A lovely weekend away in the country. It's Sunday morning. Coffee and toast, and maybe the Sunday paper, that's what you are imagining. But your hosts have other plans. It turns out they go to church on Sunday mornings, and church for them is the local Anglican church.
You don't like to admit your own doubts, don't wish to appear rude, and nor to admit that in fact you have never been to an Anglican church in the country on a Sunday morning. Or perhaps to any other church!
What ought you expect? Well, the word 'church' comes from a Greek word meaning 'gathering'. We also use the word for the stone building your friends take to you to, or the brick, wood, concrete building, contemporary or traditional. And there are many ways of gathering.
For most Anglicans, indeed for the vast majority of Christians in most of the mainstream denominations worldwide, 'gathering' means coming together to obey the words of Jesus, who the night before he died, took bread, took wine, blessed it broke the bread and shared it and the wine with his friends, telling them to do this same thing till the reign of God, the time of peace, wholeness and justice, comes.
So all that happens revolves around this. Some churches have much ceremonial, others scarcely any, some have candles, some incense, some neither of these. But nearly all will sing songs together (sometimes helped by a choir,) all will hear some words from the Bible, some explanation of these words by the preacher, prayers will be said for the world, for the church, for those in need. And an opportunity of asking God for forgiveness for our failures will be given. Often there is a pause before the Prayer of Confession to call to mind those things we have come to church desiring to say we are sorry for. The priest will announce God's forgiveness.
You may think the service is then over, because people will start shaking hands, maybe hugging and kissing each other. This often seems very strange, maybe off-putting, behaviour if you do not know what is happening. But we are saying to each other and to God that we are glad we are together, we have heard something from God's Word, we have shared our needs in prayer, and accepted God's forgiveness: we are now in a deep and real sense at peace with each other, and so from the offering of the peace by the priest, this peace is shared right around the church. If in doubt, just stand where you are and shake the hand of any who offers it. They will most probably say: 'The peace of the Lord be with you.' If you want to be absolutely accurate, you can respond 'And also be with you.' But no one is going to be upset if you just take they hand and return their smile!
Another hymn or song is then sung, and during this bread and wine will be probably carried up to the altar where the priest and those assisting him or her, will be setting the altar for the Prayer of Thanksgiving leading to the Holy Communion. Probably also a plate will be passed along each row and people will put envelopes or cash into it. You are welcome to put in an offering too, but if you have no money no one is going to criticise or even notice. This offering is how we keep our parish going - people share what they have so that God's word can be shared in the church, in the community and the world.
The priest prays the Prayer of Thanksgiving over the bread and wine. Everyone joins in the words in bold type. These words which we all say go back right to the first century of the church. We join in the Lord's Prayer, the bread is broken as a sign how Jesus died for all, and the bread and wine, become the Body and Blood of Jesus, his life shared with us, is received by all who are communicant members of our church. Those who receive communion in their own denominations are also welcome to come and receive communion too.
And now the service is almost at its end . a short prayer, the Blessing and the priest and party from the sanctuary leave the church. And then it is time for that coffee and toast!