When the Church of England (Anglican Church) was established in the 16th century new forms for worship were set out in a Book of Common Prayer to be used by all churches. The forms of worship found in this new Book of Common Prayer were those that historically had been used in the church, but now were in English, the common language of the people. This offered people greater understanding of and participation in the worship they were undertaking.
Today the member churches of the world wide Anglican Communion, including our own Episcopal Church, all share the heritage of the Book of Common Prayer. Although international provinces have their own prayer books, all seek to continue the ancient forms of worship handed down to us from the time of Christ and the spirit and principles embodied in the first Book of Common Prayer. As times change, the Prayer Book is updated and changes are made only after thorough study and dialogue.
Our principal act of Worship on Sunday is called the Holy Eucharist. It is a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” The basic pattern of the Eucharistic liturgy goes back to Jesus himself, who commanded us to continue it, as Christians have ever since. The drama of the Eucharist has always been the central event in historic Christian worship, and the pattern for all Christian life.
We believe that when we celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus is made present with us; we call him into our presence and we are united with him. This is why the Eucharist is so important to us and central to our worship.
The service in general has two parts reflecting our Christian understanding that God communicates with us both through WORD and through SACRAMENTS. The first half of the Eucharistic liturgy is centered on the Holy Scriptures. The Word of God is read from the Holy Scriptures and proclaimed and expounded on by the preacher in a sermon that refers to the readings appointed for each Sunday. The congregation responds to what they have heard by prayer and the proclamation of their faith.
The Word of God is experienced in three ways: in the reading of Holy Scripture, the Word of God, in the living person of Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, and in the proclamation of the Word of God from the pulpit.
In the second half of the service we gather around the altar, the table upon which the Eucharistic meal is prepared and celebrated, making Christ present with us. We believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated bread and wine. The Eucharist is a sacrament: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.
At St. Peter’s Episcopal Church we celebrate the Holy Eucharist with two different rites taken from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. At the 8 AM service we use Rite I, a service that employs traditional English, using, for example, the words “thee” and “thou.” At 9 and 11 AM we use Rite II that by contrast uses the modern English, “you” and “your.”
In all of our worship we engage our spirits in thanksgiving by worshiping with the wholeness of our being.