This booklet is aimed at people who've never been inside an Anglican church, or who are entirely new to Christianity. Perhaps you've walked past a church and wondered what goes on inside, or perhaps you've heard a lot about Christianity from the media and you're wondering if what you've heard is representative of Christianity as a whole. (A lot of it isn't. The extremists at both edges get most of the publicity.)
This guide isn't meant as a comprehensive guide to Christian belief. It's intended to give you some background information so that—we hope—you'll feel comfortable enough to come along to a church service and begin finding out more about us. We welcome visitors; coming along for a look doesn't commit you to anything.
The Anglican Church is one of the most important Christian denominations worldwide, with about 75 million members.
Much of Anglican worship, like that of other churches, is based on traditions stretching back for centuries. The Anglican Church welcomes new members, but faces a serious difficulty; to a newcomer, much of what we do in church looks puzzling or entirely incomprehensible.
This section attempts to explain the basics of Anglican Christian belief, and to serve as an introduction to what we do, and why. There are sections on general Christian beliefs, on the Anglican Church in particular, and on what actually goes on in a church service. There is a glossary of terms at the bottom of the page.
Please read on—we hope you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
The Church fulfils three important functions. Worship is one of them. We don't worship God because we have to, or because we're afraid of what God might do to us if we don't. We worship God because we believe that God is a being who fully deserves our respect and love. Worshipping God is simply the most appropriate behaviour for the beings God has created, and a church service is an effective and time-honoured way of carrying out this behaviour.
The second purpose of the Church is teaching. Partly this is something we do to each other; passages from the Bible are read out in church, and sermons comment and enlarge on them and other issues, and relate Christianity to real life. But Christians also have a responsibility to make their own insights about God available to the rest of the world, and an organized Church can attempt to do this in ways that individual Christians cannot.
Our third purpose is fellowship; we are a community of people with a common goal, supporting and strengthening each other as we work towards that goal. An important part of Christian teaching is the need to have compassion for others, and so this, too, is an external as well as an internal activity. The Church provides material support for the needy, and it attempts to promote social justice to the rest of society.
Anyone! You don't need to be an Anglican or even a Christian to come along. (Holy Communion, a ceremony which takes place during many of our services, is technically restricted to baptized Christians; see section 3 below.) Attending a service doesn't commit you to anything. We will (hopefully) try to be friendly, but that's all. You can become a Christian at your own pace.
We don't charge membership fees. (We're always after donations, but how much you contribute is up to you, and entirely private.) There's plenty of ceremony in a typical Anglican church, but we don't have secret initiation rites or anything else scary or sinister. We don't even have a dress code—people normally dress tidily for church, but you don't have to wear a suit or a big flowery hat.
Audience participation in an Anglican service isn't particularly strenuous. The words of the service are provided, either in the Book of Common Prayer or Book of Alternative Services, or on a piece of paper. If you're not familiar with the service, just sit near the back and do what everyone else does. You can stay in your place when people go up to the altar for Communion, if you don't want to take part in this section of the service.
Text copyright Alan Firth, St John's Roslyn, Dunedin, New Zealand. Used by permission. Edited by Canon Michael Patterson, Anglican Diocese of Niagara, Hamilton, Ontario