Posted by: AJtheIrishLass | June 18, 2007

What is a Typical Episcopal Service Like?

Before the Service

When you enter the church, you’ll be greeted by an usher and given a service bulletin. You’ll notice that three books are used: the Book of Common Prayer, which contains the services and prayers used; the Hymnal 1982, which contains the hymns and service music (other hymnals may also be used), and the Bible. There may be Bibles in the pews or the Bible readings might be printed in the service bulletin. The bulletin will tell you where to find the hymns and prayers used. Many parishes now print the entire service in the bulletin.

Most worshippers use the time before the service to pray. Usually socializing is reserved for after the service.

The Beginning of the Service

The service begins with a hymn. Usually there will be a procession consisting of acolytes (children or adults who assist the clergy) the choir, lay ministers and readers, and the clergy. All stand for the hymn.

The priest begins with a greeting that the congregation responds to and says a prayer called the Collect for Purity. On most Sundays, a hymn called Gloria in excelsis or some other hymn of praise to God is sung. The priest then says a special prayer for the day called a collect.

The Bible Readings and Sermon

All sit. A reading from the Old Testament follows. This, as well as the New Testament reading, are read by members of the congregation called lay readers or one of the lay ministers who assists at communion. A Psalm usually follows the Old Testament reading. This is either sung by the choir and congregation or read responsively between a reader and the congregation. The New Testament reading follows. All stand, and a hymn is sung before the Gospel reading, or a verse from Scripture may be sung by the choir with “Alleluia” being used as a refrain. Often there is a procession to the center of the church where the Gospel is read, consisting of acolytes and the deacon or priest who will read the Gospel. A sermon on the readings follows. All sit for the sermon.

The Creed, Prayers, and Confession

After the sermon, the congregation stands and says a statement of faith called the Nicene Creed. Then, prayers are offered for the Church, the nation, the welfare of the world, the concerns of the community, those in need, and the departed. You may be directed to stand or kneel. The congregation says a general confession of sin while kneeling (you may sit if unable to kneel), then members stand and greet each other in the Name of the Lord (The Peace, which, alternately, may occur before communion or at the end of the service). Shaking hands with those around you and wishing them God’s peace is appropriate.

The Communion

A collection is taken at this time, and bread and wine are presented to the priest celebrating communion. All sit during the offertory and stand when the offering is presented. A hymn might be sung at this time. The celebrant says a prayer called the Great Thanksgiving along with a prayer appropriate to the season called a preface. The congregation sings a hymn called the Sanctus. After the Sanctus is sung, you may remain standing or kneel (you may sit if unable to kneel). Then the celebrant recalls the story of how God sent His Son for our redemption, and His insitution of the Eucharist, and asks God to sanctify the bread and wine. Then, all say or sing the Lord’s Prayer together. The celebrant breaks the bread, and a hymn called a fraction anthem may be sung. The celebrant then invites the congregation to receive communion.

Communion is usually served from the altar rail. Those receiving may either stand or kneel at the rail. The celebrant gives everyone a wafer or piece of bread, the Body of Christ. The bread may be eaten immediately, or you may wait until the wine, the Blood of Christ is brought to you. It’s possible to eat the bread separately and drink the wine out of the cup or the bread may be dipped into the wine and then consumed.

After receiving communion, the communicants return to their pews. Most use this time for prayer. The choir may also sing hymns or anthems during the communion.

After Communion

After all have received communion, the celebrant and congregation say a prayer of thanksgiving. This is said either standing or kneeling. The priest blesses the people, and a recessional hymn is sung, all standing, during which the acolytes, choir, lay ministers and clergy go to the back of the church. The service ends with a dismissal, such as “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, to which the congregation replies, “Thanks be to God”. Usually a member of the clergy says goodbye to people as they leave the church and will introduce themselves to newcomers. Most churches also have a coffee hour after the service so people can get better acquainted. (Many Episcopalians jokingly call this the eighth sacrament!)

If you’re looking for a church home, you are more than welcome to visit your nearest Episcopal church.

©2000. Written on November 11, 2000*. May not be reproduced without the author’s permission. The service described here is Holy Eucharist Rite II in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
*Some minor revisions made April 1, 2002 and March 11, 2007.


  1. I’ve never attended service at an Episcopal church, but this website has me excited to experience it.

    I really like the customs and tradition.

    I belonged to a nondenominational church when I was a child, so all of this is totally new to me.

    I can’t wait.

  2. Please feel free to come back and let me know what you think if you do get to attend.
    If you don’t mind my asking, what your your childhood church’s service like?

  3. Hi all,
    Just a reminder that there’s no need to be rude when making comments. Needlessly inflammatory comments may be removed to prevent further disruption.

    If you disagree with a church’s teachings, liturgy, whatever, please address your concerns in a respectful way. Thanks!

    This reminder was posted in response to a removed comment that made needlessly inflammatory comments against Anglicanism in general.

  4. I am also part of a non-denominational church. We use only the Bible as our authority – the words of Jesus and God. It is my understanding that the Episcopal church comes from the Church of England – and are not all of these man-made denominations? I am curious to know how you justify things like choirs and clergy. I understand that these things are traditions, but I put my faith in the Bible where none of these things can be found. And it’s not God’s goal to confuse us; I believe simplicity is key. I am just wondering how you justify them if they are not in God’s inspired word.

    • Hi Churchgoer,

      Thank you for your feedback. Though I understand where you’re coming from, I don’t think that something not being explicitly mentioned in the Bible amounts to a prohibition against it. Such liturgical differences as choirs/no choirs, instrumental/non-instrumental music aren’t considered to be doctrinal issues. While tradition and reason are used to help provide a clearer understanding of doctrinal issues, Scripture alone is used to determine what should and shouldn’t be required beliefs for all Christians.

      As far as clergy go, this concept comes from the belief that the apostles commissioned others to be able to preach the Gospel. For a few examples, see Acts 15:22-27, 1 Timothy 5:22, 2 Timothy 2:2. I don’t believe that there’s evidence that supports the idea of having no clergy when the apostles commissioned others to essentially function as clergy.

  5. But I do thank you for the explanation of service.

  6. The existence of the clergy is strongly mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, especially in the letters of St. Paul to St. Timothy, where it is specified that “deacon, priest and bishop” must have one and only one wife.
    Also the presence of deaconesses within the first church is known.
    The Bible often mention that we have to sing to the Lord to glorify him and St. Augustine says that singing to the Lord is like praying twice. What’s the difference between a singing congregation and choir? I mean the choir only improves the music. I do not think non-denominational churches have no choirs…
    The Anglican Church (better to say communion) being a reformed protestant church didn’t cease to be part of the Catholic Church (one, holy catholic and apostolic) like the roman church, the orthodox church, the lutheran church, the methodist church and some presbyterians churches.

    I am a future Italian Anglican Episcopal priest

    • Hi Edoardo,
      Welcome aboard, and thanks for adding your insights. May God bless you as you seek to fulfill your calling.

  7. Humbly request permission to link to this document and reproduce limited quantities to give to newcomers to my parish. Will give full credit and link in reproductions.

  8. Thank you for the info. I was raised a Catholic but became estranged when I married a divorced Methodist. I have been feeling a need to return to formal worship and I think this sounds like what I’ve been searching for. Thank you for the info!

    • You’re most welcome, Sharon. Please let me know if I can be of any help. 🙂


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