Prelate & Non-Juror dopers: What should I expect at my first Episcopalian worship?

Ok I’ve only been to nondenomination congregational puritanical type churches

I’ve decided to broaded my spiritual horizons and visit an Episcopalian church service.

I’ve seen Catholic stuff in the movies where they have to kneel and do crazy things and make signs of the cross.

What should I expect at an Episcopalian church? Can I just show up on time on sunday, or do I need to memorize hand signals / phrases? I have no experience with the ritualistic/catholic/anglican side of Christianity.

Is there kneeling involved? I don’t get it.

You can just show up – this is true of Episcopalian and Catholic churches, where Holy Communion and Mass are very similar church services. Just do what everyone else does, as far as standing, sitting and kneeling go, but you don’t need to make the sign of the cross, and when the congregation goes up to the altar to take communion (bread and wine), just stay in your seat. If there’s an usher, you could say to him, “I don’t belong to this church, but just wanted to see what the service is like.” They won’t be offended at that, and might give you some guidance. And when the collection plate comes round, there’s no obligation to put any money in, but taking money out is frowned on.

Anglican services are pretty low key (read: boring). You just park yourself in a pew, there will be an order of service in front of you with the words to hymns printed in it. The vicar will do various readings from the bible and prayers (at certain points your order of service will direct you to say ‘amen’). At some point you will be asked to kneel on the pad in front of you to pray. You will sing a couple of dreary hymns and the vicar will give a short sermon. If it’s a communion service then people will troop up to the front to take the bread and wine. Money in the plate and shake the vicars hand on the way out and you’re done.

It’s not too far removed from Catholic services except it’s often shorter, we don’t go in for all that crossing yourself/incense waving/believing the bread and wine actually IS the body and blood of Christ, and the vicar is unlikely to talk about the abomination of homosexuality.

(By the way, I’m CofE (raised, but atheist) but I assume it’s the same format).

Unlike a at a Catholic service, if you have been baptized in any Christian church you are welcome and encouraged to take communion at an Episcopal church. If you don’t wish to, you can go to the altar rail and cross your arms over your chest (each hand on the opposite shoulder, like) and you will simply receive a blessing.

As far as standing/kneeling, there is some of that but it’s easy just to follow what everyone else does. Some people will cross themselves or genuflect at certain times, but it’s not necessary for you to do so.

The service will follow a specific liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer which will be in the pew, so you can follow along. Many churches will also have the order of service printed in a bulletin with the approprate congregational responses. If you miss a response, that’s fine, no one will likely notice.

I hope you have a great experience! I came from Baptist and non-denominational churches to the Episcopal Church about 11 years ago and I love it.

It’s just kneeling down to pray (and bowing your head) – I guess as a sign of respect? What’s not to get? It’s no different in that respect to holding your hands together in front of you, or closing your eyes, or holding your arms in the air and looking up to the sky?

Needless to say (in response to SanVito’s post) I don’t find it boring at all.

One thing that’s good to know, though, is that there is a wide range of Episcopal styles. Some are very “high church” with incense and bells and chanted liturgy; some are very “low church” with casual dress and no candles and contemporary music, and most fall somewhere in between. The basic outline of the service is always the same, but your experience can vary widely depending on the congregation.

{never mind, it was rude}

As others have said there is some variety from church to church on those issues. The sign of the cross is purely an issue of personal preference with no official position. In some congregations it’s popular while in others it’s rare. There’s also variation on kneeling vs. standing during prayer.

What you really need to know, however, is that there will be two books available in the pews: the Hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer. Hymns are identified by number, so when you reach that point in the service the number is given in the bulletin, and you look it up in the Hymnal. Usually when they reach the prayers of the people, the creed, and the eucharistic service, they will tell you which page in the Book of Common Prayer to turn to.

I’ve been to Anglican services where they’ve had the liturgy printed in leaflets, and my own church uses powerpoint. But I’m in Canada where there’s the Book of Alternative Services as well as the Book of Common Prayer so that can make it a bit more complicated.

People at my church do everything from “praise hands” to crossing themselves and all seems welcome. Kneeling is only indicated on Good Friday services, other than that they just say “Let us sit or kneel” and it’s fine to just bow your head. Just follow along with the others - the point of my post was just to say that there’s a huge variation just within Episcopalian churches.

