How to Begin
Begin by coming to worship with us.
Who can come to a St. Mary's church service?
Anyone! You don’t need to be an Episcopalian or even a Christian to come. Attending a service doesn’t commit you to anything.
- We don’t charge membership fees. (We always welcome donations, but how much you contribute is up to you, and entirely private.)
- We don’t have a dress code – people normally dress respectfully for church, but you don’t have to wear a suit or a big flowery hat.
- The words of the service are provided on a piece of paper we call a “bulletin” which a greeter will hand you as you arrive.
- Receiving the Eucharist is optional. You can stay in your place when people go up to the altar. If you do want to join us for Communion you are welcome. Or you can just come up for a blessing.
What is the Church for? Why not be a Christian in private?
The Church fulfills three important functions.
We don’t worship God because we have to, or because we’re afraid of what God might do to us if we don’t. We worship God because we believe that God is a being who fully deserves our respect and love.
Partly this is something we do for each other; passages from the Bible are read in church; sermons comment and expand on them and other issues and relate Christianity to real life. St. Mary's also offers a wonderful program of Christian learning and formation for all ages. All people are welcome to participate.
3) Fellowship and community
We are an inclusive and welcoming community of people with a common goal, supporting and strengthening each other. St. Mary's offers a number of ways to serve people both inside and outside of our church. If you think you might like to explore and participate in one of these efforts, check out our Ways to Serve page - which has information and contacts.
What Happens in Church?
The core of an Episcopal service is the Holy Eucharist. The service includes Bible readings, prayers and hymns, as well as the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. This is a ceremony derived from the supper which Jesus held with his followers on the night before his arrest and execution. Christians believe that this ceremony creates a special sort of contact with God, which helps to strengthen us as Christians.
What actually happens?
The Holy Eucharist involves the giving out of bread and wine which has been consecrated, or made holy, with special prayers. In our church we use special wafers. Normally the members of the congregation walk up to the front of the church and receive the wafer from the priest in cupped hands. The chalice, the ceremonial goblet containing the wine, is dispensed by a chalice bearer.
(There are gluten-free wafers available, and sipping from the cup is not required. You may also just receive a blessing, if you prefer.)
Can anyone take part in this ceremony?
The Episcopal Church welcomes all baptized people to God's table.
What else happens in a church service?
Episcopal services are extremely varied and flexible. At St. Mary’s we use the Book of Common Prayer, the 1982 Hymnal and other sources to create the service.
St. Mary's offers three kinds of weekend services. Our Saturday evening service at 5:00 p.m. is contemplative in nature. Our Sunday morning service at 8:00 a.m. is a traditional Episcopal service with hymns and prayers. Our 10:00 a.m. service is more modern with contemporary hymns, songs and language.
And a sermon?
Yes. We’re fully aware that sermons have a reputation for inducing sleep. This doesn’t happen at St Mary's. Our Rector and Christian Formation leader are very good speakers, adept at making Christianity relevant to everyday life. In fact, our sermons are of such quality that we put them on our website, in case you missed the service.
And what about money?
Yes, we admit it. There will normally be a collection. We need to meet running costs, pay salaries, and support the many ministries and outreach efforts that are an important part of St. Mary's. No one will pay attention to how much you’re dropping in the collection plate, and you don’t have to make a contribution at all. If you see any value in what we’re doing, you’ll probably want to help if you can.
Where do I go from here?
Newcomers are always welcome at any Episcopal church, and most especially at St. Mary’s. There are no membership fees and you don’t have to fill in any forms. But please make yourself known to our ministers, and fill out a Welcome Card - so we can come to know you and welcome you even more fully into our community.
What can the Church do for you?
The Church can bring you closer to God. It can also help teach you to become a better person by living in a more God-like way. The Church answers our human need for something greater than ourselves in which to believe and gives our lives a sense of meaning.
The Church also provides community with fellow humans traveling the same road, supporting each other, all working towards a common goal.
What can you do for the Church?
Many Christians become involved in the life of their Church in ways other than simple attendance. Many functions in a church service, such as reading lessons from the Bible, carrying the cross in the procession, or helping with communion, can be undertaken by any member of the congregation. Our church also has a choir, an altar guild, and greeters. We welcome and encourage anyone who would like to join these important ministries and provide training for those willing to help.
St. Mary's also offers many groups and commissions that will help you learn about faith and deepen your spirituality, help those in need and serve others, both inside and outside of our parish community. Visit our Ways to Serve page for more information.
All Christians have a part to play, using their own individual talents in their everyday lives to further the work of the Church and bring the world a little closer to the way God wants it to be.
These questions and answers were adapted from a webpage from St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Coconut Grove, FL.
Photo credit: Murry Edwards, 2017.