Episcopal worship is at the heart of our life together, and Episcopal worship is rich in symbolism and tradition. At the same time, it is a contemporary expression of our belief and faith in a Living God who is present and accessible in material and ordinary things.
The Church is first and foremost a worshipping community. Although we can worship God privately, Christian worship is something that we do together, and gathering for corporate worship is at the heart of Christian life. In and through it, we unite ourselves with others to praise God, hear God’s Word, offer prayer, and celebrate the sacraments.
The worship service
The worship service is called the liturgy, which, from the Greek, means the “work of the people.” It is the shared activity of the entire congregation, and not just the ordained ministers. Everyone present is an important participant. The most common name for the liturgy is the Holy Eucharist, which, from the Greek, means “thanksgiving.” It may also be called “Holy Communion,” “The Lord’s Supper” or “the Mass.” Episcopal worship has its roots in the ancient Church which, in turn, based its liturgy on ancient Jewish worship customs. Following Jesus’ command to “do this in remembrance of me,” the first Christians gathered for prayer, scripture study, offering of their gifts, and a shared meal. These elements continue to form the foundation of our Sunday worship.
The Book of Common Prayer
The Episcopal Church is distinctive from other Christian traditions in that it finds its identity in what its members do together (prayer and worship) rather than in its doctrine. We are united with others throughout the country and the world through our common worship and liturgy. Worship in the Episcopal Church is prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. Not only does the Book of Common Prayer determine our public worship, it is also the source and statement of much of our belief. This is because the way we talk to God determines how we talk about God. In other words, what we pray expresses what we believe. The Prayer Book provides structure and commonality of prayer while allowing flexibility for adaptation to customs, style, needs, and expression of a particular community.
Parts of the worship service
Episcopal worship involves both Word and Sacrament, and can be divided into two main parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table.
The Liturgy of the Word
The first part of the worship service focuses on the Word of God. In it, we hear readings from the Bible (also called “the scriptures”), including the Old and New Testaments. The readings follow a three-year cycle. (The Episcopal Church, along with many denominations, follows the Revised Common Lectionary.) The sermon helps us to understand the scriptures and to apply them to our own life and time. This part of the liturgy also includes the Prayers of the People. At St. Timothy’s, these prayers are usually written by a member of the congregation so that they reflect current world events, as well as the life and concerns of this community.
The Liturgy of the Table
The Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is at the heart of Episcopal worship. We believe that God works in our lives through ordinary, material things. Sacraments, then, are the outward signs of God’s grace. In the Eucharist, these signs are bread and wine. At Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, he took bread, blessed, broke and gave it to them and said “This is my body … this is my blood.” He also instructed them to “do this in remembrance of me.” When we celebrate Holy Communion, we are sharing a meal. We thank God for the ways that God has acted in history, we offer bread, wine, and ourselves to God to be transformed into the Body of Christ, and, in receiving the bread and wine, we receive God’s grace to be transformed. We believe that, by God’s action, and in a mystery beyond our knowing, Jesus is present in the gifts of bread and wine and we are present with Jesus. After we have been fed with the body and blood of Christ, we are sent out into the world to do God’s work and to be the body of Christ in the world. Our worship continues through our words and actions in our daily life.
Children in worship
Children are a very important part of the Saint Timothy’s parish family, and they are welcome at all worship services. We believe that children participating alongside adults in worship are nurtured in the deepening of their faith journey, so that it will continue to grow in richness and depth into adulthood. Most importantly, we want children to know that they are loved, accepted, and valued at St. Timothy’s in worship and in all aspects of community life. Formal worship can provide an excellent opportunity for parents to be involved in the spiritual nurture of their children. So we ask parents to talk with their children about the service, explain what is happening, and help them catch the enthusiasm and happiness about being in church. We suggest that parents sit at the front of the church so that children can see what is happening. We also provide children’s books, pew bags with activities, and scribble sheets at the back of the church next to the sound board.