Posted by: AJtheIrishLass | February 5, 2010

Etiquette for Episcopal Service Visitors

1. How Do I Follow the Service?
When you arrive, an usher will give you a bulletin that tells which pages in the Book of Common Prayer and the hymnal to use. Many parishes print the entire order of service in the bulletin itself.

2. Are my Kids Welcome? Is There a Cry Room?
Kids are always welcome. While most buildings lack a specified cry room, there are usually places where you can take your kids if they get fidgety where you can still hear the service. Nursery and children’s chapel are generally available.

3. What Should I Do Before the Service?
It’s appropriate to spend the pre-service time in quiet prayer or reflection.

4. How Do I Remember When to Stand, Sit, or Kneel?
Here’s the typical rule of thumb: stand during hymns, the Gospel reading, the Creed, the Peace, and the first part of the Eucharistic prayer; sit during the readings, sermon, and offertory; and kneel for prayer. During the Eucharistic prayer, it’s acceptable to either stand or kneel.
5. Do I Have to Do Everything the Other Worshipers Do?
No, but it is considered rude to not stand during the Gospel reading unless physically unable to. If unable to kneel, sitting is perfectly fine.
6. Am I Required to Put Something in the Offering Plate?
It’s not required, and no one will be offended. Whatever amount you feel like contributing is fine.
7. How Do I Receive Communion?
Usually, you’ll go forward to the altar rail. Stand or kneel at the rail, where you’ll receive the bread first. If receiving from the common cup, you can consume the bread first. When the chalice bearer comes to you, either take a small sip from the chalice, or dip the bread into the chalice, then consume. You can also have the chalice bearer dip the bread and place it in your mouth.
8. What Should I Do If I’m Not Receiving?
It’s okay if you choose not to receive for whatever reason. However, it’s a good idea to avoid leaving prior to the communion part of the service, as this can be somewhat rude. If not receiving, you can simply stay in your seat. You can also go forward, but cross your arms over your chest to indicate you’re not receiving. The priest will give you a blessing instead. If you cross your arms again when the chalice bearer comes by, they’ll go on to the next person.
9. What If I’m Disabled and Can’t Go Forward?
Let an usher know, and they can have someone bring the sacrament to you in your seat.
10. And After the Service?
You’ll have a chance to greet the clergy as you’re leaving. If there’s a coffee hour, you’re invited, of course!


  1. …where you’ll receive the bread first…

    The bread????? How about the Body of Christ??

    • Hi Connie (?)

      Thanks for posting. While I realize the importance of what the bread and wine are, this post was geared towards visitors and newcomers who may not be familiar with the terminology. No offense to anybody’s beliefs was intended. The Book of Common Prayer does make use of the terms bread and wine in reference to the liturgy (p.361, pp. 364-365 for examples)

  2. Anybody not “familiar with the terminology” probably should not be coming forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. In other words, if they haven’t been baptized and at least minimally catechized to know what’s going on, they should probably be invited to come up for a blessing.

  3. Hi Connie,
    There are several Christian communities who don’t have exactly the same understanding of the Eucharist as the Episcopal Church does as far as real presence goes. The canons do not necessarily prohibit such people from receiving as long as they are baptized, are repentant of their sins, and are in charity with their fellow Christians.

    I’m really not trying to keep the tone of this discussion argumentative, but it seemed as though there was offense taken when there was none intended. If the Book of Common Prayer, as well as other publications use the terms “bread” and “wine”, then there shouldn’t be any reason to be offended.

    Perhaps those who don’t believe in real presence shouldn’t receive in a church that does, but current policy in the Episcopal Church doesn’t prohibit reception on that basis. For better or worse, all baptized Christians are welcome at the table.

  4. Understood, but directions to visitors, who may or may not be baptized, should probably NOT encourage them to come forward and receive communion without specifying that they should be “baptized, are repentant of their sins, and are in charity with their fellow Christians. ”

    It is our duty as Christians not to imperil the souls of others by allowing them to receive the objective Grace of the Sacrament unworthily.

    And the terminology of the BCP is worth another look, IMHO.

  5. Umm, make that “in charity with their neighbors” (not just fellow Christians, but everyone.)

  6. “It is our duty as Christians not to imperil the souls of others by allowing them to receive the objective Grace of the Sacrament unworthily.”

    Good point. It wouldn’t hurt for more parishes to list the requirements from the catechism in the bulletin. After all, it’s concise, but makes it clear that communion isn’t something to be treated overly casually, either.
    Thanks for correcting my typo, BTW. My fingers were quicker than my brain 🙂

  7. This is an excellent write-up; thank you celticanglican, and also for your gentle response to uncommitted “offenses”. God & Christ are a very personal experience… Jesus said, “take this in remembrance of me”… He did not mandate, “go to class, indoctrinate yourselves with all the church lingo & dogma so you can bask in some sense of ego-entitlement you can bear over your brothers…then go on record proclaiming on your entire soul to disallow ANY/ALL other Christ-based expressions of love, while upholding all “THE” church’s corruption and dogma… and THEN you can partake in the sharing of my body and blood.” (“Bread” by the way is also used to describe manna from god… which is at its essence, also a metaphor for spiritual grace.) If one is going to be so offended by a simple commonly accepted term as “bread,” seemingly believing there are such people soooo unworthy, that they are willing to sit through a whole hour+ long service just to grab a light snack of a blessed little disc and a flavor of wine… then perhaps that individual “should” be praying FOR those people, and be especially welcoming to them — instead of standing in vainglory criticizing the genuine welcoming of ignorant “unworthies.” I would ask Connie if perhaps there aren’t more valid soapboxes of human sufferings to stand upon than, “you shouldn’t be encouraging people unindoctrinated to share in the body of Christ”. (Oops…forgive me for failing to capitalize “Body of.”) Maybe Connie would feel more upheld and pious dedicating her soul to the Catholic restrictions… I mean, come on… if we’re trying to make ourselves believe we’re all devout and so much more worthy than others less knowledgeable, we probably shouldn’t be cutting corners.


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