What to Expect When You Visit St. James Episcopal Church
Worship at St. James
We gather every Sunday morning for worship as well as other times during the week. The principal weekly worship service is the Holy Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper, and Holy Communion. Worship is accompanied by singing of hymns and liturgy, or the church’s public worship of God. The congregation follows service forms and prays from texts that don’t change greatly from week to week during each season of the year. This sameness from week to week gives worship a rhythm that becomes comforting and familiar.
For the first-time visitor, liturgy may be exhilarating or confusing. Services may involve standing, sitting, kneeling, sung or spoken responses, and other participatory elements that may provide a challenge for the first-time visitor. However, liturgical worship can be compared with a dance: once you learn the steps, you come to appreciate the rhythm, and it becomes satisfying to dance, again and again, as the music changes.
The Holy Eucharist
In spite of the diversity of worship styles in the Episcopal Church, Holy Eucharist always has the same components and the same shape. The sacrament of Christ's body and blood, and the principal act of Christian worship. The term is from the Greek, “thanksgiving.” Jesus instituted the eucharist “on the night when he was betrayed.” At the Last Supper he shared the bread and cup of wine at a sacred meal with his disciples. He identified the bread with his body and the wine with his blood of the new covenant. Jesus commanded his disciples to “do this” in remembrance of him (see 1 Cor 11:23-26; Mk 14:22-25; Mt 26:26-29; Lk 22:14-20). Christ's sacrifice is made present by the eucharist, and in it we are united to his one self-offering (BCP, p. 859). The Last Supper provides the basis for the fourfold eucharistic action of taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing. Christ's body and blood are really present in the sacrament of the eucharist and received by faith. Christ's presence is also known in the gathered eucharistic community.
In the BCP, the whole service is entitled the Holy Eucharist. The first part of the service is designated the Word of God. It usually includes the entrance rite, the lessons and gradual psalm, the gospel, the sermon, the Nicene Creed, the prayers of the people, the confession of sin and absolution, and the peace. The second portion of the service is designated the Holy Communion. It includes the offertory, the consecration of the bread and wine in the Great Thanksgiving, the communion of the people, and the concluding prayers of thanksgiving and dismissal. A blessing may be given prior to the dismissal.
The eucharist is also called the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, the Divine Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great Offertory (BCP, p. 859). The Hymnal 1982 includes a section with a variety of hymns for the Holy Eucharist (300-347), including “Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest” (305-306), “My God, thy table now is spread” (321), “Now, my tongue, the mystery telling” (329-331), and “I am the bread of life” (335).
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 Old Testament, a Psalm, something from the Epistles, and (always) a reading from the Gospels. The psalm is usually sung or recited by the congregation. Next, a sermon interpreting the readings appointed for the day is preached. The congregation then recites the Nicene Creed, written in the Fourth Century and the Church’s statement of what we believe ever since. 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 pray for the dead. The presider (e.g. priest, bishop, lay minister) concludes with a prayer that gathers the petitions into a communal offering of intercession.
During Lent, and at other times 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. 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 peace.
The Liturgy of the Table
Next, the priest stands at the table, which has been set with a cup of wine and a plate of bread or wafers, raises his or her hands, and greets the congregation again, saying The Lord be With You. Now begins the Eucharistic Prayer, 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 blesses the bread and wine, and the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer. Finally, the presider breaks the bread and offers it to the congregation, as the gifts of God for the People of God. The congregation then shares the consecrated bread and the wine. Most often, the people all come forward to receive the bread and wine; sometimes they pass the elements around in other ways.
All are Welcome
All are welcome to receive communion, no matter age or denomination. Episcopalians invite all people to receive, not because we take the Eucharist lightly, but because in God’s house, all are welcome.
At the end of the Eucharist, the congregation prays once more in thanksgiving and then is dismissed to continue the life of service to God and to the World.
To learn more specifics about our service times, visit our Service Schedule page.