzzling to a visitor (and sometimes even for Episcopalians), but it should not be intimidating. There is great freedom to do what is most comfortable for you.
In any event, because the essential form of the service remains the same from one Sunday to the next, you soon get used to the practices of the congregation you choose to attend. Afterward, you will begin to experience what most Episcopalians find so satisfying: the mental space that the familiar rhythm of the liturgy opens up to commune more personally and, yet, profoundly with God.
WHAT TO WEAR?
People come to church dressed in whatever way helps them honor God and their community. That can be anything from casual to your Sunday best. In fact, you will often see both sitting right next to each other in the pews. What you wear is not important so much as having an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving.
CANDLES, INCENSE, AND PRIESTS IN ROBES
In the Episcopal Church, you get variety. You will find candles, music, bells, incense, and our priest wearing robes, otherwise known as vestments, all of which make the experience of worship special and set apart from everyday life.
Hymns are found in the blue book, The Hymnal 1982, and are indicated in the service bulletin by the letter “H” followed by the hymn number.
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN
There are two distinct parts to a typical Sunday morning service—the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist—and they are put together very much like a play would be in order to bring you through the experience of feeling the presence of God.
There is a lot of standing, sitting, kneeling, and crossing in an Episcopal service. Do not let this confuse you. People who have been attending Episcopal Church all their lives often have to look around to see what they are doing at that moment. The general rule is that we stand to praise and pray, sit to listen, and kneel to pray and confess. If any of these are uncomfortable for you then please remain seated. There is no right or wrong way to worship. The point is to fully engage in the service, not as a member of an audience but as a full participant. The audience is God. You are part of the community. Whatever you do, just make sure you know why you are doing it and that you are comfortable doing it. Most importantly, enjoy the service.
LITURGY OF THE WORD
The first part of the service is the Liturgy of the Word, which begins with ancient hymns of praise, known as the Gloria or Kyrie, which set the mood for what exactly we are doing: worshipping God. We are all working together to remind ourselves of who we are, who God is, and what our relationship is to each other. We want to be empowered by this experience of worship to live and act as God desires. That is, who we are at our best, not just here on a Sunday morning, but all the time.
There are four readings. One from the Old Testament; one the Psalter in which the congregation participates by reading responsively by whole verse; one from the New Testament, and from one one of the four Gospels, which a Deacon or Priest reads (congregations stand and face the Gospel during the reading). The readings are intended to make you reflect on the readings. Often the readings apply to our lives or to questions we have. They may also make you uncomfortable; you may even disagree. The point, though, is to get your mind involved in worship.
Following the Gospel reading will be a sermon devised to keep you thinking about the readings, yourself, and the world around you.
We then pray for the concerns of our lives, community, nation, and others before making a confession of our sins, which reminds us that, while we want to be living our full potential as the people of God, we often fail. Following the confession is the Absolution, the sign of forgiveness and grace from God for our transgressions. We then pass the Peace by shaking hands, hugging, or whatever people are comfortable doing while saying “the Peace of the Lord be with you,” or “God’s Peace,” or just “Peace,” to your neighbors. The Peace is intended to brings us back to our place in community as welcoming and loving people, as well as, a chance to meet the people with whom you are sharing this time of worship.
The offering is the time when we give back to the church and its ministries as we prepare for the ultimate offering of the bread and wine, which will become the body and blood of Christ. There is, though, a much deeper meaning as we are to give, not only our money to the church, but also our time and resources.
Christ, whose body and blood are present and received by faith in the bread and wine, unites us to his one self-offering (BCP 859) in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship in the Episcopal Church. Also known as Communion, the Eucharist is a means of thanksgiving. We are called to offer our thanks for God’s gifts to us, and are given by God’s grace the inspiration to serve as God’s hands and heart in the world with unity, constancy, and peace. Instituted by Jesus on the night he was betrayed, Jesus identified the bread with his body and the wine with his blood of the new covenant, commanding his disciples to "do this" in remembrance of him (1 Cor 11:23-26; Mk 14:22-25; Mt 26:26-29; Lk 22:14-20).
The Eucharist culminates in the congregation coming forward to take Communion. As we receive communion we are taking in the spiritual presence of or Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, through whom we receive grace, forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life.
If you do not want to receive communion, you are more than welcome to remain in your seat and watch. You are also more than welcome to go to the communion rail, cross your arms over your chest, and our priest will give you a blessing. It is also fine to receive the bread and not the wine. There are many people for whom the wine is not appropriate and they receive communion without it. It is still a full communion.
There are different ways to receive communion. With or without wine; by drinking from the cup or by dipping bread in the cup. Do what feels natural and is comfortable for you. There is precedent for all of it.
There are many different expressions of Eucharist in the Episcopal Church. If you have questions about it, ask one of the ushers or greeters at the church you attend.
After the Eucharist, there is a short closing prayer, after which we receive a blessing from the priest. Afterwards, the congregation is sent forth in the power of the Holy Spirit to love and serve the Lord, full of the experience of God’s grace and strength.