We’re back. Last time, we looked at the outside of the church building. Today we will go inside. The red doors are the main entrance. Once you step through the doors, you will be in a small entrance area. On days when there are liturgies (worship services), there is normally a greeter passing out bulletins. The bulletin is useful for finding out which pages in the Prayer Book or Hymnal to go to next.
The next thing you will see is a large glass screen depicting the “cloud of witnesses” meeting in love and worshiping God in heaven. Surrounded by the screen is a small table with a page from a very early English Bible.
Passing the screen, you enter the main worship space, or nave, with pews for sitting. You can sit anywhere you want.
You may wonder, how do people dress when they come to church? St. Barnabas is normally casual, which includes anything from jackets and ties to sweaters and jeans. On festival days like Easter and Christmas, people tend to dress up a bit more, but there is no dress code or requirement at any time.
Back to the nave. The pews have folding kneeling pads attached. In different parts of the service, we generally sit to listen, stand up to sing, and kneel to pray. The kneeling pads protect your knees. A good approach is to sit with someone who already knows the service. They can show you what to do when.
We use multiple books. At the 8:00 am liturgy, we use the Prayer Book (some of our copies are red and some are blue, so you need to look for the title). At the 10:30 liturgy, we use two hymnals as well. Before the liturgy begins, we sing songs from the Celebration Hymnal, which is generally placed at the end of the pew. During the liturgy, we sing songs from the 1940 Hymnal (these are red and placed in the pew racks). Hymns are identified by number, not page, because some of them spread over two pages.
The Prayer Book (Book of Common Prayer) contains all kinds of interesting information, including the text for the different worship services so that everyone can participate.
You might think, “This sounds pretty complicated: juggling a program and three different books!” But it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. The benefit is that we have a lot of materials to choose from – especially for the songs – and everyone has all the right materials handy. If you are new, you may get offered what we call the “cheat sheet,” a small folder with the liturgy printed all in one place, so you don’t need to skip around in the Prayer Book.
Let’s continue our exploration up to the front of the church. There is a fenced off area with an altar (a big table) in the front. The altar has decorative hangings, candles, and another big cross. The hangings change in color and design according to the seasons of the church year.
You probably already know about at least two of the seasons of the church year: Christmas and Easter. But there are more seasons than this, like Advent and Epiphany and Pentecost. In addition, many days are devoted to celebrating particular holy women and holy men of the past. They are called feast days.
The church’s feast days, by the way, explain a lot of place names, at least where Christian explorers were involved. For example, when Spanish explorers sighted the shoreline of Florida on August 28, 1565, they named the area Saint Augustine, because it was the feast day of Augustine, a bishop in northern Africa during the late Roman Empire. In the same way, San Antonio, Texas, was discovered on the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua. And you can guess when Easter Island and Christmas Island in the Pacific were discovered.
Near the altar are some chairs. The priest sits over on the left side. Sometimes we have multiple priests on duty, so we have extra chairs. Over on the other side of the altar we have chairs for acolytes, who assist the priest.
There is a lot of tradition in the Episcopal Church, and it’s not limited to architecture. There are the church seasons and saints’ days. Many of the songs we sing have been around for a long time. The words of the worship service go back, in large part, to the earliest days of the Christian Church. The clothes worn by priests and acolytes are ancient as well. The Creed we say, summarizing some central Christian beliefs, is over 1500 years old. And the Lord’s Prayer, as its name suggests, was taught by Jesus himself.
We hope this note has given you useful information about what to expect inside St. Barnabas. You can learn a lot more by visiting. And look for a future note, which will describe what goes on in the worship service known as the Eucharist or Communion service.