Visiting an Episcopal Church
Visiting a church for the first time can be a daunting experience. We hope this page anticipates any questions you may have. Wherever you may end up visiting, please introduce yourself to other worshippers, the clergy or ushers so they can welcome you properly.
Worship in the Episcopal Church
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. In most Episcopal churches, worship is accompanied by the singing of hymns, and in some churches, 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.
The Book of Common Prayer
Unique in our church is the Book of Common Prayer, the collection of worship services that all worshipers in the Episcopal Church follow. It’s called “common prayer” because we all pray it together. The prayer book explains Christianity, describes the main beliefs of the Church, and in general serves as the main guidelines of the Episcopal life.*
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 the year. This sameness gives worship a rhythm that becomes comforting and familiar to the worshipers.
If you are new to the Episcopal Church, you will quickly discover that we do a lot of sitting, standing, and kneeling in our worship services. For some first-time visitors, all this can be exhilarating… or confusing. 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.
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, including:
The Liturgy of the Word
We begin by lifting our hearts to God through song and prayer, and then listen to several readings from the Bible. A sermon, interpreting the readings appointed for the day, follows. The congregation then recites the Nicene Creed, written in the Fourth Century, which outlines the Church’s basic belief about God.
The congregation prays together—for the Church, the World, and those in need. 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. 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. 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. The congregation then shares the consecrated bread and the wine. Sometimes the people all come forward to receive the bread and wine; sometimes they pass the elements around in other ways.
Through participation in Holy Eucharist we find ourselves strengthened in our union with the Christ and one another. All who seek a deeper relationship with God and wish to receive the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives are welcome to take part in the Holy Eucharist.
What should I wear?
There’s no dress code. Some people dress up in their Sunday best and others show up in jeans and a sweater. Whatever feels comfortable and appropriate for you is fine.
* From The Episcopal Church Center's Visitor Center