“We believe in following the teachings of Jesus Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection saved the world. We believe that God loves you – no exceptions.”
January 6, 2019, 10 AM
I’ve arrived way too early, as the parking lot of about thirty spaces is less than half full. The quaint stone church, built in the 1920s looks well maintained. As I wait in my car, I remember what I read on the church’s website. The “Welcome” section described the two services, and the one I will attend will be a “Choral Eucharist with organ and choir and lasts approximately 60-75 minutes (Rite II, except during Lent, when we move to Rite I)” I guess everyone should know their Rites.
I’m a little nervous as I enter the front door at 955 AM, even though I am a seasoned church goer. A man greets me and hands me a bulletin. I sit in the fourth or fifth pew from the back, right hand side. I can tell my cover is already blown when others curtsy before entering the pew and bow toward the altar before sitting down. I didn’t do either.
The bulletin is 2, 9×16 papers folded in half to make eight printed pages. Just about everything I need to know is there. The Hymnal and Book of Common Prayer are conveniently located in the pew holders. No Bibles though. The scripture readings are all printed in the bulletin. I guess this is their way of doing things, but I always prefer to look up the scripture, and follow along as it’s being read.
The service starts with the processional hymn. While we stand to sing, “What Child is This,” a woman carrying a tall cross leads the rest of the choir and the pastors down the center aisle. The congregational singing gets much better once they enter. Nothing like having a few good voices in the crowd. And the attendance seems to almost double. I count about thirty souls, including the two clergy, five choir members and one child. Actually, there were two more children laying down on a pew who emerged later.
The service continues with prayers, hymns, and scripture readings–all led by men. I’m not opposed to male leadership, but I would also like to hear a woman’s voice occasionally. Before reading the Gospel lesson, the man does something with his thumb to his face. Not sure what that means. The pastor stands in the elevated pulpit to give the sermon. His address is humorous, relevant and not too long, thankfully. My take is that he is approachable and genuine, both qualities I would want in a pastor. Again, he makes the sign of the cross on his chest, along with the congregants. It’s not something I am used to doing, but I know Episcopalians came out of the Catholic Church in England, so it makes sense.
The “prayers of the people” is printed in the bulletin and read by another man in one of the front pews, while facing forward. We respond with “Hear us, God of Glory,” after each stanza. Then the pastor calls for us to “pass the peace.” This is where it gets interesting. I stand and greet those around me, like everyone else. Then, people start leaving their pews to greet everyone they couldn’t reach. The pastors and choir members make their way down the aisle to greet everyone in the congregation. I come toward the aisle so I can be included. Most say, “peace be with you,” or “peace.” One woman says, “Hi, I’m Linda. I don’t think I’ve seen you before.” “No, I’m just visiting,” I say. “Welcome,” she says. While everyone else keeps chit-chatting, I stand awkwardly at the end of the pew, wishing they would get on with it already. Finally, the pastor reaches the back pews and shakes my hand, saying “welcome.” He returns to the front and that seems to be everyone’s cue to settle down.
The Rector then makes several announcements about church events, bible studies, etc. He also mentions that the sanctuary has all new windows and asks those seated by each window to stand and lay their hands on the windows. Thankfully, one person is closer to the window than I am. The Rector says we are going to do a “blessing of the windows.” I felt a little wigged out, wondering why we would bless inanimate objects. But then, he just says a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of the windows and for the light that shines through them, as God’s light shines through us. It was well done.
The offering, the doxology, and the Eucharist were next. No instruction was given on how to receive communion, but starting with the back pew, we were motioned to the front. Everyone knelt at the cushioned railing in front of the altar. On the end of the row, I had just enough room to put one knee down. Luckily, it’s my good knee. I see everyone else put their hands out, ready to receive something, so I do the same. The Rector gave us all a piece of Pita bread. Then, the woman who carried the cross came by with the chalice. I saw the others dip their bread into the cup. I did the same and ate the bread. When the others rose, they bowed to the altar before returning to their seats. I just got up and walked back, since it felt disingenuous for me to do that.
The service quickly ends after a post communion prayer and hymn, about 75 minutes total. I leave through the same door, greeting the Rector on my way out. He says, “welcome,” again.
I felt the service was meaningful and worshipful. While only one person greeted me personally (Linda), I did feel comfortable in the setting. Yet, I think they missed an opportunity to get to know more about me. No one asked me my name, nothing was mentioned about filling out a visitor’s card, nor did anyone ask me to stay for coffee hour (which was mentioned in the service.) Some were staying to do a post-Christmas cleanup and it’s possible they didn’t want to put me to work right away. But still, I think someone could have been a little more proactive in welcoming me. So, I am torn a bit here. This little community of faith seemed comfortable to me. I would feel good about visiting again. But on this first visit, I have to say they FAILED the WELCOME TEST.