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global_nomad's avatar

Protocol for attending a new church?

Asked by global_nomad (1906points) November 5th, 2010

When I was a kid the only time we went to church was when we were at my grandmother’s house at Christmastime. My grandmother was a very diligent church-goer so we always attended Midnight Mass. I have fond memories of those ceremonies and of the original church we used to attend Midnight Mass at. I’m in college now and I have been wanting to go to a Sunday service at an Episcopal Church for some time now. My family is not from this area and none of my friends are church-goers either, or even Christian, so I would be attending by myself.

My question is this: is there certain etiquette for attending a church you have never attended before? Should I sit in the back? Is there a strict dress-code, or has it become more lax over the years? Do I need to introduce myself to someone? Also, never having been to a Sunday service, what kinds of things should I expect to hear or do at one at an Episcopal Church? Any advice is appreciated.

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7 Answers

Rarebear's avatar

Just dress nicely, smile, and say thank you when people say “Welcome.”

lillycoyote's avatar

Yes, I would agree with @Rarebear. Dress reasonably nicely, no cut offs, tube tops and flip-flops, of course :-) the first time and just go and be reasonably civilized and feel welcome when they welcome you. I suspect that, considering that people are leaving the mainstream churches in droves, they will just be happy to see you there. There would be certain things that you wouldn’t, couldn’t or really shouldn’t do if you’re attending a Catholic Mass and you’re not Catholic, as I’m sure you’re aware, since you mentioned going to Mass with your grandmother, you couldn’t take Communion, but I don’t you’ll have any “etiquette” issues at an Episcopal church. And you might ask, but I’m pretty sure that you could take communion at the Episcopal church if you wanted to, if you were confirmed a Catholic or in some Protestant denomination, just not the other way around.

plethora's avatar

Episcopal churches differ, from “high church” to “low church”, the former being more formal. You might want to stop by the church office on a weekday and just speak to whoever is on the desk and ask what to expect and how you should dress. Then you’ll know for sure and also know exactly where to go, where the main entrance is, etc. Going to a new church for the very first time, things run on a pretty tight schedule, and it’s good to know exactly if you want to be sure and get there on time.

If you don’t like the particular church you go to the first time, don’t think they are all alike. Try another one.

Hope you enjoy the experience.

lillycoyote's avatar

@plethora Thanks for weighing in. I hate misinforming people and you’re certainly right about the differences between Episcopalians, low church vs. high church. I’m an apostate so my church going skills are a little rusty. :-)

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@plethora True, but my church is a gorgeous g-or-ge-ous cathedral that is very strict about rituals, proper service order, the whole shebag. And about ¼ of the attendees come dressed in jeans or other casual wear. Several dress as gay pimps (possibly because they are gay pimps…). No one cares; it’s a very welcoming environment. So it really depends on the church.

That said, you can’t go wrong with dressing as you would for an important interview. You can also check on their website; most have a dress code section.

Kayak8's avatar

I am a cradle to grave Episcopalian. Feel free to PM me with any specific questions. In general as @plethora described, we have high and low church. You can take communion at the Episcopal church without issue. If you are familiar with Roman Catholic traditions, the Anglican Catholic traditions will not be unfamiliar to you. The major differences (and I am grossly oversimplifying here) are that we 1) don’t recognize the Pope, 2) don’t believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ, 3) for communion in the Anglican church, we get bread AND wine (not just bread like in the Roman Church, 4) some Episcopal churches use a common cup for the wine (if you just want the priest to dip your host in the wine and place it on your tongue [intinction] then just keep the host in your hand til the wine cup comes around.

You can, but don’t have to genuflect (kneel with head bowed toward the altar) before entering and existing the pew. We have a little font of holy water at the back of most churches—you can annoint your own forehead or don’t have to (no big deal) upon entry to the church.

Stand when others stand, kneel when others kneel, follow the instructions in the prayer book or the bulletin and you should be fine.

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