What happens in a church service?

People freely go into a church either to admire its architecture and contents; to listen to a concert; to attend a social function or simply to appreciate its stillness and tranquillity. They feel quite relaxed about this even if they are not regular ‘church goers’.

I could be different if you’re thinking about participating in a church service for the first time or after a gap of a number of years. You may feel hesitant because you don’t know the ‘routine’.
What should I wear? Where should I sit? Will I know when to stand, sit or kneel? What about the collection. What do I do during communion? Can I bring my children?

If these are the sort of things that are worrying you: Relax!
Read on as what follows is designed to make it much less intimidating and will hopefully give you the confidence to make that first step.

Arriving

You’ll find service times on the Regular Services Page on this website.
Remember about your mobile telephone – switch it to silent. The church’s location is not great for connectivity –  but if you feel a sudden urge to Tweet that last line you just heard in the sermon 🙂 chances are that it will work!

Arriving about 5 or 10 minutes before the start would give you time to get the feel of the place. Stepping through the door, you’ll find two people on the right who will wish you a smiling ‘Good Morning’ and give you an information sheet, a service sheet and a hymn book.

Other people on the left are there to welcome everybody but quite frankly: it can be a bit of a scrum around the door! The ‘Welcomers’ wear badges and if you’re not sure about something you could catch one and ask – that’s what they’re there for. Otherwise, just make your way in and find a seat in any of the pews or chairs in the main body of the church.
Normally there are no reserved seats in St. Mary’s; no-one is going to feel put out because you’ve chosen to sit in the wrong seat so don’t worry. (If there are seats reserved, for instance for baptism families, these will be clearly indicated by a notice).

Once you’ve found a place, take a moment or two to look around. You will see that some people are quietly chatting, some may kneel to pray after they get into the pew, some just sit looking through the information sheet.
Feel at ease; you’re in God’s house and a very welcome guest along with everyone else!

Children

Each Sunday we set aside an area at the front of the church as a children’s ‘corner’.childrens corner
We have drawers full of (quiet) toys and books and colouring sheets and pens, and small tables and chairs, rugs and bean bags and one HUGE cuddly dog, where children can amuse themselves when their interest wanders. Maybe you brought their own favourite toys along – having remembered to chose one of the non-squeaking variety for the occasion!

We realise that it can be difficult for parents if children start crying or become fractious or restless and want to run around, and it is a good idea to introduce your child to church services by coming to the All Together Church Service (our name for the Family service), where this is unlikely to be a problem; that service is informal enough to cope with a degree of disruption.
Children freely move between the play area and their parents’ seats, and use the various floor spaces to play with their toys. The Rector will also involve the children in the service. The All Together Church service is on the first Sunday of every month at 10.30. It is slightly shorter than the normal service (usually about 40-45 minutes instead of 60-65 minutes) and its format is definitely child-friendly. It’s usually out of the ordinary, too! 🙂

On other Sundays your child might like to join other children when they go to their Sunday Club in another room to have arts and crafts, story telling, prayer and fun under the guidance of trained leaders, before re-joining you and the congregation in church at about 11.20, just before the end of the service.
The Sunday Club is open to all children and we hope you will encourage your child(ren) to try it.

One day, St. Mary’s will have a HALL that offers an escape route if you feel you need to take your child out. We’ve got big plans in that direction!
While we’re working towards them there’s the good weather possibility of giving noisily inconsolable children a change of scene outside: the main door would be standing open  anyway and movement in and out during services is a regular happening.
Don’t feel awkward; many of us remember being in that position and will be sympathetic and try to be helpful.
It may be useful to know that there are toilets at the back of the church, through the door opposite the main entrance.

The Service

It will be quite clear when the service is about to start. The Rector will come to the lectern to read the Banns of Marriage and any notices, and will say what will happen next.
The choir will process from the back of the church to the front while we’re all standing for the first hymn.

You can follow the service from the service sheet or book you were given when you came in. The service sheet will say when to stand, sit or kneel and if you listen out you’ll hear that the priest usually gives an indication, too.
You could follow what other people do as well, but sometimes different people do different things, which might be confusing – though it also goes to show that you cannot actually go far wrong whatever you do – phew!

The Collection

Dyed-in-the-wool parishioners sometimes get caught out by this one! You’re standing there, singing your heart out and suddenly someone presents you with a bag on a stick! Collection happens during the first hymn after the sermon. It’s announced by the priest who may say that we will now sing the Offertory hymn. Once the singing has started, the collection will begin from the front of the church so you can see it coming.

Quite a few people give by direct debit nowadays so nobody will find it odd if you just pass the bag along. Generally, the collection money is used for the up-keep of the church building, its running costs, and for the salary and pensions of clergy. If it’s for a special cause, the priest will have announced it.

Communion Service

If there’s a Communion Service (also known as Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper) on the Sunday that you’re there that part of the service will begin now, after the collection. Again, you can follow what’s happening from the service booklet. At some point the priest will invite any visitors to come up to receive communion too. If you feel you’d rather not, that’s fine; just let other people out of the pew when they start getting up, and stay put.
Or you could come to receive a blessing instead of communion. In that case just join the others from your pew but carry your hymn book and hold it in both your hands as you kneel at the altar rail, so the priest can see that you expect a blessing. And DO bring your child/ren, too! Once the person on your right at the altar rail gets up, you do too and return to your seat.

After the Service

At the end of the service the choir will process from the front of the church to the back while the final hymn is sung. When the hymn is over, people sit or kneel for a moment until the organ begins to play again.
Coffee, tea and biscuits are served after every morning service. This is a good time to strike up a conversation if you wish but if you prefer to leave straight away that’s fine too.
The priest will be standing at the door and shake people by the hand as they are leaving.

We probably skipped mentioning some things, like the Peace during a communion service, when people shake hands and wish each other the Peace of the Lord, or that the sermon usually lasts between 8-10 minutes….. but we hope that, on the whole, you found this explanation helpful.

I you’ve read this far and you’re hesitating about taking part in a full service then you might want to to try the 15-minute Midweek Reflection instead.
This happens every Wednesday at 7.07 pm, is quietly meditative in style with some reading, music (no singing) and prayer. Usually only around 15 people come to this.
The odd starting time is to do with commuter trains arriving back in Wivenhoe. It’s an amazingly settling way to end a day of stress and tiredness.