THINK OF THIS PAGE as your ‘First-Time Guide to Visiting an Anglican (Episcopal) Church’. Most important, remember this: You’ll be welcome. We extend a cordial welcome to you to worship with us, and offer this document as a brief introduction to the Anglican Church and its worship.
The Place of Worship
As you enter, you will notice an atmosphere of worship and reverence. Anglican churches are built in many architectural styles; but whether the church is small or large, elaborate or plain, your eye is carried to the Altar, or Holy Table, and to the cross. Our thoughts are taken at once to our Lord Jesus whose house the church is.
On or near the altar there are candles to remind us that Christ is the “Light of the world” (John 8:12). Often there are flowers, to beautify God’s house and to recall the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
On one side at the front of the church, there is a lectern for the proclamation of the Word in the reading of the Scriptures; on the other side is a pulpit where the sermon is preached.
The Act of Worship
Anglican church services are congregational. In the pews you will find the Book of Common Prayer, the Hymnal, and a spiral-bound Parish Missal. The Parish Missal contains the text of the Sunday Holy Communion services at Trinity. The Sunday bulletin which you will receive from an usher as you enter contains the Scripture passages for the day, as well as references to the page numbers in Parish Missal and the hymn numbers.
You may wonder when to stand or kneel. Practices vary from church to church, but the general rule is to stand for praise—hymns, the Creeds, and the reading of the Gospel. We sit to listen to the Scripture lessons, the sermon, and the choir anthems. We kneel for prayer to show both our reverence for God as our Ceator and our penitence for our sins.
The Regular Services
The principal service is the Holy Communion. In some Anglican churches it is celebrated quite simply, without music, early on Sunday morning. Weekday celebrations also are frequently without music, and without sermon. When celebrated at a later hour on Sundays, or on other great Christian days such as Christmas, music and a sermon are customary.
Another service is Morning Prayer. The parallel evening service is Evening Prayer. These services consist of psalms, Bible readings, and prayers; and may include a sermon. They may be with or without music.
While some parts of the services are always the same, others change. At the Holy Communion, for example, two or three Bible selections are read. These change each Sunday. Certain of the prayers also change to help us walk through the seasons of the church year. Page numbers for the service are usually announced or given in the service leaflet, but do not be embarrassed to ask your neighbor for the page number.
You will find the services of the Anglican Church beautiful in their ordered dignity and God-centered focus.
Before and After
It is the custom upon entering church to kneel in one’s pew for a prayer of personal preparation for worship. In many churches it is also the custom to bow to the altar on entering and leaving the church as an act of reverence for Christ.
Most Anglicans do not talk in church before a service but use this time for personal meditation and devotions. At the end of the service some persons kneel for a private prayer before leaving. Others sometimes sit to listen to the organ postlude.
Coming and Going
If there are ushers they will greet you. If you desire, they will answer your questions about the service. Pews are usually unreserved in Anglican churches. Following the service the pastor greets the people as they leave.
What Clergy Wear
To add to the beauty and festivity of the services, and to signify their special ministries, the clergy and other ministers wear vestments. Choir vestments usually consist of an undergown called a cassock (usually black) and a white overgown called a surplice. The clergy may also wear cassock and surplice.
Another familiar vestment is the alb, a white tunic with sleeves that covers the body from neck to ankles. Over it (or over the surplice) ordained ministers wear a stole, a narrow band of colored fabric. Deacons wear the stole over one shoulder, priests and bishops over both shoulders.
At the Holy Eucharist a bishop or priest frequently wears a chasuble (a circular garment that envelopes the body) over the alb and stole. The deacon’s corresponding vestment has sleeves and is called a dalmatic. Bishops sometimes wear a special head covering called a mitre.
Stoles, chasubles, and dalmatics, as well as altar coverings, are usually made of rich fabrics. Their color changes with the seasons and holy days of the Church Year. The most frequently used colors are white, red, violet, and green.
The Church Year
The Anglican Church observes the traditional Christian calendar. The season of Advent, during which we prepare for Christmas, begins on the Sunday closest to November 30. Christmas itself lasts twelve days, after which we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany (January 6).
Lent, the forty days of preparation for Easter, begins on Ash Wednesday. Easter season lasts forty days, concluding with the feast of the Ascension. Ten days later comes the feast of Pentecost in which we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit.
During these times the Bible readings are chosen for their appropriateness to the season. During the rest of the year–the season after Epiphany and the long season after Pentecost (except for a few special Sundays)–the New Testament is read sequentially from Sunday to Sunday.
You Will Not be Embarrassed
When you visit an Anglican church, you will be our respected and welcome guest. You will not be singled out in an embarrassing way, nor asked to stand before the congregation or to come forward. You will worship God with us.
Should you wish to know more about the Anglican Church or how one becomes an Anglican, the priest will gladly answer your questions and suggest the way to membership.