Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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The Service

Upon entering church, you’ll be handed a service bulletin detailing the order of service.  Some people like to sit quietly in their pew for a prayer of personal preparation for worship. They will tend not to talk in church before a service, but use this time for personal meditation and devotions. Some people also quietly greet each other. Whatever feels comfortable to you is what you should do.

During the service the bulletin will direct you to the sections of the Book of Common Prayer (a red book that is in the rack in front of you in the pew) or Hymnal (the blue book, also found in the pew rack), whichever is appropriate. If you’re in any doubt about what to do, please don’t be afraid to ask the ushers handing out the service bulletin, or your neighbor sitting near you! They’ll be happy to help. Many of our visitors haven’t been to an Episcopal Church before or else belong to Anglican-Episcopal churches which use different liturgies. Some may not even have been to church before, but that's fine, too – everyone is welcome.

While some parts of the service are always the same, others change. At the Eucharist, for example, two or three Bible selections are read. These change each Sunday. So do the hymns and other songs. Certain of the prayers also change, in particular the collects (short group prayers) and the intercessory prayers (usually led by a different person each week).

You’ll know that the service is about to begin when the prelude (played by the organist) ends, and the opening hymn begins. At that time, a procession of people comes through, led by an acolyte (altar server) bearing a cross, the choir, and Lay Eucharistic Ministers. The Celebrant comes at the back. The congregation stands and sings the opening hymn. The hymns numbers are in the bulletin, which tells you what’s going o­n all through the service.

The service then gets under way. Although there’s considerable variety during the year, most of the services have the same basic shape, which you'll get used to after coming a few times. If you get lost just ask someone near you to show you where we are in the service bulletin – they’ll be delighted to help.

You may wonder when to stand or sit. Practices vary, even among individual Episcopalians. We print cues about standing and sitting in the service bulletin. The general rule  is to stand to sing hymns and other songs. We stand, too, for the reading of the Gospel and to say our affirmation of faith, the Nicene Creed. We sit during readings from the Old Testament or New Testament Letters, the sermon, and any hymns or songs sung only by the choir. We stand or kneel for prayer to show our gratitude to God for his love for us as His children or as an act of humility before Him. However, don't worry if you’re not doing exactly the same as others around you. Some people sit for the whole service. It really is more about how you feel comfortable; there's no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way.

During the service, the priest will say, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” and the congregation replies, “And also with you.” Everyone then shakes hands, saying, “Peace be with you.” Please join in, as it helps to emphasize that we are all one people at peace with each other before God. Just after this, there’s an offertory, or collection. While your offering is welcome, please don’t feel that you have to contribute. Your presence is your gift to us, and our worship is our gift to you.

The service then moves to ‘Communion’: receiving the bread and wine. This, the central act of the whole service, is a symbolic remembrance of the Last Supper which Jesus ate with his closest friends on the night before he died (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20). At Epiphany, all baptized Christians, regardless of denomination, are welcome to receive communion. The ushers will invite each row to go forward to receive Communion. If you wish to come forward, please come up to the altar rail, then kneel or stand as you prefer and hold out your hands to receive. If you don’t feel that you want to receive the bread and wine then please still come up to the rail and kneel or stand, but cross your arms over your chest and we’ll know just to give you a blessing. If, however, you don’t feel ready to receive communion or a blessing on your first visit, no one will worry if you remain seated in your pew. Your children can come up to communion with you.

Communion is followed by a closing prayer. The service then concludes with a blessing and a final hymn. After this, the procession of servers and clergy forms again with the cross at the front and processes out as we sing a recessional hymn. The celebrant then says a dismissal.

We hope you’ll find the services at The Church of the Epiphany meaningful, God-centered and yet mindful of the nature and needs of human beings.