Episcopal 101: Sit, Kneel or Stand?

When I first joined the Episcopal Church as a teenager, I was curious about the custom many worshipers had of bending one knee to the ground when leaving their pew to receive Holy Communion. A friend of mine told me, solemnly, that it was a special posture called a “ginger flake.”

My friend was close. That posture definitely added spice to our worship! But what he meant to say was genuflect. And it’s special way of showing reverence for Jesus’ Real Presence in the consecrated bread and wine.

Genuflecting is just one of the many ways that we Episcopalians use our whole body in worship. But especially for newcomers, it can occasionally feel awkward not being sure “when to do what.”

A good rule of thumb to start out with is “sit to listen, kneel to pray and stand to sing.” That’ll get you a long way. But there are some variants and other postures that you’ll want to be familiar with:

  • Simple bow (with the head): at the Name of Jesus or when we invoke the Holy Trinity;
  • Solemn bow (from the waist): when crossing in front of the altar, or entering or leaving your pew; and when the incense bearer (or Thurifer) censes the congregation;
  • Profound bow (deeply from the waist): immediately after the Great Amen, at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer.
  • Stand: to attend to the reading of the Gospel; you may also stand during the Eucharistic Prayer;
  • Kneel: to express penitence and sorrow, e.g. at the Confession of Sin or the Great Litany.

If you make an effort to get into the spirit of these gestures, you’ll discover that they’re a powerful way to involve your entire self in worship, and by extension, to practice offering your whole self to God in the rest of your life.

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