Are you wondering what to expect when you visit St. Thomas for the first time?
We use a wide variety of music (organ, piano, and sometimes guitar, from a variety of traditions). Some of us dress casually, while others are more formal. Pre-COVID, our worship was always followed by a time of simple food and great conversation in Hudson Hall. We eagerly await its return!
You might be wondering WHERE TO PARK. You can see from the map below that we are located at the intersection of Brook Road and Lewinsville Road. You can enter our parking lot from either street, but using the Lewinsville entrance is easiest. Park anywhere in the parking lot and enter our building through the doors facing the parking lot behind the large cross. (There’s a ramp on the right if one is needed).
As You Enter
When you come into the building, you’ll find yourself in our NARTHEX (that’s Episco-speak for lobby). There might be choir members and worship leaders milling around. If you walk straight ahead, you’ll see the doors into our sanctuary. There will be one or more ushers there to welcome you and give you a paper BULLETIN. The bulletin will help you know what’s happening in the service.
What About My Children?
If you have CHILDREN, they are welcome, too! From September through mid-May, our Sunday School is in session starting at 10 AM. To enable social distancing, our younger children (ages 4-8) meet in Hudson Hall, which you can find by taking the corridor to the right as you face the sanctuary. Our older children (ages 9-12) meet in our Teacher Conference Room, which you can find by taking the corridor to the left, as you face the sanctuary. Our CRIBBERY is staffed from 9:45-11:45 with a fully trained (and background-checked) caregiver for our littlest members and guests. You’ll find it next to the Teacher Conference Room down the corridor to the left. If your kids prefer to stay with you, that’s totally fine! We have coloring pages and books near the sanctuary doors in the NARTHEX. Children rejoin us about half-way through worship, in time for COMMUNION).
What Happens During Worship?
Once you take a seat in a pew, you’ll be facing the altar, which is one of the central features of our worship space. In the pews, you’ll find a BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER (RED), a HYMNAL (BLUE), and two other hymnals (LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING – also RED and WONDER, LOVE AND PRAISE – GREEN). The bulletin will tell you which book to use when – and our priest Fran leads worship in a way that helps our visitors get oriented. If you’re feeling confused, ask someone sitting near you for help. We don’t want to invade your privacy, but we’re all delighted you’ve joined us and would be glad to offer assistance.
During the service, we pray with our whole bodies. Generally, we SIT to listen, we STAND to sing, and we STAND or KNEEL to pray.
Near the start of the service, we hear some readings from the BIBLE. Usually, it’s a lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures (sometimes called the Old Testament), followed by a Psalm. Next comes a reading from one of the books of the New Testament, and then finally a Gospel reading, which is followed by a SERMON. The goal of the sermon is to bring understanding to one or more of the scripture passages and help us all to understand its significance for our lives today. Usually the sermon lasts about 12-15 minutes.
At the midpoint of the service, we do something that might catch you by surprise. We turn to one another to offer the PEACE OF CHRIST. Some people greet those near them, while others leave their pews. Honestly, it can seem a little rowdy! Occasionally, guests thought that church was over at this point. If you haven’t experienced the peace before, it might seem strange. The peace follows the CONFESSION – a time in worship where we collectively confess that we have not lived most fully into God’s hopes for us and for the world. Following that, the priest offers ABSOLUTION or forgiveness. It’s within this context that we exchange the peace. Having admitted (in our own hearts) our faults and failings and having received assurance of God’s love and forgiveness, we then offer Christ’s peace to one another. Some people say, “Peace” or “Peace be with you.” You can respond, “Peace be with you” or “And also with you.” Some people shake hands and others give a brief hug as part of their greeting. Since COVID, we’ve added fist bumps, elbow bumps, peace signs, and bows to our repertoire of greetings. Whatever you do is fine with us.
At some time during our worship service, there is a COLLECTION of money. The offering provides an opportunity for worshippers to support the mission of the church, both internally and in the community. As our guest, you are not expected to put anything in the collection plate. In fact, many of our members send in their offerings through the mail, so when the plate comes by them they don’t put anything in. You won’t stand out.
Now, let’s talk about EUCHARIST (sometimes called Communion). We celebrate the Eucharist at most worship services.
The EUCHARIST both brings to mind (remembers) and re-enacts Jesus’ last supper with his disciples on the night before he was crucified. While there are many different prayers that can be used during this celebration, you’ll always hear some form of Jesus’ words, “This bread is my body” and “This cup is my blood.” We believe that through this prayer, the bread (a small wafer that looks more like a cracker) and wine are made holy. After the prayers, the bread and wine are shared with the congregation.
All baptized Christians are welcome to receive communion, no matter which denomination you were baptized in. You’ll be invited to come forward where you can kneel or stand at the communion rail. First, you’ll be offered bread. Then, you’ll be offered the wine. During COVID, a Eucharistic minister will place the wafer in your hand. Then, you’ll be handed a small paper cup of wine. We ask you to take both back to your seat and consume them there. Someone will come by with a bowl to collect the paper cups.
If you aren’t comfortable receiving communion, you have two choices. You are welcome to simply stay in your pew. Or, you can come forward. But when you get to the front, simply cross your arms over your chest, so the ministers know you wish to receive a blessing instead of communion.
If you can’t kneel at the communion rail, stand instead. Many of our members stand because of back problems, knee problems or personal preference. And, if you are unable to walk to the communion rail, let the usher know, and the priest and chalice bearer will be delighted to bring the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, to you in your pew.
At the Conclusion of Service
We conclude the service with a closing hymn which is listed in the bulletin. Pre-COVID, many of our members and guests would continue to Hudson Hall following the service, for COFFEE HOUR. There we enjoyed coffee and tea, as well as snacks. Coffee hour gave us a chance to talk with one another and greet new friends. We miss it and eagerly await its return.
What do Episcopalians Believe?
The Episcopal Church is a community of 2.2 million members in 110 dioceses in the Americas and abroad. St. Thomas is one of the member congregations of the Diocese of Virginia – a geographic area stretching from northern Richmond to Northern Virginia, and from Charlottesville, north to the West Virginia border.
If you have questions about what to expect when attending St. Thomas, our Rector would love to hear from you. Drop her an email or give her a call. 703-442-0966.