If you have never visited us before — or perhaps never experienced Episcopal liturgical worship, here’s what you can expect.
You will enjoy a warm welcome. We love visitors! And if at any point in the service you are confused, just ask the person next to you to help. We all had others helping us as we learned to worship in the Episcopal way.
You will notice that everyone participates in worship. The congregation does much more than just sing together. We pray together. We join in saying the Creed together. We move together — standing together to praise, sitting together for instruction, kneeling together for praying and for Communion.
You will join in praying prayers that have stood the test of time, ones prayed by Christians worldwide for many hundreds of years. There can be extemporaneous prayers in Episcopal services, too, but for the most part we use these timeless words that so beautifully capture our yearning for God and our joy in his love and mercy.
Episcopal worship emphasizes the holiness and majesty of God — and that prompts respect and reverence that is not always part of other church services. Everything about an Episcopal service points to our need for God and his mercy in forgiving us and making us whole in Christ. This aspect of worship is often forgotten, and reencountering it can be a deeply moving experience.
There is far more Scripture used in an Episcopal service than in many other church services, where the only Scripture read often is a small passage that will form the basis of the sermon. We read as many as four readings from Scripture — an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, an Epistle Reading, and a Gospel Reading. In addition, many of the canticles (ancient songs of praise) we say or sing are from Scripture, as are many of the words in the liturgy of the Prayer Book. An Episcopal service is packed with Scripture.
We don’t hold back when confessing our sin. Our prayers leave no wiggle room. “There is no health in us,” we admit. “We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under [God’s] table,” we say together. There are no feel-good, self-help sermons here. Episcopal worship is about admitting we are utterly incapable on our own of pleasing God or earning our salvation, and admitting that only by what he did on the cross on our behalf can we be forgiven and saved. This is the source of our victory, our joy, our peace.
At our services, we celebrate Holy Communion, and if you are a baptized Christian you are welcome to receive the bread and wine — the Body and Blood of our Lord. We use wine and wafers of bread. You may take the bread and then drink from the common cup, or you may dip or have the bread dipped into the wine (called “intinction”). If you or your family members prefer not to receive Communion, you may still come to the rail and receive a prayer of blessing — just cross your arms across your chest so the priest will know.
We sing hymns — not because old hymns are better than new praise songs (because there are some great new praise songs and some horrid old hymns). We do so because these songs are ones that have lasted the ages and stood the test of time, songs that both teach us and praise God. In time the best modern praise songs will become tomorrow’s great hymns of the faith, but there is also value in the endorsement of years. You may also discover many beautiful hymns that aren’t in most American hymnals — powerful songs of praise that will be “new” to you, and which you simply will never be able to forget.
You will see special colors in the church, ones that remind us of the season of the church year. In penitential seasons like Lent (the 40 days before Easter) and Advent (the four weeks before Christmas), you will see purple/blue on the Holy Table and in the stoles of our clergy. At Pentecost you will see red; at Easter and Christmas, white; at other times, green. These colors help remind us of the important events of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection and of the life of the church.
Our clergy wear vestments that are rich in history and symbolism, clothing that takes the attention off of them as individuals and emphasizes their role in worship, preaching, and in celebrating Holy Communion.
These are some of the things that distinguish worship in an Episcopal service. We would be very pleased if you would join us!
(Adapted from “What to expect in Anglican worship” by St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Rome, GA)