ENGAGING THE DIVINE: The 7 sacramental services of Episcopal church

Rev. Jo Popham
The Rev. Jo Popham

In the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, the one leading worship is called not the presider but the celebrant. As an ordained minister, a priest in the Episcopal Church, it is my privilege to lead services as the community of worshipers celebrate together.

What then are we celebrating? We celebrate Jesus’s presence among us. Jesus himself instituted the two main sacramental services: Holy Eucharist (also called Holy Communion and the Lord’s Super) and Holy Baptism. Jesus taught his disciples – and

us – to remember him whenever we share bread. So when we remember him, we remember him, we bring Jesus back to us in celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

And he also taught that we are to baptize with water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. So, of course, Christ is fully present when new Christians are made.

The other five sacramental services, created by the church for the good of the people, are also celebrations. They include Confirmation, Ordination, Holy Matrimony,

Reconciliation of a Penitent (confession), and Unction (healing).

The leader of morning and evening prayer services is called an officiant and need not be an ordained person. These services are intended to be read and prayed daily, and are called the Daily Offices.

Episcopalians are “people of the book.” Our Book of Common Prayer outlines all of our celebrations and daily offices. There are four readings from Holy Scripture for each service, first from the Old Testament, then a responsive Psalm is read, then a reading

from the New Testament Epistles or letters, and the final reading from the Gospel.

Readings are from appointed readings in a three year cycle for Sundays, in a two year cycle for daily offices, and then there are readings for certain holy days or readings commemorating saints or past church leaders. Perhaps as much as 85% of the words of the services in the Book of Common Prayer come from Holy Scripture. So those celebrating any given service are immersed in the Word of God.

In our families and circle of friends, we think of birthdays and anniversaries as celebrations. We decorate with streamers and with flowers. We serve cake. Well, in the

church we decorate the altar and lecterns with certain colors depending on the season. We usually have fresh flowers near the altar. And we serve bread and wine. All these are very appropriate for a celebratory gathering.

The readings for the last several weeks have all come form the Gospel according to John and speak to Jesus being the bread of life. So we have used homemade flatbread for communion. It has been very celebratory. All those celebrating have mentioned how meaningful using real bread has been. It seems more like a true celebration to them.

Jesus invited everyone to celebrate at the table with him. And so we do the same. All are welcome. We all celebrate together, saying the prayers together, being aware of Christ Jesus’s presence in our celebrating, making us one with him.

The Rev. Jo Popham is rector at St. Andrews By-the-Sea in Destin.