New to The Episcopal Church?
As Episcopalians, we are followers of Jesus Christ, and both our worship and our mission are in Christ’s name. In Jesus, we find that the nature of God is love, and through baptism, we share in his victory over sin and death.
Episcopal churches use liturgy in our worship, from the Book of Common Prayer, so the prayers and service forms do not change a lot from week to week.
For each Christian season, the Book of Common Prayer lays out the form that the service should take, and provides the text for most of the prayers. A calendar of readings from the Scriptures called the lectionary lays out which biblical passages should be read each day. Typical services will mix readings, prayers, hymns
Exactly what one does when—should you be kneeling, sitting or standing? Should you sing or speak the responses? When do you say Amen? —can be a bit of a puzzle to a newcomer (and in some details even when an existing Episcopalian visits a different church), but it should not be intimidating. In any event, because the essential form of the service remains the same from one Sunday to the next, you soon get used to it—and after that, you will begin to experience what Episcopalians find so satisfying: the mental space that the familiar rhythm opens up to commune more profoundly with God.
The Book of Common Prayer provides a fixed framework, but not a rigid one. The details vary from church to church and are a matter of tradition and taste. The main Sunday service is Holy Eucharist (also known as the Mass, or Holy Communion). Holy Eucharist always has two parts:
The Liturgy of the Word. We hear as many as four readings from the Bible, and then a brief homily interpreting them and exploring how to live as a Christian in our world. The congregation prays the Nicene Creed (written in the fourth century and explaining Christian belief ever since then). Then we pray together (for the world, the church, those in need), we confess our sins, and greet one another with “peace.”
The Liturgy of the Table. In the second half of the service, the priest stands at God’s table (or the altar), greets the congregation, and begins the “Eucharistic prayer.” This prayer tells the story of our faith. The priest blesses the bread and wine on the table and offers it to God’s people. In receiving the consecrated bread and wine we become united in Christ’s sacrifice and experience the promise of eternal life with God in Christ.
In the Episcopal Church, all baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion. This is not because we have a low view of communion, but because we have a high view of Baptism. We believe that through Baptism, a person joins God’s church, no matter what congregation or denomination is sponsoring them. Visitors who are not baptized Christians are welcome to come forward during the Communion to receive a blessing.