Going to any church for the first time may feel a little intimidating, and if St. Paul’s is the first Episcopal church you’ve attended, you might find yourself wondering what to expect. We want you to know that no matter if you’re a lifetime Episcopalian or brand new to the Christian faith, you are welcome here! We hope these tips for your first Sunday with us will help you feel comfortable with us. And, of course, if you have questions while you’re visiting, please let anyone around you know!
It’s usually a good idea to arrive a few minutes before the service to find a seat and get comfortable before the service begins. You will be greeted at the door by our friendly greeters and handed a bulletin for the service. If you need help finding a seat, the ushers at the back of the church can help. The bulletin will guide you through the whole service.
Once you’re seated, you’ll notice a number of books in the rack in front of you. Most of our service comes from the red Book of Common Prayer, and our readings, though printed in the bulletin, come straight out of the Bible. We regularly use the blue Hymnal 1982 and the red and black Lift Every Voice and Sing for hymns not printed in the bulletin.
You’ll also find a Welcome card hanging on the end of these racks. If you’d like to hear from the clergy, or sign up to receive our weekly e-newsletter, The Weekly Vine, please fill one out and place it in the offering plate or hand it to an usher or clergy person after the service.
If you have children with you, you are welcome to worship however works best for you! It is our pleasure to offer families with small children the convenience of our nursery, found downstairs from the main sanctuary, but children are welcome to stay in the sanctuary for the entire service if you prefer. Should you and your child need a break during the service, the ushers can guide you to a very comfortable space just outside the sanctuary called Neve Hall. You’ll be able to hear the service from this space through a small speaker.
At our 10:30 Sunday service, all children are invited to join the procession to the Children’s Chapel, which takes place toward the beginning of the service. During Children’s Chapel, the children gather to hear and explore a Bible story together. Children’s chapel also features wonderful music from our music staff! Feel free to accompany your child to Children’s Chapel if you like. The children return to the sanctuary just after the sermon.
THE SERVICE BEGINS
Our services begin with a procession of the ministers and other leaders of the service, usually accompanied by a hymn. You might notice people bowing as the cross that leads the procession passes them. This is a sign of respect and reverence for Jesus, who comes to us in the gathering of the congregation for worship.
Generally, we stand to sing and praise God, we sit to listen to the lessons and the sermon, and we kneel to pray. You’ll find simple instructions for suggested postures throughout the service bulletin, but please do whatever makes you most comfortable. If you look around, you’ll notice that people are doing different things at different times in the service based on their own piety and what is comfortable for them. There’s no wrong way to do any of this!
About halfway through the service, we share a sign of God’s peace with each other. This can look different from congregation to congregation, but at St. Paul’s, we hope you find it a joyful time of welcome! It is our custom to greet one another with a handshake and the words, “Peace be with you.”
Holy Communion in our church is often referred to as the Eucharist, which is based on an ancient Greek word for thanksgiving. Episcopalians and Anglicans all over the world celebrate the Eucharist in the same way, and it is one of the hallmarks of our common tradition with tens of millions of Christians all over the globe. Our prayers during the Eucharist frequently involve responses from the congregation. These are printed in the service bulletin, so you can find them easily.
All baptized Christians of every denomination are welcome to receive Holy Communion at St. Paul’s. When it is time for your pew to come forward for communion, an usher will signal you. As you approach the communion rail, you may choose to kneel or stand, depending on what’s most comfortable for you. The custom in our parish is to reach both hands forward, right hand over left, to receive the bread. You may eat the bread and then sip from the cup which comes next, or you may choose to dip the bread in the cup if you prefer. Gluten-free bread is always available – just ask for it at the altar rail. It is also always acceptable to only receive either the bread or the wine. The real presence of Jesus Christ is full and complete in either and both!
If you’d rather not receive communion, or if you have not yet been baptized, you are still welcome to come to the altar rail to receive a blessing from one of the priests. To signal that you’d like a blessing, please cross your arms over your chest when the priest brings the bread to you.
If you are physically unable to get to the altar rail (there are a few steps), please let the usher know you’d like to receive at your seat. The clergy and assisting ministers will be happy to bring the bread and the wine to you.
After receiving Holy Communion, you will be guided back to your seat where you may sit quietly, pray, or sing the hymn.
After communion, the congregation prays together to thank God for what we receive in the Eucharist. The priest will then bless the congregation, and usually a hymn will accompany the procession of the clergy and other leaders to the back of the church. The service closes with a dismissal, to which we all respond with joy, “Thanks be to God!”
AFTER THE SERVICE
The custom at our parish is for the congregation to be greeted one-by-one by the parish clergy. If it’s your first time or you haven’t introduced yourself yet, please let us know! We are always excited to meet new people. This is also a great time to give us the Welcome card with your contact information, so we can reach out to you during the week and get to know you a little better.
It is our joy to come together in fellowship over coffee and snacks following each Sunday morning service. Our fellowship times are usually hosted in the Parish Hall – just follow the crowd! During the summer, we meet for fellowship outside the church near the playground for lemonade and refreshments.
If you have any questions about what to expect on your first visit, please let us know! We hope you find St. Paul’s to be a warm, friendly, and welcoming community.