I have now attended two services at the Episcopal church, and two weeks of the Inquirer’s class. I’ve also nearly finished a book the priest gave to me that first day, appropriately titled “Those Episkopols”. So, here are a few things I’ve learned:
The church bulletin is your Episcopalian survival guide for the morning. Study it carefully. There won’t be an official test, but you may wish there was. That way you would definitely remember when to stand. Also, it is absolutely essential to keep it in your hand at all times. This may be difficult, since you will also be holding the Prayer Book and the hymnal. You will need to learn how to balance them all at once, because these books are heavy and make very loud disruptive noises when dropped on the beautiful wood floors of the church.
Lessons are not the sermon. Lessons are when someone comes and reads different sections of the Bible. During some of the reading, (perhaps just the Psalms reading, but I’m not sure) you will be expected to finish the second half of each verse. Do not read ahead. You will be the only one doing so, and the little kid sitting in front of you will turn around and stare.
People cheat when kneeling. Yes, there is a handy little knee rest for you. But why put all your weight on your knees when you can carefully rest your bum against the pew too? Again, you are going to need to learn to balance yourself like this while holding your required texts. Luckily, you can usually place the hymnal beside you when kneeling. I don’t recall singing while kneeling, unless you count the prayer that was sung. (Man, did that throw me off.)
The Peace will surprise you. Everyone around you will begin to shake hands and say “Peace be with you” or simply “Peace”. The easiest thing for you to do is return the shake and say “Same to you.” That way you don’t say the wrong thing, especially when you are used to doing the high five, hello, hug, handshake form of greeting.
Communion will cause anxiety. This isn’t a thimble of grape juice and little crackers being passed from pew to pew. No, this is a whole ceremony. You will follow your row to the altar, and wait patiently for a kneeling place to open up. Oh, and when you step out into the aisle, most Episkopols will bow. You can bow, or do the awkward half-curtsy nod that I did. Then you must determine if you are going to accept the bread and wine (in the Episcopal church, anyone who has been baptized is welcome to do so). And then you will surreptitiously glance around you to make sure you are doing it right. Some people will cup their hands while waiting for that little wafer – others will lay theirs flat. If you don’t want the wafer at all, you cross your hands across your chest. Once you receive that wafer, you have another choice. You can chew or let is dissolve. (Apparently this is actually a debate in some churches.) You may feel rushed, since that silver cup is leaving the lips of your communion taking neighbor, so you will probably chew. Now that the cup is before you, you can either cross your arms across the chest to refuse the wine, or help the person guide the cup to your lips. Of course, now you also have to decide how much to drink. Do remember that it is before noon and you probably haven’t eaten breakfast. Just a sip, ok? Now most people around you will cross themselves. They will not judge you if you choose not to – at least, they won’t say anything to you! Now you need to get up, because there are dozens more Episkopols wanting your spot.
If you attend a small church, you will be noticed, especially if you are single. Most Episkopols attend as a family, or at least as a couple. People will introduce themselves to you and ask how you ended up at this Episcopal church. And they may straight up invite you to join the choir your first time there, because they may be in need of female voices. Please note that all their questions are in an attempt to make you feel welcome and loved, not like you are on a job interview.
And there you have it. Some of the initial lessons I have learned in my two weeks of Episcopalian exposure.
In all seriousness, though, I have learned so much in this brief time. These are just a few humorous lessons. On Thursday I will delve a little deeper into my Episcopalian lessons…