... When Visiting an Episcopal Church
Here is a guide to some of what you can expect when you come to worship at St. Matthias’.
Getting to St. Matthias’, Getting Settled and Ready for Church
It’s good to arrive a few minutes before the service so you can get settled. Children are welcome at our services but nursery care is available for children from birth to age 5 at the 10:30 service should you choose to use it. There will be ushers who will give you a bulletin which will guide you through the service. We also have small toys and coloring books for children at the doors to the sanctuary.
There are various books in the racks in front of you:
- Red “Book of Common Prayer”: Sometimes called the Prayerbook or BCP, this book contains various portions of the service. The bulletin, given to you by an usher, will guide you with the page numbers of the sections in use.
- Dark Blue “The Hymnal 1982″: This book contains many of the songs sung during the service.
- Red and Black “Lift Every Voice” or LEV: This is also used for service music.
- You may also find a “Visitor’s Guide to Worship”. The whole of the service, except for the readings and hymns for any given Sunday, are in this booklet. If you use the Visitor’s Guide, you will not need to use the Book of Common Prayer.
The 10:30 service starts with a song that everyone sings while standing.
There is a procession made up of our Rector (priest), the choir and other people who have specific jobs to do. The procession is led by the cross and you may see people bowing to the cross as it passes by a gesture of respect.
Once the song ends our Rector and congregation say the Opening Acclamation which is a formal way of greeting one another. Then there may be a short piece of music praising God or asking for God’s mercy. It is normally found in the front of the Hymnal in a section where all the numbers are preceded by “S-“ which stands for Service Music.
The Rector will say a prayer called a collect, which is meant to collect our thoughts together as the concluding piece of the opening.
THE LITURGY OF THE WORD
Readings, Sermon, Statements of Faith, Prayers of the Community
We all sit down to hear readings, which are printed in the bulletin. Normally, there is a reading from the Old Testament, a psalm, a reading from the New Testament and a reading from one of the four Gospels. These readings come from the Revised Common Lectionary, which assigns readings for every Sunday on a three year cycle. Members of the parish usually read the first two readings. The psalm is said or sung by everyone.
Because the stories of Jesus’ life and death are central to our faith, the Gospel reading gets special treatment. We believe the stories found in the Gospel are of particular significance for us as followers of Christ so the Gospel Book is brought into the middle of the church. The congregation joins in singing a “Sequence Hymn” as the acolytes and priest come forward. Everyone stands for this reading and turns to face the Gospel Book.
The sermon follows the Gospel reading and is meant to take what we have heard in the readings and engage those messages with our current lives.
After the sermon, the next several pieces of the service provide a way for us to respond to what we have heard. Because we are actively responding we stand up at this point and say the Nicene Creed, an ancient statement of faith used by most Christian churches binding us together with Christians of all generations.
Following the Creed are the Prayers of the People from the Book of Common Prayer. These prayers are a series of petitions led by a member of the parish with a response by the entire parish. The petitions include prayers for the church, the world, the nation, those who are sick and those who have died. The Rector concludes these prayers with a collect, once again “collecting” our prayers.
After the prayers we say the Confession. This is an opportunity to confess together the ways we have not loved God or others. We kneel for the confession as a sign of penitence. At the conclusion of the confession, the Rector says the absolution, words reminding us that God forgives our sins.
The minister then bids “the Peace”. During the Peace we are ritually enacting our need to be in right relationship with one another before we go to communion. We do that by saying “Peace be with you”. People may shake hands or embrace each other. We greet those around us and more exuberant ones actually leave their seats to exchange the Peace with others.
The Peace is followed by a time for announcements. This is not a formal part of the ritual but is a chance to let people know what is going on in the parish and community plus how to get involved.
THE LITURGY OF THE TABLE
Collecting Gifts, Getting Our Meal Ready and Praying Over It, and Sharing Bread & Wine
The Congregation’s financial offering for the support of the ministry of the church is collected at this time. Often a piece of music is sung or played while the collection is being taken. The bread and wine we will use for Communion is brought to the Altar Table and the Rector sets the table for Communion.
The monetary offering collected is then brought forward and placed on the table with the offerings of bread and wine. Our offerings symbolize both our bringing of ourselves to worship and our support of the life of the community
At this point the service continues with what is commonly called the “Lord’s Supper” or “Holy Communion”. The term “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving” and we are giving thanks for the gifts God has given us and for the sacrifice of Christ. The prayer of the Great Thanksgiving starts with a dialogue between the rector and assembly called the Sursum Corda (literally “lift up your hearts”). The minister then praises God for God’s action in our lives. This initial section can in some cases be specific to the current Church season. This selection concludes with us all singing the Sanctus, also known as “Holy, holy, holy”.
At this point members of the congregation are invited to either remain standing or to kneel. The prayer continues with a retelling of the story of the Last Supper. At one point the minister asks the Holy Spirit to descend upon the bread and wine and upon us. At the end of the prayer we all say Amen.
At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, everyone prays the Lord’s Prayer.
The minister then breaks a piece of the bread, symbolizing Christ’s body being broken for us. After a short moment of silence the congregation joins in either saying or singing a Fraction Anthem in response to the actions taking place.
Once the bread and wine are sanctified the rector invites people to the table to share in God’s meal.
All are welcomed to come forward to either receive a blessing or receive communion. People generally come forward and stand or kneel at the altar. The ushers will help guide you when it is time to go forward. If you do not wish to receive communion or a blessing, you are invited to remain in your seat for a time of quiet prayer and reflection.
The official policy of the Episcopal Church is that all baptized people may receive communion. Come forward to the altar rail, stand or kneel, and hold out your hands for the Rector to place a piece of bread in your hand. Another liturgical minister will come with the cup of wine.
There are several ways to receive Communion:
- Eat the bread when it is put in your hand and then take a sip of wine from the cup. It is okay and actually helpful for you to touch the cup and help guide it to your mouth.
- If you don’t want to drink from the cup you can leave the bread in your hand and dip it into the wine prior to placing it in your mouth.
- It is also fine to receive only the bread or only the wine; either is considered a full receiving of Communion. There are many reasons people might want to receive only one.
If you chose to receive a blessing instead of Communion, please come forward and cross your arms over your chest. This lets the priest know not to give you the bread but instead give you a blessing.
Once you have received, simply return to your seat. Often music is sung during or near the end of Communion.
Giving Thanks and Being Sent Forth
After everyone has received communion, we all stand and say a prayer acknowledging the significance of the Lord’s Supper and its ability to renew and restore us to go out into the world to serve Christ.
The Rector then invites anyone celebrating a birthday or anniversary in the following week to come forward for a special prayer. After the birthday and anniversary prayers, the priest asks God to bless the congregation. Another song is usually sung by everyone at this point during which the choir and liturgical ministers process out of the Nave.
At the very end, we are dismissed by our minister and sent out into the world. Customarily, people greet the priest (you might want to introduce yourself as a newcomer), at the door as they leave the church.
Once the service is concluded, all are invited to our parish hall for some socializing time and coffee.
CREDIT: Based on extract from The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia Washington web site July 2013