Episcopalians worship in different styles, ranging from very formal rites with lots of singing, music, fancy clothes (called vestments), and even incense, to informal services with contemporary music and worship style. Yet all worship in the Episcopal Church is based in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), 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 much from week to week during a season of the year. This sameness 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 can present a challenge for the first-time visitor. Don't worry about doing something "wrong". You can just follow the lead of those around you or ask for assistance. Liturgical worship can be compared with a dance. Once you learn the steps, the dance becomes satisfying to do again and again.
The Holy Eucharist
Even with the diversity of worship styles in the Episcopal Church, Holy Eucharist always has the same components and the same shape:
The Liturgy of the Word
We begin by praising God through song and prayer, and then listen to multiple readings from the Bible; typically one reading 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 sermon interpreting the readings appointed for the day is preached by clergy or lay leader.
The congregation then recites the Nicene Creed, which was written in the fourth century and has been the Church’s statement of what we believe ever since that time.
Next, the congregation prays the Prayers of the People 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 presider (priest, bishop, lay minister) concludes with a prayer that gathers these petitions into a communal offering of intercession.
In certain seasons of the church year, and in many parishes at every service, 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. At St. Bart's, we say "the peace of the Lord be with you" to those around us while shaking hands or hugging.
The Liturgy of the Table
Next, the presider (priest leading the Eucharist celebration) 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 with 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) is a continual remembrance of him.
The priest blesses the bread and wine and the congregation says the Lord’s Prayer together. 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. The people all come forward to the altar rail to receive the bread and wine (Eucharist or Holy Communion) or a blessing.
All Are Welcome
St. Bartholomew's welcomes everyone of any age to the communion rail. You can receive communion or a blessing. At the end of the Eucharist, the congregation prays once more in thanksgiving and then we are dismissed to continue the life of service to God and to the world.