The Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA) worships in a liturgical style, meaning that church services follow a pattern of solemn ceremonies, also known as rituals. Different rites can be used at different services in the same church; some congregations switch from one rite to another in different liturgical seasons. At St. Mary’s, Arlington, the most common service rituals are Rite I, Rite II, Evening Prayer, and Compline (the night service before sleep).
Episcopal worship involves everyone; there are no spectators, only participants. That’s why the word “liturgy,” deriving from the Greek “work done by the people,” is so important. A person sitting in a pew is just as essential to the service as the celebrant.
Service leaflets are provided for all. No one is ever expected to know all elements of any service by heart. The Episcopal Church relies on three texts: The Holy Bible, which contains both the Old and New Testament, The Book of Common Prayer, which contains our service rituals, and The Hymnal, which contains our hymns and music.
If you are visiting, do not worry if you miss a page or become confused by how to find something; it is fine to rest in the presence of God and God’s people as you get more comfortable with the service, just as it is fine to ask someone for help. You will notice that some people do not use the leaflets or the the texts because they are familiar with the liturgy. Over time the flow of the service will become second nature to you too.