Welcome! We’re glad you’re checking out our website and we invite you to visit us in person! We are always happy to see new faces at St. Stephen’s. Our Sunday services are at 8am and 10am (with Sunday School and nursery care). All are welcome in The Episcopal Church: we really do mean all, no matter who you are, or what you do or don’t believe. Here is what to expect on a typical Sunday at St. Stephen’s:
St. Stephen’s is located on Robinson Road off Bodega Avenue as you head west toward the coast. We’re on the left immediately before Burbank Housing and the cemetery. We have a large parking lot that makes finding a spot easy. The easiest way to find your way to the sanctuary is to the right of the building that has a cross on the end of it.
Ushers will greet you at the front doors of the church, and give you a Sunday service bulletin. The ushers are a good source for any questions you may have before, or during the service. If you have any special needs, like you are unable to come up to the rail for Communion, but would still like to receive, tell an usher and they will let the priest know. If you would like to find the Sunday School classroom or the nursery, the ushers can direct you.
Have a seat anywhere you like. Before the service some organ or piano music will be played. This is a nice time to pray and focus yourself for worship; some folks chat a bit, and that’s ok, too. There are visitor cards in the pew rack in front of you. We would love for you to fill one out to let us know a little about you and your visit with us today.
If you have children, we have Sunday School for children ages 3 to 12. It is called “Godly Play” and is a Montessori based curriculum communicates Biblical stories, parables and Christian tradition through story-telling and art. The nursery is right next to the Godly Play room. Your children are also welcome to stay in church with you. We have an area in the back of the sanctuary with a rocking chair and toys that is particularly friendly for kids.
At our 8am service you will be guided through the service with a small bulletin that gives you the page numbers in the red Book of Common Prayer which you will find in the pew back in front of you. The readings and the announcements are printed in the bulletin. The language of this service is more traditional (“thee” and “thou” and such) and it is a spoken service—that is there is no music. It’s a quieter, more contemplative service.
At 10am service, the bulletin contains the entire liturgy and a lot of the music. Any of the hymns listed by their number are found in the blue Hymnal in front of you. This service has a lot of singing and you’re invited to sing whether you think you’re any good or not! At St. Stephen’s we enjoy music from diverse traditions—from spirituals and gospel to traditional Anglican pieces on the organ. The words of the 10am liturgy are more modern and we enjoy changing up parts of the liturgy regularly.
Episcopalians are known for pew aerobics— sitting, standing, and kneeling. You may follow along or just sit and observe. Basically, we stand to sing, sit to learn, and kneel to pray. Also, you will notice that some of us bow when the cross passes or cross ourselves at certain times during the service. These are signs of respect and reverence to God and Jesus Christ. These practices vary greatly among our parishioners; you will not stick out if you do not make any of these gestures, as not everyone does.
You will hear Old Testament and New Testament readings, read by a church member who comes forward to the lectern. In between readings there will be a Psalm, usually read together by the entire congregation, and another hymn. For the Gospel reading, the priest will proceed to the middle of the church. The congregation will turn to face the Gospel book, and as a sign of respect everyone who is able should stand during the reading of the Gospel.
Next the priest will offer a sermon. Following that, we stand to recite the Nicene Creed, an ancient statement of the basic beliefs shared by most Christian denominations. Join in or read along silently, or just listen. Please know that we are all in different places in our faith journeys and just because you may not believe every word of the Creed does not mean you are out of step with our community. Then we share in the “Prayers of the People” which vary by the week depending on whom or what needs praying for. You will hear people offer up names of folks they are asking prayers for. As you enter the sanctuary you may notice a binder on a podium, you are welcome to add the names of people in your life who are in need of healing, who are celebrating or who have died and these names will be read aloud during the Prayers of the People.
As we read aloud our prayer of confession, many people will kneel. You may remain seated or stand if it is more comfortable. In this prayer we confess that we are not perfect—that we do things that hurt us and hurt others and hurt God. After assuring us of our forgiveness in Christ, the priest will declare “May the Peace of the Lord be always with you,” to which we respond, “And also with you!”
You may join in or just observe what we call “the Peace.” This is a time to shake hands with a neighbor, and to greet those with whom you are worshipping, by simply saying to them “Peace”. Some people will leave the pew to exchange the Peace with others, but it isn’t a time to chat with one another (that’s coffee hour!). As we share the peace we take part in a prophetic act where we foreshadow the peace and unity promised in Christ.
After the Peace we move into the part of the service called the Holy Eucharist (an ancient Greek word meaning Thanksgiving), also called Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Mass, or the Sacrament. The bulletin will guide you through the prayers and responses.
During this time an offering will be collected. The ushers will pass through the church with an offering plate. Folks will put into it cash, checks, or pledge envelopes. You may put your filled out visitor card in the plate. Do not feel any pressure to give, but you are welcome to give if you choose and we will appreciate your offering.
We are now ready to receive communion. In The Episcopal Church all baptized Christians, no matter their denomination, are welcome to take Communion. The ushers will come by the pews, from front to back to invite you to go forward to the altar rail. Most people kneel at the altar rail, but you may stand if you desire. The priest will place bread or a wafer in your open hands. If you have a dietary restriction that requires you to avoid gluten, please tell the priest when she reaches you, and she will give you a gluten-free wafer. You may eat the bread immediately, or leave it in your hands until the chalice of wine comes to you.
The chalice bearer will follow the priest and offer you the cup to drink the wine. You may guide the cup to your lips and tip it to sip from it, or if you have not yet eaten your wafer, dip it into the wine and consume it, a practice called intinction. If you leave your wafer in your hand, the chalice bearer will intinct it for you and place the intincted wafer on your tongue. If you wish to receive a blessing, instead of Communion, simply cross your arms over your chest. If you do not wish to come to the altar rail for Communion or a blessing, you may stay in your seat; no one will think it strange or judge you.
After the post-Communion prayer and a blessing from the priest, we have announcements. Any one celebrating a birthday or anniversary is invited up for a prayer and you’ll have the opportunity to hear about all the things going on at the church. After that we sing another hymn and receive the final dismissal.
If you would like, we welcome you to follow the crowd and join us in the Parish Hall for fellowship hour with treats & coffee. We hope to see you soon!