We've added a Glossary of Episcopal lingo, because sometimes Episcopalians toss around words that no one else has heard of or that we don't really understand ourselves. And sometimes they're just funny. Look here for a translation of this old school dialect. 


From the Latin for "holy," a hymn of adoration and praise which begins, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts." It typically follows the preface in the eucharistic prayer. It is sung or said by the celebrant and people. The Sanctus is based on the song of the seraphim as recorded in Isaiah's vision of the Lord in the year King Uzziah died (Is 6:1-3; see Rv 4:8). The congregation may be said to share in the praise of God that is continually offered by the whole company of heaven. The Sanctus has been accompanied by bells since the fifteenth century in some places.

Agnus Dei

Latin for "Lamb of God." The phrase refers to Jesus as the "perfect sacrifice for the whole world," often represented in art with a lamb holding a cross signfying the crucifixion and bleeding into a chalice ("blood of the new covenant"). In the Passover story, the Hebrews spread lambs' blood on their doors as a signal so that the angel of death would "pass over" and offered the lambs as substitute for the death of the families' first born sons. Christ's blood is likewise given as God's substitute offering to death and sin in place of humankind, thus "Lamb of God."

Agnus Dei may also refer to the text or tune used in the celebration of the Eucharist at the breaking of the bread (BCP, pp. 337, 407) which is based on John the Baptizer's declaration of Jesus in John 1:29.

"Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. 

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace."


The sleeveless outer vestment worn by the celebrant at the Eucharist (the one who leads communion). The chasuble and cope (similar item, but with a front clasp) are both derived from the outdoor cloak worn by all classes and both sexes in the Greco-Roman world. Fr. John likes to say they are the street clothes of the first century. The chasuble may be oval or oblong, with an opening for the head. It typically reflects the liturgical color of the day, which is typically green during Pentecost. Chasubles vary widely in fabric and style. They may be plain cloth or ornately decorated.

Above, Fr. John stands in his chasuble, facing the parents at a baptism.


Proper is a common term among the clergy and those preparing church bulletins. During the season after Pentecost, you'll see it printed on the front of your Sunday leaflet, with a different number each week.  Where does that come from and what does it mean?

One of the ways The Book of Common Prayer creates commonality across the global church is by setting the collects and readings for all the Sundays in the season of Pentecost. These "Propers" are numbered and designated for use on the Sundays which are closest to specific days in the monthly calendar. When we finish with Easter, Pentecost starts with certain set of readings (propers) based on what day of the year it is. If Easter is late, Pentecost will skip several Propers to accommodate. For example, Proper 3 is designated for use, if needed, on the Sunday closest to May 25. Proper 29 is designated for use on the Sunday closest to Nov. 23.  Each year's season of Pentecost begins on a different "Proper" week because of the movement of Easter in the calendar.


"The formal act by a bishop or priest of pronouncing God's forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. Absolution may be pronounced following private confession of sins (see The Reconciliation of a Penitent in the BCP pp. 447-452) OR following a general confession of sin during the [worship] service."  (from the Episcopal Glossary online)

During Easter, we omit the Confession and Absolution, having prepared ourselves during Lent. In Pentecost, you'll find this two part element has returned to Sunday services just before The Peace. It is marked by the priest standing at the head of the congregation with a hand raised, saying, "Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ..."

Did you know? The BCP provides that a deacon or lay person may make a "Declaration of Forgiveness" by God of the penitent's sins after private confession, and that a deacon or lay person may pray for God's forgiveness following the general confession in the Daily Offices.

In this photo, a priest makes the sign of the cross as he delivers the words of absolution.


In common language, the word Pentecost brings to mind either the tongues of fire that alit on the apostles or the Pentecostal churches that are popular in the American South and numerous in Memphis. For Episcopalians, it is more accurately known as the birthday of the church. 

"(Pente)cost" is derived from a greek word meaning FIFTIETH, as in the fiftieth day. In the Jewish tradition during the time of Jesus, there was a festival at the end of seven weeks following the Passover known as Shavuot. This "fiftieth" day was incorporated by the early church. In the Christian tradition, we use this day to commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit (and its gifts) to the Apostles, as retold in Acts chapter 2. It marks the transition from Christ's time on earth to the spreading of his message and the development of the early church. The liturgical season of Pentecost occupies approximately one half of the church year and continues until we return our focus to the "Advent" of Christ on earth in November.


