When you arrive, you are greeted by ushers or “Trail Guides” as we call them at St. Dunstan’s. They are here to welcome you and answer any questions you may have. A printed order of service (bulletin) is provided for most services. It takes us through the service of worship, called a “liturgy.” Our Episcopal liturgy has a very distinct order and pattern, drawn from centuries of church tradition. Our Sunday services are built around the Eucharist – the liturgy celebrating the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. It is a liturgy of thanksgiving for God’s love and forgiveness, of healing of our hurts, and of strengthening for the week to come.
The Liturgy of Eucharist has two major parts. The first, the “Liturgy of the Word,” includes songs, prayers, readings from the Bible, a sermon or homily by the preacher, and prayers of our community for the Church, the world, our local community, those who are suffering or ill, and for those who have died. Music of many kinds is woven throughout the service, as a time-tested medium for expressing our heartfelt joys and longings.
The second major part of the liturgy is the “Liturgy of the Table,” or Holy Communion. As Jesus gathered his disciples at the Last Supper, so we gather in Jesus’ name to share the gifts of bread and wine, which represent Jesus’ sacrifice for the life of the world. We are strengthened as we are fed with these gifts. At St. Dunstan’s, all who wish to receive Christ in the bread and wine are invited to come forward to the altar rail. You may receive the bread or wafer in your open hands, and either dip it in the small cup of wine, or eat the wafer and then take a sip from the large cup (chalice) when it is offered. If you choose not to receive the bread and wine, but would like to come forward for a blessing, just cross your arms over your chest as an indication to the priest.
In the Eucharist, we are bound together in the mystical community we call the “Body of Christ.” And we are sent out into the world to witness to God’s love and share it in all sorts of ways.
For history buffs…
Our worship in the Episcopal Church has its roots in the 16th century Reformation in England, and before that in the ancient liturgies of the Christian Church, both the Western Church based in Rome, and the Eastern Orthodox churches. At the time of the Reformation, the words of the liturgy were translated into the language of the people – English, in our case. Elements of monastic worship were simplified so that working people could share in daily prayers.
Unlike other Reformation churches, the Anglican/Episcopal tradition has retained the four ancient orders of ministry in the Church: the laity (people), bishops (overseers), priests or presbyters (local pastors), and deacons (servant ministers). Thus our term “priest” is analogous to the terms “pastor” and “minister.” We use the term “Rector” for the senior priest in any given congregation.
The Music of the Church
Another innovation of the Reformers was the introduction of congregational singing – particularly hymns which we still sing today. In earlier times, church music was chant, generally sung in unison, especially in convents and monasteries. The reformer Martin Luther introduced hymn-tunes from the secular world (some of them were tavern drinking songs!), with memorable verses. These hymn-texts teach us a great deal about our faith…in fact, the hymnal has been called “the people’s theology book.”
We now use hymns and songs from a variety of sources in addition to our main Episcopal Hymnal, last revised in 1982 (the blue books in the pewracks). This book contains music for the parts of the Eucharist or Mass (known as service music), and 600 hymns for use throughout the Church year.
Episcopalians love patterns and ritual – they help remind us continually of the story of God’s mighty acts in the world, and God’s self-giving love in Jesus. We organize the year into church seasons, which take us through the important events in Jesus’ life and ministry every year, from Advent (in December) through Easter (in the spring). Certain passages of scripture are appointed for each Sunday of the year, so that we cover a huge portion of the Bible in worship.
If you have questions about these things, we love to tell people about them, so please ask!
Care and Compassion
“I was sick, and you visited me.”
One of the fundamental acts of the Christian life is the offering of care and compassion to others who are in need or suffering. We do this in Jesus’ name, who calls us to this ministry. Concrete acts, or “works of mercy,” include specific prayers for those in need or trouble, visiting sick or homebound people, providing meals or food to those who are suffering, and providing clothing and shelter to people who lose their housing. As a congregation, we maintain a list of those who need our prayers, and our pastoral care committee works with the clergy to reach out to people in need. We often bring the sacrament of Holy Communion to those who cannot make it to church on Sunday – a sign of their inclusion in the congregation even when they are not physically present.
If you or someone you know is in need, please contact the church office at 301-229- 2960 and let us know (or call the clergy directly). We cannot solve all needs of course, but we want to do all that we can to walk with those who are suffering as supportive friends in Christ.