We Episcopalians believe in a loving, liberating, and life-giving God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As constituent members of the Anglican Communion in the United States, we are descendants of and partners with the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church, and are part of the third largest group of Christians in the world.
We believe in following the teachings of Jesus Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection saved the world.
We have a legacy of inclusion, aspiring to tell and exemplify God’s love for every human being; women and men serve as bishops, priests, and deacons in our church. Laypeople and clergy cooperate as leaders at all levels of our church. Leadership is a gift from God, and can be expressed by all people in our church, regardless of sexual identity or orientation.
We believe that God loves you – no exceptions.
What to Expect When You Visit an Episcopal Church
(Adapted from resources provided by The Episcopal Church)
What should you expect when you walk through the doors of an Episcopal Church? You will find that Episcopal Churches are made up of all shapes and sizes. Some hold very traditional services, some more contemporary, some with music and some without. Some churches will have printed bulletins to follow along and others will ask you to follow along in The Book of Common Prayer (with cheerful guidance from fellow worshipers if you need a little help). The only way to find the right church for you is to take the first step through the open doors. The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!
If you're curious about the type of people you might meet at an Episcopal Church, I am an Episcopalian, a resource produced by the Episcopal Church, might be helpful.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Sunday morning 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 either by the gathered congregation or by the choir.
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 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 prove a challenge. 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.
Watch the people around you. Chances are, long-time worshipers are very familiar with the physical rhythm of the service. For those who have difficulty kneeling or simply prefer not to, standing is always an appropriate alternative when kneeling is suggested.
THE HOLY EUCHARIST (COMMUNION)
In spite of the diversity of worship styles in the Episcopal Church, Holy Eucharist always has the same components and the same shape. This includes the blessing of the elements of bread and wine - the Episcopal Church does not use grape juice - by the priest and the distribution of the elements by both clergy and lay people.
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 priest, deacon or, occasionally, a lay person preaches a sermon interpreting the readings for the day. Sermons are usually 10-15 minutes long, although that varies with the preacher.
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 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, usually a handshake and a verbal "Peace be with you."
THE LITURGY OF THE TABLE (HOLY EUCHARIST)
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 and our continual turning away from God, to 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. Many churches invite worshipers to kneel at the altar in order to receive the elements. Some dismiss worshipers from the altar as a group, and in others people walk back to their pews after they have received the bread and the wine. If you are not sure of the custom in the congregation you are visiting, ushers are posted in the church and will be happy to assist you.
All baptized Christians - no matter 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 from the presider.
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.