Coming to Church?
What to Expect in Worship
Faith is to hear the melody of the future.
Hope is to dance to it.
Worship in the Episcopal Church, in general, and at St. Philip’s, in particular, reflects the insight of this statement. As we stated in the “What We Do” section of this website, worship is the central experience of our lives as church and as God’s people. Taking Jesus’s promise with great seriousness: That whenever two or three of us gather in his Name, the Risen One will be in our midst, our understanding and practice of worship is rooted in the reality of this promise. This means that the primary purpose of worship is to make room for the Lord in our midst and then to pay attention to what life with the Risen One is like. From these two anchor points, we offer everything else in response. So, for example, worship at St. Philip’s will challenge as much as it comforts. Our worship relies on the ancient and reliable traditions of those before us. Yet, at the same time, we recognize that that tradition is a living thing and that God’s new life demands new expressions.
This being said, for some, coming to worship in a new place can be daunting. For those who are unfamiliar with the “dance steps,” we understand any reticence to “take to the floor,” as it were. So, in this short description, this is what you can expect when you come to Sunday worship at St. Philip’s. As God’s holy angel always says upon appearing to an unsuspecting disciple: “Don’t be afraid.”
On a given Sunday morning the structure of the liturgy (a word that means “the work of the people”) is almost always that of Holy Communion. There are many terms that describe the Sacrament of the Altar: “Communion is one; so is “Eucharist” (the Greek word for “Thanksgiving); the “Lord’s Supper” is another, as is the “Mass.” No one term completely encompasses the meaning and the experience of what God is and does in this context. “Communion” is God’s will; Being “Thankful” for the gift of the God-life in Jesus’ Body and Blood is only appropriate; (Isn’t saying “thank you” one of the first lessons our mothers taught us?) This worship is a meal, based upon the Last Supper and the Jewish Seder. And lest we fall into the trap of “doing” Communion, the term “Mass” (from the Latin for “dismissal”) reminds us that we are to take out into the world what we have been given in worship.
So, here’s what to expect when you come to church at St. Philip’s:
- As you enter the worship space, a greeter will welcome you and provide you with a service bulletin. Everything you will need in order to participate in the liturgy (everything from the words to say to whether to sit, kneel, or stand – yes, we use our bodies, as well as our hearts and minds for worship) is contained in the bulletin. The “dance steps” are all there. We also sing. So, references to the blue hymnal (song book) are also included.
- The Entrance Rite starts worship. After entering the space with reverence (after all, it is God’s house) and using the silence to focus and adjust prayerfully, the opening hymn begins, and the Procession, consisting of those who have specific responsibilities for leading the day’s worship, moves down the center aisle. When these liturgical officers are in place, the entire congregation offers prayers and song to remind us of the reason we have assembled.
- Having entered the worship space for the purpose of encountering life on God’s terms, the congregation sits in anticipation of hearing the scriptures for the day. But first, there is a “Word for the Children,” which seeks to prepare the children for their own Sunday School lesson for that day. After this brief word, the children process to their class, and the rest of us prepare ourselves for our adult learning.
Each Sunday, we read three biblical lessons (readings from which there is something to learn), plus we sing the appointed psalm. The sermon concludes this “learning” by honoring the integrity of the biblical witness and placing this meaning into the hands of the people to live and to share. Silence follows as an opportunity to reflect individually on what was offered.
- The Prayers follow. We keep the prayers as a response to what we have heard. The Nicene Creed is offered, followed by the Prayers of the People and then the Confession of Sin. At this point, we have completed half of our worship, and we mark this with the exchanging of the Peace, Community Announcements, and the blessing of birthdays and anniversaries.
The first half of the Sunday liturgy is referred to as the “Liturgy of the Word.” It reminds us of who we are and Whose we are. The second half of the liturgy is called the “Liturgy of the Altar,” where, in the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ, we are concretely given what we have previously experienced as a reminder.
- At the invitation to come forward to receive the Sacrament, ushers will direct you to move down the center aisle and to kneel (if you can; otherwise stand) and receive the consecrated (blessed) elements. Extend your hands to receive the bread; guide the chalice (the cup) to your lips and take a sip; then quietly return to your seat.
- The worship concludes with all of us offering a prayer of Thanksgiving for what we have received and what God calls us to be. A closing hymn is sung, and then we are dismissed to return to the world as God’s ambassadors. We’re done! You did it!
One other thing: Ask questions. If you are unsure what to do, ask. If you wonder what the reason is for doing what we do, ask. If you would like to have a more personal and formal chat with the priest about your experience, ask — please!
But for now: WELCOME fellow dancers!