Who We Are
Episcopalians are followers of Jesus Christ. We say that God was uniquely present in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. One word we use to describe this belief is that God was “incarnate” in Jesus, that is, God’s own being was present in the human life and history of Jesus of Nazareth.
Following his sacrificial death, the Risen Christ revealed himself to the disciples. They were reborn by the power of his life-giving Spirit. This small band of disciples was the beginning of the Christian church and the new creation in Christ.
We Episcopalians say that human beings are united to God through Christ. We take that relationship seriously. When we worship, we are called to see the crucified and Risen Christ in the persons around us. We are sent into the world serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
Our church is not a community of like-minded people. We do not exist for ourselves alone. Instead, we are a people set apart to be a personal presence and witness of God to the world. We struggle with many issues and we disagree with one another, but we still gather each week to hear the story of God’s love for us, to ask for forgiveness from one another and God, and to offer our lives up to God. In our life together in the Spirit, we experience the grace to live with questions that cannot be answered with certainty.
In our worship we are nourished for life’s journey, learning to trust that God is working through every one of us and that one day all creation will reveal the love of God. This is the good news that we proclaim and that leads us into lives of peace, self-control, and hope for the future. We invite everyone to join us in that journey.
The Episcopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion.
Learn more at The Episcopal Church website.
What to Expect:
Episcopalians worship in many different styles, ranging from very formal, with solemnity and incense, to informal services with contemporary music. Nevertheless, all worship in the Episcopal Church is based in the Book of Common Prayer, the central worship book of our Episcopal tradition. We believe that this gives our worship a consistency that reflects the faithfulness of God within an ever-changing world.
For the first-time visitor, our worship may be exhilarating or confusing. Services will involve standing, sitting and kneeling, as well as sung or spoken responses, that may provide a challenge for the first-time visitor.
Here is a little bit of what you can expect:
Praise and Scripture
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, one from the Psalms, one from the Epistles, and always a reading from the Gospels. The psalm is usually sung or recited by the congregation. All of our hymns and songs will be in our Hymnal 1982 in your pew rack.
The priest will then give a sermon, highlighting the Gospel of Our Lord through what we have heard in the readings for the service.
The Creed and Prayer
After the sermon, we recite the Nicene Creed, the ancient affirmation of our Christian faith. Written in the 4th century, it is a foundational statement of our Christian church, giving particular attention to the nature of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Next, we pray together for the Church, the world, and those in need. We pray for the sick; we thank God for all the good things in our lives; and we pray for those who have died, believing that they continue their journey in the nearer presence of God.
Then, we communally confess our sins in the presence of God and one another. This is a corporate confession of our sins: what we have done, and what we have left undone. It is followed by a pronouncement of absolution, in which the priest, acting in the person of Christ, pronounces the forgiveness of sins found in Christ Jesus.
We then greet one another in the sign of the Peace. The Peace is more than simply a greeting or welcome. It is the recognition of our community’s share in The Peace of Our Lord, constituted by the forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God and each other, and the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ.
The Holy Communion
After this, we then prepare ourselves to receive the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus Christ’s Body and Blood. This is the principle act of worship in the Episcopal Church, which is also called the Holy Communion.
The priest stands at the altar, and receives the offerings of bread and wine used for the Holy Communion. The priest consecrates the bread and wine in the Eucharistic Prayer, and then we recite the Lord’s Prayer.
All baptized Christians (regardless of age, denomination‚ how often you attend church, or anything else) are welcome to receive communion. Episcopalians invite all baptized people to receive, not because we take the Eucharist lightly, but because baptism fully incorporates us into the life of Jesus Christ and of his Church.
Visitors who have not yet received Christian Baptism are welcome to come forward during the Communion to receive a blessing. If you wish to receive a blessing, simply cross your arms over your chest when you come up at the altar rail. If you desire to follow Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism, the priest would love to talk with you after the service to make arrangements and to invite you to join our community of faith.
Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord!
At the end of the Eucharist, we pray in thanksgiving for receiving the Blessed Sacrament. We are then dismissed to go into the world and continue our life of loving God and our neighbor.
Episcopal means “bishop” in Greek, and the Episcopal Church is governed in part by its bishops. The Episcopal Church is divided into dioceses, each diocese being an area encompassing a reasonable number of Episcopalians. Each diocese is presided over by a diocesan bishop. A cathedral is a church that contains the bishop’s seat, or cathedra. A cathedral is the symbolic center of a diocese.
The bishop ordains priests and deacons to serve in each parish, or congregation, which carries out the ministry of the diocese in its local communities. A priest (or priests) leads the parish in worship, makes decisions related to the sacramental life of the parish, and in general, supports the ministry of the worshiping Christians there. A rector is simply the priest in charge of a parish; a vicar is a priest who leads a mission congregation.
Deacons have a long tradition in the church, extending back to the New Testament. In the Episcopal church, deacons maintain their traditional role to serve the poor and less fortunate. They also assist in many facets of the Holy Eucharist.
Each church also has a vestry, or group of elected representatives that select and support the rector, articulate and support the church’s mission, plan and organize, and manage finances. The vestry usually has two wardens—the senior warden, who is a support person for the rector, and the junior warden, who oversees care of the church and property.
Episcopal worship services are liturgical, referring to the texts that make up the rites, prayers and services of the church. “Liturgy” comes from the Greek word meaning either “work of the people” or “work for the people.” The liturgy then is the work of the people for the people. Among other things, the church’s work is to pray for all people, including those who cannot or will not pray for themselves.
The Book of Common Prayer is the official source of liturgy for the Episcopal Church. First written in 1549 and revised last in 1979, it contains the liturgy for regular services and many special services, such as baptism, marriage, and burial.
Most services will follow one of two liturgies—either Rite One or Rite Two. The language for Rite One services and prayers hews more closely to traditional Elizabethan English, while Rite Two is written in more contemporary language.
There are two main creeds, or statements of faith, that you will hear in the Episcopal Church: the Nicene Creed and the even more ancient Apostles’ Creed.
Eucharist, literally “thanksgiving” in Greek, is the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, sometimes called Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. In the Episcopal church, the eucharist is the main focus of the service, the high point; in fact, the entire service is officially called the Holy Eucharist.
Advent is a season of solemn preparation before Christmas, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The season is a time for remembering Christ’s incarnation and also his promise to return. The color of the season is purple.
Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth and incarnation. It begins on December 25 and continues for 12 days, ending on January 5, the eve of the Feast of Epiphany.
Epiphany begins on January 6 with the feast and continues until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It commemorates the recognition of the divine status of Jesus by all people informed by the Spirit of wisdom throughout the world.
The Easter cycle encompasses Lent and Holy Week and continues until Pentecost.
Lent is the season leading up to Easter and is a time of penitence and prayer. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and last 40 days, excluding Sundays, until Easter. Lent is a more somber time in the church; “alleluia” is not spoken, and the liturgical decorations are more austere.
Holy Week is the most significant week of the church year. It begins on Palm Sunday and ends with the celebration of the Easter Vigil. The week, which includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, marks the final days of Jesus’ life, from the time he entered Jerusalem, through his trial, crucifixion and death. Easter is the church’s most important feast, marking the resurrection of Christ.
The Feast of Pentecost, a remembrance of the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles, begins a new season, which runs until the first Sunday of Advent. This season after Pentecost is sometimes referred to as Ordinary Time.