Spiritual Community in the Episcopal/Anglican Tradition
St. Nicholas Church is an Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church USA is part of a world wide communion (kind of like an extended family) of churches which were born out of the Church of England. The English word Episcopal come from the Greek word Episcopos, which literally means “bishops,” because in Anglican/Episcopal churches the bishop in each diocese (a local/regional grouping of congregations) is a symbol of their unity. Our other source of unity is common worship: we find that in common worship we experience the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit which empowers us to be a community of great diversity.
Sunday is the primary day we gather for worship and our primary service is called the Holy Eucharist (Eucharist comes from a Greek word which means “giving thanks.” It is known in other denominations as: the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or Mass). Like any Anglican/Episcopal service, it has two main parts: the Liturgy (or Service) of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament.
Our worship style is somewhat traditional in form, yet informal in spirit, and child and family friendly. As one worshiper put it, “We take God seriously, and ourselves with a grain of salt.” Our clergy dress in traditional vestments (ceremonial clothing): a white alb (robe) and a stole in the color of whatever season of the church year we are currently celebrating (e.g., purple or Advent and Lent, white for Christmas, Easter and special holy days, green for Pentecost and Epiphany, and Red for Holy Week).
We try to be very user friendly in our worship. While our worship is based on the Book of Common Prayer, we keep most of what anyone would need for a service in a worship booklet. Generally speaking, we stand when we sing or pray and sit when we listen to the reading of the Scripture, the sermon, or announcements. And our clergy are pretty good about giving instruction when needed.
The congregation, on the other hand, dresses quite casually. Most of our people wear the equivalent of work casual most of the time (some even wear shorts in the summer). But if you want to dress a bit more formally, that’s O.K., too (we want you to feel comfortable).
We are a congregation which really enjoys music: vocal and instrumental, choral and congregational, traditional and modern, it’s all good. The choir, the congregation, and the clergy all like to sing. Some of the liturgy is even set to music.
The Liturgy of the Word
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 Hebrew Scriptures (which some call the Old Testament), a Psalm, something from the Epistles (letters written by early church leaders), and (always) a reading from the Gospels (stories from the life of Christ). The Psalm is often sung, but in Lent is always recited by the congregation.
Next, a preacher will deliver a sermon intended to interpret the readings appointed for the day. This may be given formally, from the pulpit, or informally, in the midst of the people.
The congregation then affirms its faith, usually by reciting the Nicene Creed, which written in the 4th Century at the Council of Nicaea, and which has been the Church’s statement of what we believe ever since. For variety we alternate the Nicene Creed with the Apostles Creed, and other creedal statements.
Next, the congregation prays together: for the Church, the World, and those in need. We pray for the sick, thank God for all the good things in our lives, and finally, we give thanks for the lives of those who have died. The presider (e.g. priest, bishop, lay minister) concludes with a prayer that gathers the petitions into a communal offering of intercession.
Then, in certain seasons of the Church year, the congregation formally confesses their sins before God and one another. This is a corporate statement of what we have done and what we have left undone, followed by a pronouncement of absolution (forgiveness). In pronouncing absolution, the presider assures the congregation that God is always ready to forgive our sins.
The congregation then greets one another with a sign of God’s peace. People say to each other “Peace be with you” or simply “Peace,” accompanied by a gesture of peace: a handshake, a hug or, in the most ancient form, a kiss on the cheek.
The Liturgy of the Sacrament
The service continues with the offering, at which people give to the support of the work of Christ through the church. Ushers pass offering plates around the church and people place their offering in the plates, which are then taken back to the altar (a special table) and symbolically offered up to God.
Next, the priest stands at the table, which has been set with a plate of bread and a cup of wine, raises his or her hands, and greets the congregation again, saying “The Lord be With You.” Now begins what is called the Eucharistic Prayer (or Great Thanksgiving), in which the presider tells the story of our faith, from the beginning of Creation, through the choosing of Israel to be God’s people, through our continual turning away from God, and God’s calling us to return. Finally, the presider tells the story of the coming of Jesus Christ, and about the night before his death, on which he instituted the Eucharistic meal (communion) as a continual remembrance of him.
The presider then blesses the bread and wine, and the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer (“Our father . . .”). Finally, the presider breaks the bread and offers it to the congregation, as “The gifts of God for the People of God,” and then reminds all present that “All who love God and are drawn to Christ are welcome at Christ’s table.”
The congregation then shares the consecrated bread and wine. The people come forward in small groups up the center aisle and stand in a semi-circle in front of the presider. The presider offers the bread. Lay people (called chalicists) offer the wine. If you wish to receive wine from the common cup, simply drink from the common cup when it is brought to you. If you would prefer to dip your bread in the wine (intinct) rather than drink from the cup, signal your desire by holding up your piece of bread in front of you. If you don’t wish to receive the bread or the cup, but would like a blessing from the presider, signal your desire by crossing your arms in front of your chest, and the presider will say a prayer for you. When all have received, the presider will dismiss the group with the words, “Go in peace.” Return to your seat via the side aisle.
When all have received and returned to their seats, the presider leads the people in a concluding prayer of thanksgiving, and then says a blessing over the people. Then we sing one last hymn, after which the people sent forth into the world with the words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!”. “Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit!”, or some other similar words. The people’s final response is “Thanks be to God!” Then they leave the church to continue the life of service to God and to the World.
There is usually a period of fellowship after the service. It is a good time to get to know people. All are welcome.