Sundays at St. Mark's-in-the-Valley in detail
Christian formation and worship
Sunday mornings include nursery care and Christian formation classes (Sunday School) for children Kindergarten through 6th grade, and worship.
The main weekly worship service in an Episcopal Church is called Holy Eucharist. It is also known as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or the Mass. This worship experience, which includes hearing and reflecting on scripture, praying, and receiving the blessed bread and wine in community, allows us to gather today at Christ’s own table. It takes different forms – from more formal to very casual.
At St. Mark’s there are Sunday services in the morning and late afternoon throughout the year. All the services are casual and relaxed, as fits our local environment. The morning services are somewhat more conventional; the afternoon service is more contemporary. In the summer, both services last under an hour and are at 9 am and 5 pm. Both have music. The 9 am service includes two shorter hymns and other special music. The 5 o’clock service (year ‘round) has a mix of live and recorded music. During the program year, the services are at 8 am, 10 am and 5 pm. The 8 am service does not have music and the 10 am service has choir, hymns, and other special music.
The pattern for the services is The Book of Common Prayer, the main worship resource for the Episcopal Church that also informs how we tend to think about God and life – we say our praying shapes our believing. It is a red book with a cross on the cover and is found in all pews. The other book you will find in the pews is the blue Hymnal, one of many music resources used in the Episcopal Church.
Because we also benefit from more current and wide-ranging worship and music resources, you will receive from the ushers an easy-to-follow service leaflet with all the text and music in order.
Worship in the Episcopal Church is said to be “liturgical,” meaning that the congregation shares and expresses the texts and music.
For the first-time visitor, liturgy may be engaging or confusing. The aim is engage heart, mind, body and senses in the time we spend with God and one another. Services may involve standing, sitting, kneeling, spoken or sung responses, and other participatory elements that may provide a challenge for the first-time visitor. While these movements are meant to be helpful and enriching, they are not about right and wrong or good and bad. All worshippers can relax; liturgical worship can be compared with a dance: once you are familiar with the steps, you come to appreciate the rhythm, and movement and it becomes satisfying to enter, again and again, as the music changes. Also, there is a lot of variety within the gathered assembly.
The service of Holy Eucharist always has the same two main parts: The liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the table. We share a greeting called “The Peace” between these two main parts.
The first part of the service: the liturgy of the word
The first part, the liturgy of the word, is prayers and Bible readings, often interspersed with singing or saying psalms and hymns. One of the readings is always from the gospels, the stories of the life of Jesus. Typically, a sermon or conversation reflecting on the readings appointed for the day follows the Bible readings. The congregation says together the Nicene Creed or another Affirmation of Faith, using metaphorical language to express deeply held intuitions and insights that transcend human thought and the ages.
The congregation prays together – for the Church, the world, and those in need. We pray for the sick, thank God for all the good things in our lives, and we pray for the dead. The leader (typically the priest leading the service) concludes with a prayer that gathers the prayers into a communal offering to God.
In certain seasons of the Church year, the congregation formally confesses their sins before God and one another. This is a joint statement of what we have done and have left undone that has caused us, in those instances, to miss the mark or fall short of God’s ideal for us. After the confession, the priest pronounces absolution, sharing God’s assurance that God is always ready to free us from our failures and to restore to our whole selves.
The congregation then greets one another with a brief message of peace. The peace concludes with a brief time for parish announcements.
The second part of the service - the liturgy of the table
In the second half of the service, the liturgy of the table, the priest stands at the altar or holy table on behalf of all of the people. The altar is set with a cup of wine and a plate of bread or bread-wafers, The priest raises his or her hands in an ancient gesture, and greets the congregation.
This greeting and the responses made by all begin the eucharistic prayer (called “The Great Thanksgiving”), in which the celebrant tells the story of our faith, from the beginning of Creation, through the choosing of Israel to be God’s people, through our continual turning away from God, and God’s calling us to return. Finally, the celebrant tells the story of the coming of Jesus Christ, and about the night before his death, on which he instituted the eucharistic meal (communion) as a continual remembrance (re-experiencing) of him.
The Eucharist is always a gathering of the saints on earth and the saints “above” – all who are now alive and those who have died and entered the nearer (invisible) presence of God; the eucharistic prayer often makes reference to this larger reality.
The priest asks God to bless the bread and wine, and the congregation prays together the Lord’s Prayer. Finally, the celebrant breaks the bread and offers it to the congregation, as the “gifts of God for the people of God.”
The congregation then shares the consecrated bread and the wine. At St. Mark’s, we typically come to the altar, one pew at a time, and many receive bread first, then sip from the chalice. “Intinction” is another method of receiving communion, whereby the bread is dipped into the chalice, so that one receives the bread and wine together. It is also perfectly acceptable to receive communion in bread only. We do have gluten-free alternatives at all services (simply indicate to the priest if that is your preference).
All who participate in the eucharist, regardless of age, denomination, or other factors are welcome to receive communion.
Anyone who wishes can receive a blessing instead of the bread and wine. To indicate this preference, simply cross your arms across your chest as the priest approaches.
At the end of the Eucharist, the congregation prays once more in thanksgiving, and then is dismissed to continue the life of service to God and to the World.
Refreshments and conversation, for those who wish
Often, we gather for refreshments and conversation for a few minutes after service.