What to expect when you visit St. Peter's
You'll be welcomed, and excepted to come worship with us. We believe in one Holy Spirit and the Communion of all Faiths.This information is presented as a brief introduction to St. Peter's and its ways.
The Place of Worship
As you enter, you will notice an atmosphere of worship and reverence. Your eye will be drawn to the altar, or holy table, and to the cross; so our thoughts are taken at once to Christ and to God 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 Jesus. These flowers are provided by parishioners in remembrance of loved ones.
On the left and right sides, at the front of the church, there is a lectern-pulpit, and stand, for the proclamation of the Word; here the Scriptures are read and the sermon is preached.
The Act of Worship
Episcopal church services are congregational. In the pews you will find the Book of Common Prayer and the hymnal, the use of which enables the congregation to share fully in every service. The large print is the actual service. The smaller print gives directions to ministers and people for conduct of the service. For your benefit, St. Peter's provides a bulletin that provides for most of service to read from.
You may wonder when to stand or kneel. Practices vary -- even among individual Episcopalians.
The general rule is to stand to sing hymns and other songs (many of them from the Holy Bible) called canticles or chants. We stand, too, to say our affirmation of faith, the Creed; and for the reading of the Gospel in the Holy Eucharist. Psalms are sung or said sitting or standing. We sit during readings from the Old Testament or New Testament Letters, the sermon, and the choir anthems. We stand or kneel for prayer to show our gratefulness to God for accepting us as children or as an act of humility before God.
The Regular Services
The Worship services are refered to as the Holy Eucharist (Holy communion). Thursdays are historically an evening Worship Service and wednesdays mornings are a prayer service. 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 Eucharist, for example, two or three Bible selections are read. These change each Sunday. So do the psalms. Certain of the prayers also change, in order to provide variety. Don't be embarrassed to ask your neighbor for assistance during any part of our services.
You will find the services of the Episcopal Church beautiful in their ordered dignity, God-centered, and yet mindful of the nature and needs of human beings.
The congregation greet one another, usually with a handshake and a message of “Peace” or “Peace be with you.” This is an outward display of reconcilation, forgiveness, and well-being for one another.
In the Episcopal Church, the entire service is referred to as the Holy Eucharist. The actual taking of bread and wine is the central focus of the service.
All baptized Christians‚ regardless of age or denomination‚ are welcome to receive communion. Episcopalians invite all baptized people to receive, not because we take the Eucharist lightly, but because we take our baptism so seriously.
To receive communion, follow others to the altar and kneel or stand in an open spot at the communion rail. A minister with bread will come around first. Simply hold your open hands out in front of you, one on top of the other. The minister will place a small wafer in your hand and say, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” You may eat the bread then or hold it until the wine comes. A minister with a chalice of wine will stop in front of you and say, “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” You may either drink directly from the chalice or, if you saved your bread, simply dip it into the wine and consume both together. When you have received both bread and wine, you can stand and return to your seat.
Visitors who are not baptized Christians are welcome to come forward during the Communion to receive a blessing from the priest. If you wish to receive a blessing, instead of holding your hands out to receive the bread, simply cross your arms over your chest. The priest will take it from there.
Before and After Services
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.
Episcopalians 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.
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, gathered 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 headcovering 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 Episcopal 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 fifty days, concluding on the feast of Pentecost.
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. The Old Testament lesson corresponds in theme with one of the New Testament readings.
Coming and Going
If there are ushers they will greet you, and may escort you to a pew. If you desire, they will answer your questions about the service. Pews are unreserved at St. Peter's.
Following the service the pastor greets the people as they leave.
You Will Not Be Embarrassed
When you visit St. Peter's, you will be our respected as a welcomed guest. You will not be singled out in an embarrassing way, nor asked to stand before the congregation nor to come forward. You will worship God with us.
Should you wish to know more about the Episcopal Church or how one becomes an Episcopalian, the pastor will gladly answer your questions and suggest the way to membership. Feel free to fill out a visitor card and drop it in the offering plate.
Coffee Hour is available following the Sunday Morning service. This is a relaxed social time where members, guests and church staff mingle. Please take this opportunity to get to know each other, and make new friends. You may just find out that there are others with the same experiences struggles as you. Coffee and snacks are available.