It depends on where you are and the bent of the church you attend. The upper Midwest was once known as “the biretta belt” for its ritualist leanings, and my own church has a very high Anglo-Catholic churchmanship (but with Liberal theology). This means incense weekly, some Latin plainsong, elaborate vestments, a large altar party, Sanctus bells, genuflection during the Incarnatus in the Creed (which is sung by the Congregation in plainchant), a chanted Epistle, Gospel, and Sursum Corda, and crossing oneself at numerous points throughout the ceremony.

On the other hand, a church up the street, also Episcopal, is known for its extremely low church bent (lovingly described as “advanced Presbyterian”). But by and large, most strike a balance between these two poles (a position known as “Broad Church”). St. James, our cathedral, is probably representative of the balance. It has weekly Eucharist but with a lot less chanting, no incense, and typically lengthier sermons.

Almost certainly, the service you attend will be Holy Eucharist, Rite II, (HE2) which can be found here. You may want to check, however, a few churches do not do a weekly Eucharist and celebrate Morning Prayer as the principal Sunday service.

Most churches have a simple said service of HE2 early in the morning, with later services increasing in solemnity until the prinicipal service which will likely take place at either 10 or 11 am.

There will also be a coffee hour following, with kind of gross coffee and Entemann’s-caliber pastry. But you should go to it anyway.

*P.S.: I only learned of the non-jurors this month, in preparation for my Confirmation. Since most Episcopals have a perverse fondness for boring church history, your knowledge of these tidbits will go a long way.

Also varies. We just switched from Starbucks to Seattle’s Best, so we’re good there :).

Actually, using this HE2 and this lectionary, you can pretty much get a verbatim transcript of the service in advance. There a couple of choose-your-own-adventure spots where the rector can choose from a list of options (i.e., which form of the Prayers of the People, which form of the Eucharistic Prayer, which Proper Preface, and which hymns to sing, and the sermon, of course), but you’ll basically have a pretty good idea of the content of the service.

I’m an Evangelical who has attended Episcopalian as well as Catholic mass. I’m assuming that you mean the Episcopal Church USA because of the term you used. The use of the “Episcopal” designation is due to certain historical events in US history…

In a very broad nutshell, running roughshod over hundreds of years of history, an Episcopal service is “Catholic lite”. The priest has a great deal of leeway in how “high church” he or she conducts the service so they may go easy on the vestments or chanting. In a sense, it’s partway between Catholicism and your typical random Protestant church.

Making the sign of the cross is optional. You may do it, but nobody will look at you weird if you don’t.

Images/statues/icons may be present, but are not venerated.

The logicistics of the Eucharist are similar to a Catholic mass, though it appears to be open to all baptized Christians. I’ve only taken it once. No-one should be forcing you to take it if you don’t want.

When you get to your pew, look for a copy of “The Book of Common Prayer”. This is the service book of the churhc, equivalent to a Catholic missal and provides the words for the standard rituals. There are many areas in the book where the priest has the choice as to how to proceed. Listen carefully and/or look on the bulletin to see if it says something like “Liturgy B”.

I like Entemanns. When we have coffee and doughnuts after Mass, it’s just Krispy Kreme. Eech.


You can watch a service from Trinity Wall Street online to see what a typical service is like. The link will launch a streaming video of the Feb 13 2011 service. Trinity is one of the wealthiest churches so the service you’ll be attending won’t likely be as large.

One of the important things to remember about the Episcopal Church (and the larger Anglican Communion) is that our theology is neither dogmatic (like the Roman church) nor doctrinal (like the Presbyterian church, for example). Cf. Queen Elizabeth I and her support of Via Media. There is a great deal of leeway in what a given parish holds important and what an individual believes within a parish. The focal point of Episcopal spiritual life is coming together to worship and receive the sacraments during communion, despite that diversity. Episcopalians are not very evangelical, so the services can seem staid compared to other traditions. However, the readings, prayers, sermon and communion can and do have a deep impact that is not always visible. I hope you enjoy your experience.

I’d say the use of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is very much a minority taste here nowadays. Most will use something more recent such as the Alternative Service Book.

I’m pretty sure I sang at that church some 30+ years ago. It was beautiful. That service – and it’s been quite a long time for me – seems more on the “high” side, as discussed above.