Episcopal Worship 101


Worship in the Episcopal Church is a kinetic event. Episcopalians kneel, bow, turn and make the sign of the cross. But why?
The Reverend Scott Walters was a carpenter before becoming an Episcopal priest. (Carpentry has a pretty good track record in Christianity!) Scott tells the story of the first time his boss, Dave, sent him as an apprentice to install a door. Dave gave Scott all the information he needed to be able to complete the job, Scott says this:

“When Dave returned an hour and a half later, he found me struggling at my task. I had all the information I needed, but in my inexperienced hands the seemingly rigid door behaved like a balloon. A push in one spot created a bulge somewhere else. Dave stepped in, gave a few knowing bumps and shoves, and in a matter of moments all was right with the door.”
Why was Dave effortlessly able to accomplish what Scott, with hours of labor, could not? Because Scott relied only on his head knowledge, and as he reveals, “the goal of any apprenticeship is the transfer of knowledge to the hands.” Or, as we might expand the concept, to the body.

Just as one can know all the rules of carpentry and yet be unable to plumb a door, one can know volumes about the Christian faith and yet fumble as a Christian. To be a carpenter Scott Walters learned that he must practice carpentry. There is no shortcut, no book on tape to which he could listen or quick on-line degree he could earn. Scott had to feel the door frame in his hands. He had to pop the chalk line, tack up shims, and measure twice before cutting once. Only then did he become the thing he’d studied: a carpenter.

This is why the manner of worship is so important to Episcopalians:

  • We can read that Jesus is God’s son, but when we actually bow as the cross passes us, our bodies learn that Jesus is Lord of our lives.

  • We can read that we are reconciled to God, but when we actually kneel for the Confession of Sin, our bodies (especially our aching knees) learn what a humbled heart feels like.

  • We can read that in Christ all God’s children are blessed and loved, but when we gather together indiscriminately, shoulder-to-shoulder at the altar rail, our bodies learn that the status granted by the world matters not to God.

Worship is our apprenticeship. It is where we transfer the knowledge of our heads into our bodies. We engage in this apprenticeship each week so that we can go into the world not as people who know something about Christianity, but as Christians.