What to Expect When You Visit
Worship in the Episcopal Church
Sunday is traditionally when Episcopalians gather for worship. The principal weekly worship service is the Holy Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or Mass. Our liturgy comes from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and from our authorized hymnals. Visitors from a liturgical tradition such as Catholicism may find familiarity and comfort in our pattern of worship. For the first-time visitor from a non-liturgical tradition, our liturgy may be confusing. Services may involve standing, sitting, sung or spoken responses, and other participatory elements that may provide a challenge for the first-time visitor. But at Church of the Holy Family, you can expect to find fellow parishioners willing to help guide you through the movements as you learn the rhythm of our Sunday worship.
Despite of the diversity of worship styles in the Episcopal Church, Holy Eucharist always has the same components and the same shape. The first half of the service is known as 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. In certain seasons of the Church year, we confess our 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 second half of the service is called the Liturgy of the Table. The priest stands behind 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. 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.
Worship at Church of the Holy Family
Worship on Sunday mornings at Church of the Holy Family follows Rite II from the Book of Common Prayer, and we take our readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. Because of this our worship services will be very similar to what is happening in our more formal sister Episcopal churches. But Church of the Holy Family is not formal. Our worship space is small and intimate; in fact, it also serves as our parish hall. We sit in padded chairs, not wooden pews. Our music is rooted both in the Anglican and Appalachian traditions; the latter seems especially fitting given that the Blue Ridge Mountains are visible from our windows. Our informal interpretation of a five-centuries-old tradition is not for everyone; but for our members it feels just right.
You Are Welcome
You are welcome at Church of the Holy Family. Don't worry about sitting in anyone's spot. Don't worry if your gender, orientation, or ethnicity will not be accepted. We are grateful for your presence among us. Baptized Christians no matter 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. Visitors who are not baptized Christians are welcome to come forward during the Communion to receive a blessing from the presider.
What to Wear
What should you wear? The irreverent answer is ... clothes! But seriously we are a casual congregation. Some people dress up; many more wear jeans and t-shirts to church. Both approaches are just fine.
Children at Church
We like hearing the happy noises of children in church. It reminds us that Jesus came for them, too. If your child is being especially loud, or if you need to take a break and leave the service with your child, feel free to do so and hang out in the back hallway or Sunday School room. But don't sweat the small disruptions. You love your children and we love having them here. We know it can be hard to get to church. We are glad you did.