What to Expect at Worship
So you’ve never been inside an Episcopal church, or you’ve never been to a church service at all before. What can you expect to find at Grace Church?
Our building is historical. It was built in 1901 and modeled after the church of Stoke Poges in England, so Grace Church looks old (and beautiful!). On the inside of the church, you’ll see rows of pews facing the front of the church. You’ll see stained glass windows and other artwork in the sanctuary. You’ll see a table (the altar) at the front and center of the sanctuary. That’s because the celebration of communion is at the front and center of what we do together in worship. Behind the altar you’ll see a crucifix, or a carving of Jesus on the cross. This reminds us that Jesus is behind everything we do; he is always present and he is always loving.
The side altar, or chapel, is where the reserved sacrament (previously blessed communion bread) is kept. It is also where a candle is always kept burning. Christ is the light of the world, and we leave a candle constantly burning to remind us that the light of Christ never goes out.
Please be forewarned: there is no bathroom in the church itself. Apparently that wasn’t one of the priorities of our ancestors who built the church a century ago. Putting in a bathroom is one of the priorities of our capital campaign. The nearest bathroom is in the parish hall at the bottom of the parking lot.
Grace Church is a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA (ECUSA), and is part of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. As an Episcopal congregation, our worship is based on the Book of Common Prayer. For that reason, the worship at Grace Church bears similarities to the worship services in all other Episcopal churches. However, the prayer book is flexible, and it offers room for a lot of variation within worship.
When you arrive at Grace Church for a Sunday service, you will be greeted at the door by an usher. The usher will give you a bulletin and will answer any questions you may have, or point you in the direction of someone who can help you. Once you have your bulletin, you are welcome to sit anywhere you like. Episcopalians seem to be allergic to the front pews and tend to sit as far back as possible, but please be original and sit as close as you like to the front. The priests and servers at the altar will be grateful for your company!
You will see two different books in the pew racks. One is blue—it is the Episcopal hymnal. One is red—it is the Book of Common Prayer. At the 10:00 service your dexterity will be tested as you flip back and forth between the prayer book, the hymnal, and your bulletin. We make you do this to be sure you stay awake during the service. Honestly, it can be a little daunting to navigate these three pieces of literature, so the worship leaders are intentional about giving page numbers and announcing which book to use throughout the service. We hope this helps. One of many beautiful things about liturgical worship (worship that follows a proscribed form) is that the words quickly become familiar. Also, the congregation together carries the words of the service in what becomes communal prayer. We pray as individuals while we join our voices together in saying words that have been used to praise God for centuries.
One last note: hanging in your pew you will find comment cards. Pencils are at the back of the church. If you are new, or visiting, please fill out a comment card with your name, address, and interest in Grace Church. This way we can contact you and address any needs you may have.
If you go to the 7:30 service, you won’t need to worry about music (or you miss out on a great musical experience, depending on your perspective!). The music at the 10:00 service varies from familiar favorites like “This Little Light of Mine” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” to more traditional music in the Anglican style. Occasionally at this service we like to try out newer music, songs from other cultures, and songs in the gospel tradition. Thanks to our brilliant music director Dr. Peter Muir, music at this service is always spirited, so please feel free to move as the spirit moves you. Sometimes we just can’t help dancing to the communion music or clapping during the closing hymn. This is okay—in fact, we think it’s rather wonderful. In addition to the congregational hymns at the 10:00, we are blessed to have a four-part choir, let by Peter Muir, to sing for worship.
Children in worship
Children have unique and authentic relationships with God. Children respond to ritual with both curiosity and enthusiasm. When children are small, church is a great place for them to be. As they grow older, church is a great place for them to be. The youngest children enjoy learning routines and following them. Bringing them to church and allowing them to worship with people of all ages is a way to teach them right from the start that faith is important to you (as an individual, a family, a community).
Children are always welcome at Grace Church. They are not the future of the Church; they are its present. The 10:00 service has been designed specifically to welcome and accommodate children. Some elements of the service appeal to very young children and others interest older children and teenagers. Besides the music, which is often child-friendly, there is always either a children’s sermon or a time for the children to have their own lesson during the adult sermon.
Finally, a note about noise. Children sometimes make noise. Babies, especially, can be noisy people. If your young child begins to make a joyful noise during a service, it’s alright. Just as there is room for older members and members who don’t move as quickly as some of us, there is also room for younger members who don’t yet understand why we sometimes keep quiet. Ultimately, you are the judge of your child’s needs. If he or she needs some time away from the service, you may take him/her outside or into the nursery in the parish house. But please know that this congregation is used to a little noise, and its okay if we hear your child.
Sharing communion is the central act of our worship services. Communion happens toward the end of the service because most of the service prepares the way for it. Communion is about togetherness: ours as a congregation and ours with God. In the worship service, communion is a time of both solemnity and celebration.
During the announcements, you will often hear the celebrant invite everyone to communion. Whether you come from another Christian tradition, another faith, or no tradition at all, you are welcome to come to the table. We believe that Christ offered himself freely for all people, and we don’t believe he turns anyone away from receiving communion.
Once the prayers have been said and the bread has been broken, the congregation comes out of their pews and forms a line in the center aisle to take turns kneeling at the altar rail. If kneeling is difficult for you, you are welcome to remain standing. If walking is difficult for you, please alert an usher and he or she will ensure that communion is brought to you in your pew.
When you reach the altar rail, simply place your hands one over the other, palms upward. The priest will place a wafer in your hand with the words “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” You may respond, “Amen.” Then you have a choice. You may consume your wafer and wait for the chalice bearer to come to you and offer a sip of wine, or you may hold onto your wafer and intinct (dip) it in the chalice. The chalice bearer will say the words “the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” You may again respond, “Amen.” Alternately, if you prefer not to receive wine at all, you may cross your arms over your chest indicating to the chalice bearer to pass you by. Once you have received communion, you may return to your pew. A period of silence is kept after communion for silent prayer.
If you have a young child with you, the priest will probably ask if the child receives communion. This is your decision as a parent. If you would prefer not to have your child receive, the priest will offer the child a blessing instead.
Because what would church be without food? After sharing spiritual nourishment in church, the congregation gathers for physical and social nourishment in the parish house for coffee hour. Hosts take turns providing things to eat. There are always goodies to eat, coffee, and tea. Coffee hour is a great time to get to know people in the congregation. As a congregation, we strive to welcome newcomers, so please don’t be shy. Introduce yourself to someone and enjoy the refreshments.
We hope you enjoy worshipping with us. We are always delighted to meet and welcome newcomers, so let us know how we can make you feel more at home. If you have specific questions about the church or its programs, feel free to call the parish office during the week (9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.) to speak with a member of the clergy.