New to church?

If you’re new to church and Christianity, coming along one Sunday may seem like a big leap. Or perhaps you’ve already visited one of our churches, in which case we’re really pleased you came. We realise that church buildings can feel quite different from other places you may be used to going into. We hope that, despite this, you quickly feel at ease and, in due course, as though you belong. We offer a number of opportunities to learn more about the Christian faith.

Our churches are communal places where everyone should understand that they are equal. God sees past the crowds to each individual – and that means you and those you care for. Whoever you are, whatever your life story, however insignificant or unloved you may feel, however great your need to give thanks for someone or something in your life, God’s house of prayer and worship can be your special place. You are truly welcome.

In a complex and ever-changing world, there are many uncertainties and much that can worry or trouble us. We all have doubts and are vulnerable and imperfect. In order to recognise that we are loved and beautiful in God’s sight, we need help from God and from each other. Please come just as you are; bring your questions, your hopes, your doubts and your wonderful gifts … and share them with us.

This lovely prayer is sometimes used at our services:

Come, not because you have all faith
but because you have some faith
and would like to grow in it.
Come, because you love the Lord a little
and would like to love him more.
Come, because he loves you,
and wants to give you everything.
Come, because all is ready, and we are his body.

Our main service is Holy Communion, known in some Anglican churches as Mass or the Eucharist (from the Greek for ‘thanksgiving’). It is a sacrament, or sacred action, accepted by almost all Christians and celebrated frequently, with joy and reverence.

The Eucharist is a re-enactment of the Last Supper: the final meal that Jesus Christ shared with his friends before his arrest and crucifixion. During the supper Jesus took bread and wine, blessed it, broke it and shared it with his disciples (followers), telling them to do the same in remembrance of him.

The Eucharist symbolises the new covenant or pledge God gives to anyone who wants to follow him, building on his old covenant with his chosen people (entered into when he freed the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt). The service symbolises freedom from all that limits our human condition in this life and represents the promise of eternal life after we die.

According to the gospel (good news) accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke in the Bible, it was instituted by Jesus, who said:

Take, eat, this is my body …
Take, drink, this is my blood …
Do this in remembrance of me.

Christians believe that bread that is taken, blessed, broken and given becomes the life of Jesus, the body of Christ. In this process it is consecrated, or made holy: the most precious thing that anyone can receive.

Within the Anglican Communion, there is a rich and diverse understanding of what this means. One powerful image is of a baby feeding at its mother’s breast, receiving her life force. To receive the sacrament is to be fed on the living presence of Jesus. It can be helpful to ponder the word ‘remember’, used during the Eucharistic prayer. To ‘re-member’ is to take all that is dismembered or broken in our lives and, through the life-giving power of the cross, piece it together again.

Receiving the sacrament in this way is an act of faith, since what we are encountering cannot be proved or measured. The experience of every generation since Christ lived on earth is that God meets people where they are. This is unique for each individual; all are given what they need to sustain and inspire them on their Christian journey.

Those who receive Jesus’ broken body and poured-out blood become invisibly joined. One definition of ‘church’ is ‘the people who make up the body of Christ’.

During a Eucharistic service, special prayers and Bible readings re-enact the Last Supper, making it as effective and real for us as it was for the first disciples. Once the bread and wine have been blessed and consecrated by the priest, members of the congregation receive small amounts, eating a piece and taking a sip from the chalice (ornamental cup). Those who haven’t yet made a Christian commitment are welcomed to receive a short prayer of blessing instead.

Christians traditionally regard a sacrament as an outward sign of an inward grace or as an enacted truth. But as that’s not entirely clear to many people nowadays, here’s another definition: a sacrament is an action made holy or special because of its capacity to demonstrate a religious truth, or a truth about God.

Think about it like this: if someone says ‘I love you’ and you believe them, that’s great. Yet if they say ‘I love you’, put their arms round you and give you a great big hug, you appreciate the truth of what they’re saying in a different and more powerful way. A hug is an outward sign of the love they carry on the inside.

Or take another example: consider the saints of old who gave their lives for others. Saying that you love all humanity is one thing, but demonstrating it by dying to save someone else is an irrefutable way of acting out the truth of your words.