Going to an Episcopal Church or any church at all for the first time may feel a little strange and intimidating. We want you to be able to relax and feel welcome and able to participate as you choose. Below is a guide to some of what you might expect if you come to a worship service at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church:
It’s good to arrive a few minutes before the service so you can get yourself settled. There will be greeters who will give you a service leaflet/program which will guide you through the service. You can sit anywhere you would like.
A few minutes before the service there will be some music called the Prelude. It is meant to help us gather ourselves and prepare for the service.
Most services start with a song that everyone sings while standing. There will be a procession of liturgical ministers, people who have specific jobs to do during the service. The procession is led by the cross and you may see people bowing to the cross as it passes by as a gesture of respect.
Once the song is over the presider (the priest leading the service) and the assembly (the congregation) say the Opening Acclamation which is a formal way of greeting one another. Then the presider will say a prayer called a collect which is mean to collect us and our thoughts together as the concluding piece of our gathering.
The Liturgy of the Word
We all sit down to hear readings. Most of the time there is a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament); a psalm; a reading from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) and a reading from the Gospels. These readings are part of a set 'lectionary' which assigns readings for every Sunday on a three year cycle. Members of the assembly usually read the first two readings. The psalm is normally said by everyone. Your bulletin will have copies of these readings in it for you to follow along with.
Because the Gospel, the stories of Jesus’ life and death, are central to our faith, that reading gets 'special treatment.' Normally a song welcoming the Gospel is sung and the Gospel book is brought into the middle of the assembly and read by our priest. Everyone stands for this reading and turns and faces the Gospel Book.
Following the Gospel a sermon is preached, usually by a priest (but on occasion it might be a lay person). The expository sermon is meant to take what we have heard in the readings and engage those learnings with our current lives.
After the sermon, the next several pieces of the service provide a way for us to respond to what we have heard. Because we are actively responding we stand up at this point. We say the Nicene Creed, an ancient statement of faith used by most Christian churches which binds us together with Christians of all generations. We pray the Prayers of the People. These prayers are a series of petitions led by a member of the assembly with a response by the entire assembly at the end of each one. The petitions include prayers for the Church, the world, the nation, those who are sick and those who have died. The presider concludes these prayers with a collect, once again “collecting” our prayers.
After the prayers during most of the year we say the Confession. The confession is an opportunity to confess together the ways we have not loved God or others. At the conclusion of the confession, the presider says the absolution, words reminding us that God forgives our sins.
The presider then bids 'The Peace.' This can be a particularly awkward moment for people who are newcomers or visitors. What we are doing is ritually enacting our need to be in right relationship with one another before we go to communion. We do that by saying 'Peace be with you' to one another. People will shake hands or embrace each other, offer casual greetings and other conversation, because we are so glad to see each other! Feel free to greet the people right around you.
In many churches the Peace is followed by announcements. This is not a formal part of the ritual but is a chance to let people know what is going on in the community and how to get involved
The Liturgy of the Table
A collection of money is taken at this point, 'The Offertory,' then a piece of music is sung or played while the collection is being taken. Our offerings symbolize both our bringing of ourselves to worship and our support of the life of the community. It is fine for you to put whatever amount of money in or to put in nothing at all. All of our open-plate offerings are given to local non-profit organizations. The bread and wine we will use for communion and the money that has been collected are brought to the Altar Table and the liturgical ministers set the Table for Communion.
The presider prays an extended prayer. It starts with a dialogue between the presider and assembly called the Sursum Corda (literally “lift up your hearts”). The presider then praises God for God’s action in our lives. This initial section can in some cases be specific to the season we are in. This selection concludes with the Sanctus “Holy, holy, holy”, a response normally sung by the entire assembly. The prayer continues with a retelling of the story of the Last Supper and the presider asking the Holy Spirit to come into the bread and wine and into us. At the end of the prayer we all say Amen, which our way of assenting to the prayer. We stand at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. After the sanctus, you may kneel or sit, either one is totally fine.
At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer everyone prays the Lord’s Prayer. Then the presider breaks a piece of the bread, symbolizing Christ’s body being broken for us. Once the bread and wine are ready the presider invites people to the meal.
People generally come forward and stand or kneel at the altar to receive communion. If you don’t want to receive communion that is totally fine. You can remain in your seat, or you can also come forward and cross your arms over your chest. The priest will offer you a blessing instead of communion.
If you do want to receive, hold out your hands and the priest will put a piece of bread in your hand. Then another liturgical minister will come with the cup of wine. There are few choices here. You can eat the bread when it is put in your hand and then take a sip of wine from the cup. It is okay and actually helpful for you to touch the cup and help guide it to your mouth. If you don’t want to drink from the cup, you can also leave the bread in your hand and then dip the bread into the wine as it is passed, and place it in your mouth. It is also totally fine to receive only the bread or only the wine; either is considered a full receiving of communion. There are many reasons people might want to receive only one so don’t feel self-conscious about that. Once you have received, simply return to your seat.
After everyone had received communion we all stand and say a prayer which your service leaflet will have printed. The priest then asks God to bless us. Another song is usually sung by everyone at this point during which the liturgical ministers will process out. At the very end we are dismissed by the priest, sent out into the world.
Often there is an instrumental postlude played. It is fine to stand up and leave your seat at this point, or you may want to remain and listen to the music. Once the service is concluded people want to spend some time talking with each other. We offer a coffee fellowship in our Parish Hall, so that shared company can be enjoyed! People leaving customarily greet the priest at the door and you might want to introduce yourself as a newcomer.
Every church is a little different, but this reflects what happens on most Sundays at ours. We hope you will feel comfortable enough to try it out.
Have you ever read until the end of a good mystery novel only to find yourself shuttering when the 'who done it' character was revealed? You were so wrapped-up in the journey that the author took you on that you truly became a part of the story. At St. Matthew's we believe that worship is that same self-wrapping as we join in discovering the greater story of Jesus Christ, and there are some key things that we do that become revealing, life-shattering moments, Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion.
“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 298).
In the waters of baptism we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share and reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ.
The Rite of Holy Baptism can be found on pp. 297-308 of the Book of Common Prayer.
"We thank you ... for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal kingdom" (Book of Common Prayer, p. 366).
It goes by several names: Holy Communion, the Eucharist (which literally means "thanksgiving"), mass. But whatever it’s called, this is the family meal for Christians and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. As such, all persons who have been baptized, and are therefore part of the extended family that is the Church, are welcome to receive the bread and wine, and be in communion with God and each other.
The Holy Eucharist can be found on pp. 316-399 of the Book of Common Prayer.
St. Matthew's Episcopal Church welcomes all who worship Jesus Christ, come join us.
At St. Matthew's our mission is to be a body of believers united in a common desire to love and serve the Lord. Our faith journey is to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God, as exemplified by the life of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
St. Matthew's Episcopal Church
214 College St., Henderson, Texas 75654