What to Expect When You Visit
Sunday is traditionally when Episcopalians gather for worship. The principal weekly worship service is the Holy Eucharist, also known as: the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or Mass. At St. John's as in most Episcopal churches, worship is accompanied by the singing of hymns. Sometimes, especially for important Holy Days such as Christmas and Easter much of the service is sung.
Episcopalians worship in many different styles, ranging from very formal, ancient, and multi-sensory rites with lots of singing, music, fancy clothes (called vestments), and incense, to informal services with contemporary music. Yet all worship in the Episcopal Church is based in the Book of Common Prayer, which gives worship a familiar feel, no matter where you go.
Liturgy and Ritual
Worship in the Episcopal Church is said to be “liturgical,” meaning that the congregation follows service forms and prays from texts that don’t change greatly from week to week during a season of the year. This sameness from week to week gives worship a rhythm that becomes comforting and familiar to the worshipers.
For the first-time visitor, liturgy may be exhilarating… or confusing. Services may involve standing, sitting, kneeling, sung or spoken responses, and other participatory elements that may provide a challenge for the first-time visitor. However, liturgical worship can be compared with a dance: once you learn the steps, you come to appreciate the rhythm, and it becomes satisfying to dance, again and again, as the music changes.
All of the liturgy (form of service) for the main Sunday services at St. John's (10:00 Sept-May, 9:30 June-August) is printed in the Bulletin that you will receive from an usher when you arrive. The Hymnal, with the music and lyrics for the hymns we sing is the only other book you will need to use in order to participate in all parts of the service. At other services, such as the 8AM Sunday service, the bulletin and the priest will direct you to the pages in the Book of Common Prayer where the form of service is printed.
You will probably notice that people at St. John's who come from different traditions or simply have different preferences will stand, sit or kneel at different times during the service. They may (or may not) bow their heads or bless themselves with the sign of the cross at different times during the services. We welcome the diversity of our community. As a guest - or a member - please know that that you are welcome and respected when you do what, and only what, feels comfortable and right to you.
The Holy Eucharist
In spite of the diversity of worship styles in the Episcopal Church, Holy Eucharist always has the same components and the same shape.
The Liturgy of the Word
We begin by praising God through song and prayer, and then listen to as many as four readings from the Bible. Usually one from the Old Testament, a Psalm, something from the Epistles, and (always) a reading from the Gospels. The psalm is usually sung or recited by the congregation.
Next, a sermon interpreting the readings appointed for the day is preached.
The congregation then recites the Nicene Creed, written in the Fourth Century and the Church’s statement of what we believe ever since.
Next, the congregation prays together—for the Church, the World, and those in need. We pray for the sick, thank God for all the good things in our lives, and finally, we pray for the dead. The presider (e.g. priest, bishop, lay minister) concludes with a prayer that gathers the petitions into a communal offering of intercession.
In certain seasons of the Church year, the congregation formally confesses their sins before God and one another. This is a corporate statement of what we have done and what we have left undone, followed by a pronouncement of absolution. In pronouncing absolution, the presider assures the congregation that God is always ready to forgive our sins.
The congregation then greets one another with a sign of “peace.”
The Liturgy of the Table
Next, the priest stands at the table, which has been set with a cup of wine and a plate of bread or wafers, raises his or her hands, and greets the congregation again, saying “The Lord be With You.” Now begins the Eucharistic Prayer, in which the presider tells the story of our faith, from the beginning of Creation, through the choosing of Israel to be God’s people, through our continual turning away from God, and God’s calling us to return. Finally, the presider tells the story of the coming of Jesus Christ, and about the night before his death, on which he instituted the Eucharistic meal (communion) as a continual remembrance of him.
The presider blesses the bread and wine, and the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer. Finally, the presider breaks the bread and offers it to the congregation, as the “gifts of God for the People of God.”
The congregation then shares the consecrated bread and the wine.
All Are Welcome
Wherever you are on your journey of faith, please know that all are welcome at God's table and invited to participate with us in Holy Communion. If you wish to receive Holy Communion with us at St. John's please come forward to the front of the church by following the directions of the ushers. They gently direct the congregation to come forward in an orderly fashion by pew. At most Sunday services communion is offered at the altar rail (received kneeling or standing) and at the left side at the base of the altar steps (received standing). As two lines move down the center aisle toward the front of the church, people in the left aisle tend to move to receive communion (standing) from the priest at the foot of the stairs and those on the rigth to move to the altar, but feel free to go from either line to either place.
At St. John's' as in most Epsicopal Churches, we have the option to receive communion in "two kinds", the consecrated bread (wafer) and wine.
To receive the bread, kneel or stand at the altar rail or in front of the priest. Raise your crossed hands, palms up. The priest will place the wafer in your hands. You can either put the wafer into your mouth immediately or hold it to be dipped in the wine. If you wish to receive wine with the wafer, hold the wafer in one hand and carefully dip it into the cup (chalice) when it is offered. If you prefer to sip from the chalice, put the wafer in your mouth when you receive it, then, when the chalice is offered, place your hands on the bottom of the cup to gently help guide it to your lips.
If you wish to receive a blessing instead of Communion, feel free to come forward with everyone else. In front of the priest kneel or stand and cross your arms across your chest with your fingers toward either shoulder. This is the common signal in Epsicopal, Anglican (and many other) churches that you wish only a blessing.
At the end of the Eucharist, the congregation prays once more in thanksgiving, and then is dismissed to continue the life of service to God and to the World.