Episcopalians use a structered service for a number of reasons. While there is spiritual value in both pre-planned and examplery services, our form of service is what really defines us as a church. Also, just because a service is pre-planned does not mean the Holy Spirit is not involved. The Holy Spirit guides God’s people, whether worshiping or planning services. A service does not have to be spontanious to have the Spirit leading. Here are a few reasons for using a structured service:
Let Everything Be Done Decently and in Good Order Episcopalians take St. Paul’s advice to the Corinthians very seriously. Because God is not a God of confusion (I Cor. 14:33) it is not appropriate to conduct a service in a way that is disorganized or chaotic. By having parts of the service that require a response from the people, ALL who are present are participants. Because we are here to worship, not to be entertained, the service is interactive. This is also room for individual expression as well, and many opportunities for lay people to assist in the service as acolytes, choir members, lay readers, intercessors, or lay Eucharistic ministers. Truly, there is much lay participation.
Common Prayer When a service is done from the Book of Common Prayer, you can be sure that other Episcopalians elsewhere are having a very similar service. Even though there are local variations on the services, the service should always be familiar to other Episcopalians. Our Sunday Bible readings are done on a lectionary, or cycle, that allows most of the Bible to be read in a period of three years. This way, all major areas of Christian belief are taught, rather than a few passages of the pastor’s preference.
Conveniance to Newcomers There is nothing more nerve-wracking than being in a different church and not knowing what is to be done next, not knowing the hymns being sung, or knowing whether it’s okay to offer your prayers aloud. Episcopalians try to eliminate such problems by using the service found in the Book of Common Prayer. Seekers’ services in our church use a format similar to the one in the BCP. The page numbers are announced or printed in the service bulletin. The bulletin also contains the page numbers in the Hymnal where the hymns and service music are found. Some churches print their whole service in the bulletin, or use a projector.
Here a just a few examples of the variations you may find in the service:
The hymns used often vary from church to church. Episcopal churches use everything from favorite traditional hymns, to Gospel music, to centuries-old plainsong chant to praise music.
Although the same readings are typically used in all churches, the translations of the Bible used vary. Bibles used include: The Revised and New Revised Standard Versions (revised versions of the King James), New American, Jerusalem and New Jerusalem Bibles (Roman Catholic, but used by other churches as well), and New International Version, usually used by evangelical Christians. Also, the sermon is based on one or more of the readings, and different priests have different preaching styles.
Although the Prayers of the People from the Prayer Book are used, some churches write their own intercessory prayers. Opportunity is always given for the people to add their own prayers. Prayer is always offered for the Church, the nation, the world, local concerns, those who are sick or in any need, and the departed.
Although Episcopal churches use essentially the same service, there is plenty of room for variations in the service. Since the Spirit inspires all of us, our service is Spirit-led indeed.
Copyright 2001. Written on August 8, 2001*. May not be reproduced without permission of the author.
*Some minor revisions made on April 1, 2002. Updated March 11, 2007.