In the Episcopal Church, Holy Communion is open to all baptized Christians. We welcome our guests to share in the Eucharist with us. Our hope is that no one’s earliest recollection of the Eucharist would be exclusion from it!
No one expects visitors or new comers to be rehearsed in our customs before coming to the altar rail. We remember that for each of us there was a time when we were unfamiliar with the procedure and unsure of exactly what was to take place. The following explanation is offered not to establish a rigid expectation of behavior, but in the hope that it will help you to be more comfortable and less self-conscious in joining us for Communion.
The people approach the altar rail from the center aisle and proceed to find an available space at the rail. Our tradition is to kneel and it is acceptable to stand.
Customarily, we place one palm across the other, and the priest lays the wafer upon the open palm. Gluten-free rice wafers are available. We can then easily raise the wafer to our lips to consume it. When the chalice bearer offers the wine, it is helpful to assist by guiding the cup to one’s lips (Ladies should have blotted their lipstick before coming to the altar).
Sharing the common chalice is a powerful symbol of community cherished by Episcopalians for over 400 years. This practice has never been implicated in the spread of any illness, and modern research indicates that the chalice remains a completely safe way to distribute Communion.
Nevertheless, persons who do not wish to receive the wine may accept the bread only. Simply crossing one’s arms across the chest indicates to the chalice bearer that the wine is being declined.
Some people prefer to receive Communion by intinction, whereby they receive only a tiny amount of wine with the bread rather than a sip from the chalice. To do so, they simply leave the wafer in their palm and allow the chalice bearer to dip it into the wine for them. We discourage people from attempting to dip their own wafer because all Communion ministers have thoroughly washed their hands, thus leaving a lower risk for germs.
After receiving Communion, we pause at the rail until the next person has received. Then we rise and return to our pew.
Some people genuflect or bow upon approaching the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ, or make the sign of the cross upon receiving Communion. These manual acts are part of one’s private devotions, and we recommend them to you, but they are by no means expected of anyone.
What we hope and pray for is that everyone present in the assembled Body of Christ will feel accepted and welcome and will be able to sing the communion hymns, pray and be fed by the Risen Christ in peace and with thanksgiving.