Visitors Guide

A user-friendly guide for worship at St. Paul’s

Come & Worship. Come & Serve. Come & Feel the Spirit Move!

First Things First…

We are delighted that you chose to worship with us this day, and look forward to your return. We suspect that you may have some questions. Everybody you see here was once a newcomer at one time or another and we’ve all had questions – probably some of the very same ones you have. So, don’t hesitate to ask questions! We want you to be comfortable so you can worship God and enjoy your visit. You can’t do that if you’re wondering which book to pick up next or by trying “to do everything right.” 

So Exhale…

When you’re worshipping God, you can’t get it wrong! If you need help, ask the person next to you. We love guests here at St. Paul’s.

You may want to stop reading at this point and just enjoy the worship service. You can always take this booklet with you. One last thing, though. You need to know that it is the normal practice of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to celebrate Holy Communion, also known as the Eucharist, every Sunday. If you are wondering, as a guest this morning, if you are permitted to receive communion, the answer is not only “YES,” but we hope you will. All baptized Christians are welcome to come to the altar rail for communion. If you don’t feel comfortable receiving communion at this time, we still invite you to our “family table” to receive a blessing from the priest. Simply cross your arms over your chest and that signifies to the priest that you wish to receive a blessing rather than communion. 


We want you to feel absolutely comfortable worshipping with us. Worship is a time to join with others in giving thanks to God for God’s wonderful blessings in our lives. It is a time to allow yourself to enter into God’s presence, to be touched by God’s love. 

Now, let’s start with the basics.

What are these books in the rack in front of me? The red book is the Book of Common Prayer. The words used in our worship service (the liturgy) are taken from this book. We have put this service’s liturgy and hymns in the bulletin to make it easier for people to follow during the worship service. There are other special services as well as prayers found in this book. The blue book is the 1982 Hymnal that contains the majority of the hymns we sing in our worship service. 

Why are some people kneeling and praying before the service begins? 

We take time before the service to say “hello” to God, to prepare our hearts for worship. If you’re not sure what to pray in preparation for worship, personalizing the Collect for Purity is a good place to start. “Almighty God, to you my heart is open, my desires known, and from you no secrets of mine are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit that I may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” 

It sure seems like we stand up and sit down a lot. 

That’s true. The general rule is that we stand to sing, sit to listen and kneel to pray. The Episcopal way of worshipping is to experience worship with all our senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. We like to think that we involve our entire being in worship. We also engage our minds in worship, but our senses can deliver God’s presence to our hearts in a way that is beyond our understanding. We are reminded in those moments that God is a mystery. That mystery is often communicated to us through the beauty of the church or glorious music. 

Why are some people bowing and some kneeling before entering the seating and others don’t do anything at all? 

What you are noticing is called “reverencing” and people have different ways of doing it. Some bow in the direction of the altar, some “genuflect” (touch their knee to the floor), others reverence silently or without gesture. What’s important is that you do what feels comfortable and what helps you worship. 

Why do some people touch their forehead and shoulders?

Again, this is a personal worship practice. This is called making the sign of the cross. Some people do it in remembrance of their baptism, others because it reminds them of the price Jesus paid to enable us to respond to God’s love; still others because it’s their way of taking up their own “cross” and following him. You will see them doing this at times during the service too. But you don’t have to cross yourself just because others do. Once again, do what is comfortable and meaningful to you. 

This looks very Roman Catholic to me. Is this a Roman Catholic Church? 

It is not, but like our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, as well as Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and some other liturgical church traditions, the Episcopal Church, and the wider Anglican Communion, (those churches in communion with the Church of England), places great value on ancient forms and expressions of prayer and worship. In many Episcopal Churches this ancient expression includes use of traditional liturgical dress of vestments as well as an ornate architectural design of the worship space itself, which we believe assist and enhance our worship and symbolically speak to the various aspects of the mystery of God. 

So what is going to happen next?

As you wait for the service to begin, you will see some people bowed in prayer, you’ll probably hear others visiting in the back as ushers greet them. You will first hear an organ Voluntary, which is an organ solo that notifies people that in a short time our worship will begin. Our service begins with an opening Processional Hymn. If you love the hymn, belt it out, whether you are in tune or not. As the Scriptures say, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” 

Who are the people in the robes?

The wearing of these robes (vestments) is a reminder that what we do here today is different. We have left behind our everyday lives and entered into God’s presence. Acolytes wearing white robes carrying a cross and torches will lead the opening procession. You will  know the Bishop because he or she wears a pointed hat, called a mitre, and carries a staff, called a crozier.

Are children allowed to attend the service?

Absolutely! Children join our worship service for the Children’s Sermon and then join their parents for Holy Communion. There are opportunities for youth to serve as acolytes and when they reach the age of eighteen serve as chalice bearers. 

What about Holy Communion? How does that work here? 

All baptized Christians are invited and encouraged to come to the altar rail to receive the Holy Communion. Ushers will help guide people to the altar to receive Holy Communion. Most people kneel to receive communion, but standing is perfectly acceptable, particularly since we don’t (yet) have an altar rail.  Communion is received by first eating the bread then drinking from the cup. The normal custom for receiving the bread is to place one hand, palm up, into the palm of the other hand and lift them both to the priest to receive the wafer. After receiving the bread, simply raise your hands to your mouth and eat the wafer. 

Next is the wine, not grape juice. When the chalice (cup) bearer comes to you, please help guide the cup to your lips and take a small sip. A second option, if you prefer, is to have the chalice bearer dip the wafer in the wine and then place it on your tongue. A third option, should you not wish to receive the wine, is to simply cross your arms over your chest. This lets the chalice bearer know that you will not be receiving the wine. Those wishing not to receive Holy Communion may come forward for a blessing. Crossing your arms over your chest signifies to the priest that you wish to receive a blessing. 

A word about symbolism … 

In the very earliest churches, most people could neither read nor write. So it became necessary to invent ways to teach people about religious matters and let them know what was going on especially since all services and prayers were in Latin! Many of these traditions still exist – like  different vestment colors to denote various seasons of the church year, stained glass windows to tell Biblical stories, Sanctus Bells to indicate the most solemn moments of Eucharist. On special feast days we use incense, as a gift to God. It symbolically purifies all that it touches. These subtle reminders enhance the beauty of our tradition and enrich our worship service.