What to Expect
Ancient traditions. Powerfully relevant.
We realize that walking into a new church can be bewildering for even the most seasoned church-goer. Below is some basic information about what to expect at St. John’s. Recognizing that you can never really get a feel for a place until you experience it in person, we hope this will make your first visit a bit more comfortable. Remember, no one will give you odd looks if you stand when you’re supposed to sit or kneel when you’re supposed to stand!
The principal weekly worship service for Episcopalians is called Holy Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or the Mass. When you worship with us on a Sunday morning, this is the service you will experience. On Sunday we offer two morning liturgies and one afternoon liturgy:
- 8:00 am Holy Eucharist, Rite I – This liturgy is a traditional language (Elizabethan English) service without music.
- 10:00 am Holy Eucharist, Rite II – This is a contemporary language liturgy with choir and organ music.
- S.W.5 is the Worship Service at 5:00 pm – The Eucharist, Rite II, is celebrated in the Parish Hall with piano, and is a bit more informal, with a mix of more contemporary music and familiar hymns.
The guide for these services is The Book of Common Prayer, a red book with a cross on the cover found in all pews. Inside the front doors at St. John’s you will be greeted by an Usher who will hand you an easy-to-follow paper service bulletin. The other book you will need is the blue Hymnal located in the pews.
Liturgy and The Book of Common Prayer
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.
The service of Holy Eucharist always has the same two major components: The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table.
The First Part of the Service - The Liturgy of the Word
The first component, The Liturgy of the Word, is a set of Bible readings interspersed with group singing of hymns or psalms. One of the readings is always from the Gospels. Next, a sermon interpreting the readings appointed for the day is preached, and then the congregation recites the Nicene Creed, which was written in the Fourth Century and remains the Church’s statement of what we have believed 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 celebrant (the priest leading the service) 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 celebrant assures the congregation that God is always ready to forgive our sins.
The congregation then greets one another with a sign of “peace.” This manifests itself by parishioners greeting those in nearby pews. Then comes a brief time for Parish Announcements – some refer to this as the liturgical “halftime.”
The Second Part of the Service - The Liturgy of the Table
The second half of the service—The Liturgy of the Table—then begins. 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 celebrant 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 celebrant 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 celebrant blesses the bread and wine, and the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer. Finally, the celebrant 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. At St. John’s, we come to the altar, one pew at a time, and many receive bread first, then sip from the chalice. Intinction is another method of receiving communion, whereby the bread is dipped into the chalice, so that one receives the bread and wine together. It is also perfectly acceptable to receive communion in one kind only (bread).
All baptized Christians, regardless of age or denomination, are welcome to receive communion. Episcopalians invite all baptized people to receive, not because we take the Eucharist lightly, but because we take our baptism so seriously.
Visitors who are not baptized Christians are welcome to come forward during the Communion to receive a blessing. You can indicate this by crossing your arms across your chest as the priest approaches.
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.