Worship in the Episcopal Church
We are a liturgical church. During worship, people participate through their verbal responses, readings from Holy Scripture, singing of hymns, offering prayers and by receiving Holy Communion. Worship is corporate in nature, because the congregation shares in all aspects of the liturgy. The silence at various intervals provides time for the individual to think and reflect on his or her personal experience with God.
Practices vary—even among individual Episcopalians—as to when it is appropriate to sit, to stand or to kneel. Watch the people sitting around you for clues, and do whatever feels comfortable. The general rule is to stand to sing. Hymns are found in the Hymnal 1982, and most other service music is printed in the worship bulletin.
We stand to say our affirmation of faith, the Nicene Creed; and for the reading of the Gospel. Psalms are sung or said sitting or standing. We sit during readings from the Old Testament or New Testament Letters, the sermon, and the choir anthems. We stand or kneel for prayer. Some Episcopalians make the sign of the cross or bow at particular times and kneel for prayer upon entering the Nave. Silence is usually kept before services.
The Book of Common Prayer
Words to our liturgy are found in The Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Reviewing the book, one will find both prayers for daily use and prayers for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
The Book of Common Prayer has evolved over the years. The first Prayer Book is attributed to Thomas Cranmer, who in 1549, drew on traditional resources to create services that were prayed in English for the first time. This collection of prayers and responses provides the basic structure for the current Prayer Book being used in the Episcopal Church. The version in use today was last revised in 1979.
The Holy Eucharist
The principal service of the Episcopal Church is the Holy Eucharist ("Holy Communion"). In some Episcopal churches it is celebrated quite simply, without music, early on Sunday morning. Weekday celebrations also are frequently without music, and with a shorter homily instead of a sermon. When celebrated at a later hour on Sundays, or on other great special holy days such as Christmas, music and a sermon are customary.
All baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion. You may receive either kneeling at the altar rail or at a standing station on the floor of the Nave. To receive the bread, cup your hands in front of you. When offered the wine, guide the cup to your lips, or touch the consecrated bread to the wine.
While some parts of the service are always the same, others, like the readings, change each week.
We hope you will find the services of the Episcopal Church beautiful in their ordered dignity, God-centered, and yet mindful of the nature and needs of human beings.