Unfamiliar with an Episcopal worship service?
Here’s everything you need to know! Still unsure? Ask the folks next to you—they’ll be glad to help!
Book of Common Prayer (or BCP)… is the smaller red or black book in the pew rack. It has a cross on the cover. In general, our Sunday service begins on page 355. Your bulletin will let you know if the starting page is different.
Hymnal… is the larger navy blue book in the pew rack. You’ll find the hymns therein with the numbers at the top right of each page. If the hymn number begins with the letter “S” look in the front section of the book. The custom of singing when processing into the church dates from the 5th century.
Opening Hymn… We stand to sing this and the choir and altar party process into the church from the back. You’ll see a cross leading the procession. We bow from the waist as it passes to show our respect for the sacrifice Christ made for us at his crucifixion.
Order of Procession… The persons serving at the altar come first, followed by the choir. The ordained clergy come last, with the Deacon, assisting priests, preacher, and finally the rector (the chief priest).
Opening Acclamation… The priest who is preaching generally leads off the service with the “opening acclamation.” It’s usually “Blessed be God…etc” on BCP p.355. You’ll see people making the sign of the cross in recognition of the blessing God is to us in our lives. To make the sign, touch your forehead, sternum, left or right shoulder, opposite shoulder, and sternum again.
Collect for Purity… We pray this ancient (11th century) prayer together. A “collect” is a prayer that collects our thoughts and focuses them.
Gloria/Kyrie/Trisagion… One of these is sung or said next and all date from around the 4th century. The Gloria is a song of praise. The Kyrie asks God to have mercy on us. The Trisagion means “thrice holy.” The text of these is on BCP page 356 but you’ll probably be turning to an “S” hymn in the front of the hymnal to sing.
Collect of the Day… This prayer is tied to the lessons or readings for the day and is drawn from pages 211-261 in the BCP. No need to turn there; just close your eyes and listen and pray along silently.
Lessons… We generally hear a reading from the Old Testament, from the Psalms, from the New Testament epistles (letters) and from one of the four Gospels. Often, the psalm will be sung or chanted. If that’s the case you’ll find a snippet of music in your bulletin. The apostrophes in the text mark a change of musical note. Listen to a verse or two and you’ll likely pick it up! After each spoken reading, the reader says “The Word of the Lord,” and the people respond, “Thanks be to God.”
Gospel… An ordained person (the deacon) proclaims the reading from the gospels. The deacon and the gospel book are escorted into the midst of the congregation, signifying that the Word — Christ himself — is coming into our midst to speak to us. Out of respect, we turn to face the deacon and altar party as the Word is proclaimed.
Homily… One of the clergy — or sometimes a lay person — preaches on the lessons of the day. You can expect a homily of somewhere around 15 minutes or less. If you have hearing challenges, know that we have hearing assist devices available. Please ask an usher. By the following day, you can also find an audio file of the sermon on our website.
Nicene Creed… This ancient statement of faith was hammered out in the early 4th century. We say it in unison as a way of declaring aloud “the essentials of our historic faith." When we recite it, we are, in a sense, in unified communion with the Church of the past 2,000 years. We stand to say this.
Prayers of the People… We remain standing to pray for the world, the church, the country, and those in need. In one form or another, the Prayers of the People have been a part of the liturgy since the 2nd century. You may not find the text of the prayers in your bulletin, so just close your eyes and listen and pray along silently. The congregation speaks a repeated line in response to the leader (called an “intercessor”) praying (such as “Lord, hear our prayer”). At the beginning of the prayers, the intercessor will cue the congregation what its response will be. Feel free to add your own prayers.
Confession of Sin & Absolution… We kneel or stand as we are able. The leader may offer a moment of silence beforehand so everyone can gather their thoughts and reflect. We say the prayer of confession together. At the conclusion of the prayer a priest will stand and pronounce God’s forgiveness. We believe we come together for worship as sinful people — the broken “body of Christ.” We confess our shortcomings, are forgiven, and as such Christ’s body is made whole.
The Peace… That sense of wholeness is expressed as we greet one another in peace. We warmly greet those around us by shaking hands or perhaps hugging if we know someone well. If someone says, “Peace be with you,” your response is “And also with you.” You may also say simply, “God’s peace.”
Offertory… The priest says a line of Scripture and the Offertory begins. You may be seated. The choir will sing an anthem. Ushers carry alms basins (offering plates) around the congregation. Please contribute whatever you are able. Regular members of St John’s pledge or commit a regular amount of money each week. When you feel ready to do that please speak with a priest. We believe giving is a spiritual practice, one we learn over time. The Doxology music begins and the people stand. The offerings are carried forward and blessed. They are placed on the altar as part of our joyful offering to God.
The Lord be with you… The priest (called the “Celebrant” in this role) says or sings this. It begins a prayer that springs from ancient Jewish table blessings. The Holy Eucharist has begun! Your responses will be on BCP page 361 or your bulletin will provide a page reference. This exchange is called the “Sursum Corda” meaning literally “hearts up!” The priest will then sing or say a short prayer, which you won’t readily find in the BCP so simply listen and pray along silently.
Sanctus… At the end of the priest’s opening prayer, we sing to God using an ancient hymn called the Sanctus (meaning “sanctified” or “holy”). Check your bulletin for the hymn number. It will be an “S” number, which you now know can be found in the front section of the hymnal.
Let us pray… The priest will say these words and you’ll notice that everyone moves from a standing to a kneeling position. The Eucharistic Prayer or Great Thanksgiving is about to begin.
Great Thanksgiving… Your bulletin will either reference a BCP page number or may have the whole text of the prayer printed therein. In the prayer, God’s loving and saving activity in human history is praised; our gifts of bread, wine, money, and grateful hearts are offered to God; the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify our offerings; the bread is symbolically broken so that it can be shared. The priest and altar party share the bread and wine first, and then the choir; then the congregation.
How to Receive…An usher will direct you forward; Follow the folks in front of you. You may kneel or stand to receive the bread and wine. You may sip from the chalice (cup) or dip your wafer into it. If you wish a blessing instead of communion, cross your arms over your chest and that will alert the priest. If you need a gluten-free wafer, let the priest know. On high holy days, we offer non-alcoholic wine as well. It will be in a clear goblet. If you are mobility challenged, communion will be brought to you in your pew. The important thing to remember is that YOU ARE WELCOME AT THE LORD’S TABLE NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE OR WHAT YOU MAY HAVE DONE OR NOT DONE. ALL THAT MATTERS IS THAT YOU DESIRE TO ENCOUNTER OUR LORD. Hymns will be sung during communion. It’s appropriate to sing along.
Post-Communion Prayer…We say this together. It will be on BCP page 365 or 366 or will be printed in your bulletin.
Blessing…The priest blesses the congregation. It is appropriate to make the sign of the cross in response.
Closing Hymn… Altar party and choir process back out of the church and gather at the back, surrounding the congregation with music and song.
Dismissal…Now that we’ve been taught, inspired, forgiven, and fed, the deacon sends us into the world to make it a better and kinder place in Christ’s Name.
Now what? Come say hello to the priest. Identify yourself as a visitor. We’d love to schedule an appointment with you and answer any questions you might have. And, come to coffee hour or to an adult education forum. Check the announcement insert in your bulletin. Welcome!