My First Day As An Episcopalian

(The opinions expressed by Betty do not reflect the views of the blog author.)

I’m not a member yet, but I did finally visit the Saturday evening service.  I’ve been wanting to go for a couple of months, but just didn’t get around to it.

Dan told a story on his blog about a person who called him about visiting his church. He said, “probably 80% of the people who say they will “see me Sunday” never end up showing.”

I can understand that.  It’s not easy walking into a church you’ve never been in.  If you psyche yourself up a little, it’s kind of a rush, maybe like skydiving, sort of, only without a parachute.

I didn’t really know anything about episcopalians.  What do they wear?  What will they do that I am clueless about?  Will I be able to blend in and follow along?

Similar to my last church visit, this one started with a drive by, not enough cars in the parking lot.  And like last time, I decided to go back and go anyway.  As it turns out, there were 8 of us at the service plus the priest.

I sat near the back and tried to be observant without gawking.  I noticed that people curtsied before entering their pew, but I don’t know why.  All of the pews had kneeling things.  I’ve never attended a church with those before.  I was afraid to try opening mine in case it would clank or something.  If I go back, I might kneel next time.

The service started with the priest going to the back of the sanctuary and ringing the old outdoor bell.  That was cool.  There was no singing in the entire service. It started with readings from the Book of Common Prayer.

Then there were four scripture passages.  The priest read the old testament passage standing at the front of the room.  Then he went and sat in a chair at the side of the altar and read the psalms.  Next a lady from the congregation read a new testament passage at the podium.  Finally the priest brought a shiny gold book to the podium and read from the gospels.

He had a good sermon about the wedding banquet.  This was followed by the Nicene Creed, prayer, and a litany.  Then people turned around to shake hands.  This was my only faux pas.  I said hi.  But it didn’t take me long to figure out that everyone else was saying peace.

The bulletin said that all baptized Christians were welcome to receive communion, so I decided that I would participate.  When it was time to receive communion, everyone went forward and kneeled at the altar.  The priest gave each person a piece of the broken bread.  Then he went down the line, and each person dipped their bread in the cup of wine, then returned to their seat.

This was followed by some silence, then a few more prayers and blessings.  Finally, the dismissal, “the worship has ended, let the service begin.”

My overall impression…It was nice.  I actually liked the idea of spoken worship rather than singing.  I liked the truth and depth of the liturgy, and I really appreciated the blessings spoken over us.  The prayers, scripture, and sermon all felt sturdy and solid.

I think the only question I have is what would it mean if I were to continue attending there.


16 thoughts on “My First Day As An Episcopalian

  1. I’m not sure it has to mean anything to anybody but you. Part of the freedom of this strange journey we’re on is that church related definitions don’t matter anymore. We are his. We worship. The rest is superfluous.

  2. cindy,
    I enjoyed it as worship, but I’m not sure long-term what that means to me if it isn’t connected with my other relationships or if my family doesn’t go with me.

    That’s an interesting comment. What do you miss, and have you considered going back?

  3. grace, would it be something you could enjoy as an occasional worship experience that would help fulfill you, while you spent other worship times in a setting that included your family?

    that really is a question. Right now I can’t imagine going to church without my family either. Since I’m not at liberty to roam on Sundays I’m learning from you vicariously. No pressure though. :-)

  4. Grace,
    I think that’s really cool.
    My wife & I just started re-attending the Lutheran church where we were married. I also appreciate the simple solid message and ( at least for Lutherans) the focus on service.
    I have been trying to make my mind up for some time about where & if I would be going back to a “church” service. For me and my family this has been the place of acceptance and an undercurrent of love. We are not the best “attendees” but we also aren’t looked down upon.

    There is something strangely reassuring about the liturgical setting that eludes me in the more modern churches.
    I hope that you will find what you need here or somewhere soon.
    It can be so confusing when we are looking for something real. There is so much deception in the world, and the “church” is not exempt from it
    (oh yeah Lutherans do that Peace thing too, But the pastor says,”share God’s peace “)

  5. Grace,
    That video is great. I think Betty has been to my church a time or three. :)

    Kudos on stepping out, and thanks for the play-by-play. I thought it had already been established that you were going to wear your mini skirt though. Is that the real reason you didn’t do the kneely thing? ;)

    I think you know there is only one way to find the answer to your question.


  6. Very interesting read, thankyou for this earnest account. I was particularly happy to read of your appreciation of liturgy – it is something that I stress in my own theology, though I realise that many would not consider it their ‘cup of tea’.

    Am I correct in thinking that the Episcopalian Church is roughly the international equivalent of the Church of England?

  7. Funny thing. Several months ago you wrote extensively about Pagan Christianity, which really rails against liturgy and orders of worship. Now, you are visiting an Episcopalian church, where the order of worship is a point of emphasis. It must be hard being in such transition, especially when the family isn’t necessarily coming along for the ride. I was lucky in that I was able to make my transition as a single person without attachments. I’ll say a prayer for you.

    The “grandfather” at my work’s Bible study is an Episcopalian. He tends to have wise words and is well respected by all. If the church you attended has people like him, it will be a place where Christ is glorified daily. It’s a tough time, though, to be an Episcopalian with the deep division at the national and international level. It is painful to see the unity that has prevailed for centuries suffer so much.

