Here's an overview of what you can expect at St. John's.
The Place of Worship
As you enter the church, you will notice an atmosphere of quiet reverence in the few minutes prior to the beginning of worship. Most of our worshippers cherish that quiet moment to make a transition from the world outside into the spirit of God’s house. The architecture of St. John’s, as of all Episcopal Churches, carries your eye to the altar and then to the cross, taking our thoughts at once to Christ whom we hope to encounter, and to God, whose house this is.
On and alongside the altar are candles to remind us that Christ is the "Light of the world." [John 8:11] The outer candles are lit for the first part of the service to symbolize the illumination of the word of God we hear through scripture, preaching and prayer, but the candles on the altar are not lit until the consecration of the bread and wine itself begins, symbolizing the presence of Jesus Christ.
Except during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, there are flowers at the altar to beautify God’s house and recall the resurrection of Jesus.
To the right of the altar is the lectern, which is used for the reading of scripture from the Bible and where the preacher--most often the rector, but sometimes a seminarian or a lay person--preaches the sermon.
The Act of Worship
Episcopal worship services are congregational. In the pews, you will find the Book of Common Prayer which enables the congregation to share fully in every service. In addition, you will also find in the pews a copy of the Episcopal Hymnal.
You may wonder when to stand, sit or kneel. You may also notice that there are times in the service when some people at St. John's are standing while others are kneeling. The general rule is to stand to sing. We stand, also, to say our affirmation of the faith (the Creed) and for the reading of the Gospel. Some of our parishioners stand during the consecration while others kneel—either is appropriate. We sit during readings from the Bible, the sermon, the announcements and the choir anthems. We generally kneel, though some stand, during prayers to show our gratefulness to God for accepting us as his children, or as an act of humility before God.
The Prayer Book
All worship at St. John's is drawn from the Book of Common Prayer. Sometimes, people wonder at the wisdom of this approach—it seems like rote repetition to them. Yet the reality is that it is very freeing. Because we are thoroughly familiar with the words, we are freed spiritually to go where the words take us—whether it is to a place of penitence for our sins, of deep searching for God in prayer, or of joy in the incredibly generous gift of Christ’s life for us. Like icons and sacraments, the Prayer Book is a window into another world—God’s world—through which we see our own world and lives differently. Granted, it takes a little getting used to…but once the Prayer Book becomes familiar it is a springboard, not a brick wall.
The Regular Services
The central service of worship at St. John’s is the Holy Eucharist, the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection made concrete in the bread and wine. As you participate in the Eucharist over time the logic of this service will grow clearer. In a nutshell, we begin by listening to scripture and reflecting on its meaning for life, and then move through prayer, confession and forgiveness to becoming the family of God gathered around the table of God, living ever so briefly the life of heaven before we return again to the world, hopefully transformed and renewed to live life differently.
To add to the beauty and festivity of the services, and to signify special ministries, the clergy and other ministers wear vestments. Choir vestments consist of a black undergown called a cassock, and a white, gathered overgown called a surplice. Laity who have roles as worship leaders will often wear this same vestment. Acolytes, young people and occasionally adults who assist with worship, wear a cotton alb.
The priest wears an alb as well—a white tunic with sleeves that covers the body from neck to ankles. Over it, the priest wears a stole, a narrow band of colored fabric in the color of the season of the church year (see next section).
At the Holy Eucharist, the second part of the Sunday service, the priest wears a chasuble (a circular garments that envelops the body) over the alb. Like the stole, this garment is in the color of season of the church year.
The wearing of vestments call to mind that what is happening in a church service is unusual and godly, something different from the world of ordinary experience. However, the are other service participants, including those who read scripture and lead prayers, who wear ordinary clothes and sit in the pews with the rest of the congregation. These people remind us that everything we do must simultaneously be connected with the world we live in on a daily basis. While the consciousness of heaven is meant to lift us out of this world, it is not escapism, but renewal for the life God has given us to lead.
The Church Year
The Episcopal Church observes the traditional Christian calendar in which we move through the life of Christ in the course of a year. The season of Advent, during which we prepare for the birth of Christ at Christmas, begins on the Sunday closest to November 30. Christmas itself lasts twelve days, after which we celebrate the Epiphany (January 6) in which the light of Christ breaks out into the world.
Lent, the forty days of penitential preparation for Easter, begins on Ash Wednesday. The most deeply spiritual services of the year take place during the week before Easter in which we commemorate the last days of the life of Christ culminating in his resurrection on Easter Sunday. During the Easter season, we focus particularly on the experiences of the risen Christ in the early Church, culminating in Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, when the disciples are filled by the Holy Spirit and sent into the world.
During all of these seasons, the Bible readings are selected for their relevance to the events being commemorated. During the rest of the year in the long season after Pentecost, the New Testament is read sequentially from Sunday to Sunday so the congregation can experience the total teaching and experience of Christ and of the apostle Paul and other authors of New Testament letters. Old Testament lessons are selected to correspond with the theme of the day’s Gospel.
Where do I go from here?
To church, we hope! As you experience worship at St. John's, please feel free to ask any questions that come to mind. Our priest will be happy to schedule time to visit with you. We trust and pray that, as worship becomes more familiar to you, the experience of being with God and your family in Christ at St. John's will open the doors of the kingdom of God to you.
Our Bishop: The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, assisting Bishop of San Diego. Bishop Schori serves as the assistant bishop to the Diocese of San Diego during the interim period. She served as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 2006 until 2015.
Bishop Schori was featured in Time Magazine's series on Women Who Have Changed the World. She is the first woman to lead a major Christian denomination.
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry is the 27th and current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He is the first African American to serve in that capacity. He was elected in 2015 and was invited to preach the sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018. Bishop Curry recently announced that he is being treated for prostate cancer. He is expected to make a full recovery.
Quote from Bishop Curry: “Being a Christian is not essentially about joining a church or being a nice person, but about following in the footsteps of Jesus, taking his teachings seriously, letting his Spirit take the lead in our lives, and in so doing helping to change the world from our nightmare into God’s dream.” ― Michael Curry, Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus
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