    BTW: the curtsie was actually genuflection. It is a sign of respect made toward the consecrated bread present in the tabernacle.

    Also, the kiss of peace is a very old tradition, and is present in the earliest post-apostolic description of the liturgy made by Justin Martyr (ch. 65 of the first apology). I’ve always thought that it didn’t fit as well in today’s churches with pews, as opposed to the house churches of Justin Martyr’s time and that a handshake just wasn’t the same as a kiss, but people still do it in their own little modern way.
    Here is a link to Justin Martyr’s writings.

    Here is a link to an Episcopalian document on the significance of JM’s writings on the liturgy. I’m not sure who the reformed Episcopalians are, but the historical significance is widely accepted by those within and without the Episcopal church.

  8. Alison is praying the hours…at first, when she read it outloud, I found it distracting…the cut and spliced segments of scripture just got the logismoi percolating in my brain. Now, I’m much more likely to sit back and enjoy.


  9. It’s so hard to separate just going through the motions with having a real heart connection at those kinds of churches. Everything is a prescribed action or prayer than was probably meaningful at one time but eventually everyone gets lulled into a sort of stepford wives mentality.

  10. Having a Catholic upbringing & a rather abrupt ‘calling out’ of the Catholic Church when I was 20 years old, I can understand the pros & cons of liturgical traditions vs. the less formal evangelical/charismatic worship forms I also came to chafe against.

    I think the trend back to a high church liturgy can be comforting in the sense that the pressure is off the congregant to manufacture a move of God or at least get Him to show up; His presence manifested.

    I do not derive any sense of God’s presence or move in a liturgical setting. It is not a ‘lively’ form for me, but it does have the advantage of encouraging more contemplation & mediation & being still/quiet while the worship form (liturgy) is going on all around.

    It does not require a great deal of ‘unique’ actions on the part of the worshiper. No strange manifestations necessary to establish one’s spiritual level for others to notice. The entire congregation participates in well rehearsed actions, but it truly is a group worship thing & not an independent display. Can be refreshing for a post-charismatic.

  11. cindy,
    Attending worship services alone isn’t exactly what I had in mind either.

    Thanks shaun,
    If nothing else, I think that developing an understanding of and appreciation for how the people of God worship in various settings is good.

    A miniskirt would not fit in with my plan to not draw attention to myself. Plus it’s getting a little chilly. As far as the kneeling, wondering if I could get back up was a concern. What do old people do in these situations?

    I don’t know about answers, at the moment I seem to have more questions.

    I know very little about the history, beliefs, or politics of the episcopal church.

    Yes, actually I am quite conflicted. I still believe the things that I read in PC. So in attending this service, I appreciated and enjoyed the liturgy, yet I probably don’t place the same degree of requirement or legalism on the aspects of the service that others might. However, the same thing is true for me also in attending a contemporary evangelical service.

    Thanks for the additional background info. Considering their beliefs concerning the elements of communion, it makes sense that the genuflection is directed toward the communion table.

    I have developed an appreciation for praying the hours although perhaps not to the degree of a firmly established discipline in my life.

    Maybe because it is new and different to me, I was able to see depth and meaning in the ritual. I know that it is possible to go through the motions almost anywhere we go. It is always a decision if we are to be present in our participation of worship.

    Thanks for sharing that Joseph.
    It is a very helpful description from someone with experience of both types of worship. It was a refreshing alternative for me.

  12. Might have been mentioned already, but the ECUSA is experiencing quite the stress+strain of disunity over the homosexual issue & the interpretation of sacred scripture.

    Our local church decided to avoid that schism & realign with the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) instead of following the move of the San Joaquin Diocese to affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone.

    The line is drawn between the more liberal of the American membership vs. the majority of African & South American conservative members that do not have the same views.

    The issues are not incidental nor subject really to a workable compromise. It is a major theological perspective being challenged right now. I suppose lesser issues have been the cause of major rifts in other denominations, but this one does threaten to split the Episcopal/Anglican union into incompatible camps. Not sure I would want to get embroiled in all that posturing, but if the individual church does not make it thee crucial issue impacting its mission/expression, I think even I could experience a degree of comfort in attending…

  13. Ruth,

    I am sorry to hyjack this comments section for a second, but I would like to heartily disagree with your assessment of liturgy.

    Everything is what you make of it, high Church or low. Soppy, overly emotive Church services are, in my opinion, a greater obstacle to real worship than a liturgy. A rousing chorus of Amazing Grace (as a perhaps over-generalised example of non-liturgical music) effects us psychologically – in the same way as the Titanic theme tune – not spiritually.

    Liturgy is perscriptive in order to allow for focus beyond the mundane. Look at Buddhism for instance, even more perscriptive in every way, a simple repeated meditation – though I would claim there is more spiritual value to simple meditation than jumping around clapping and modern music.

    Perhaps I am being too immediately judgemental of the music you more commonly experience at Church, this is from my past experience of non-liturgical services – and I sincerely apologise if this is the case?

    I would be very interested in your thoughts on the matter…?

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