The Bishop's Mitre is "Liturgical headgear" (that's a funny phrase) and the insignia of bishops. It is typically worn by bishops in procession and when pronouncing episcopal blessings. It is removed during prayer, including during Communion. The term is from the Greek word for "turban." The mitre is shield-shaped and pointed at the top. It may be made of silk or linen and ornamented with gold embroidery. Two lappets (pendant bands or flaps) hang down the back of the miter. It is often said to represent the tongues of fire that rested on the apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2). The mitre may be derived from the headgear of civil officials of the late Roman empire.

Pictured here is our Bishop Johnson at a baptism.


Episcopal Churches across the world are gathered into Dioceses. Usually parish churches are organized into a Diocese under the direction of a bishop, such as our Bishop Don Johnson. Originally a secular word in greek: dioíkēsis, meaning administration, Diocese was a term used to define a civil division within the Roman Empire. After Christianity became the official religion of the Empire, the church formed religious dioceses aligned with those boundaries, and many bishops had direct political authority in addition to their spiritual role. 
In the United States, many Episcopal dioceses were formed along state borders, such as the former united Diocese of Tennessee. Some were later split to become a more manageable size (like our Diocese of West Tennessee), and others combined (like Central Gulf Coast). The term diocese is used in many denominations and countries across the world and usually indicates a grouping of churches with a united local governing structure and moderate social ties.

**Check the photo below from Christ Church Cathedral of a Diocese in the Caribbean. Yes, they built a pirate museum next door**

Paschal Candle

It is "a large candle that symbolizes the risen Christ. It is often decorated with a cross, symbols of the resurrection, the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, and the year. The term 'Paschal' concerns Easter or Passover... It is customary for the Paschal candle to burn at all services from Easter through Pentecost... After the Easter season, the Paschal candle is typically placed near the font. It should burn at baptisms, representing the new life in Christ that we share in baptism. The newly baptized person may be given a small baptismal candle that is lit from the Paschal candle. It may also be carried in procession at burials and placed near the coffin as a symbol of resurrection life." --from the Glossary at episcopalchurch.org.


In the Episcopal Church a deacon exercises "a special ministry of servanthood," serving all people and especially those in need (BCP, p. 543). In the ancient Greek-speaking world, Christian deacons were agents of the bishop, often with oversight of charity.

Since ancient times the liturgical functions of deacons have suggested the activity of angels. As they proclaim the gospel, lead intercessions, wait at the Eucharistic table, and direct the order of the assembly, deacons act as sacred messengers, agents, and attendants. In some protestant churches, it is a lay order, but in the Episcopal Church, it is a clerical order. In the readings for the Maundy Thursday services, Jesus establishes the order of Deacons but washing his disciples feet, as a servant. Deacons traditionally wear a sash across them, signifying a serving towel, distinguishing them from priests who wear a straight stole.

Our former deacon, Emma Connolly, is pictured with Eloise Milnor on the Kirkin' of the Tartans Sunday.


During Holy Week, Saint John's offers a very special service, known as Tenebrae, which brings highlights from Passiontide together in a contemplative liturgy with elegant music. During this "service of shadows," we begin with a row of candles atop triangular candelabra known as a "candlehearse." As the service progresses, these lights are slowly extinguished until the last light is removed from the church, signifying Jesus' death on the cross. Our candlehearse was handmade by Jim McGehee and is a wonderful treasure of the church. You can see throughout the year in the library behind the Parish Hall.


"From the Greek mystagogos, the term refers to a process of initiation into 'mysteries.' It may take place after baptism at the Easter Vigil, lasting throughout the Great Fifty Days of the Easter season. It involves the integration of new adult Christians into the life of the church. It is less strictly defined than the catechumenate (teaching the 'outline of the faith' in the BCP). Members of the Christian community continue to help and instruct the new Christians. The [Book of Occasional Services] notes that "This period is devoted to such activities, formal and informal, as will assist the newly baptized to experience the fullness of the corporate life of the Church and to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of the Sacraments." In the broadest sense, Christians live in mystagogia for the rest of their lives as they continue to enter into the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection"  -from the Glossary at episcopalchurch.org


"The vestry is the legal representative of the parish with regard to all matters pertaining to its corporate property. The number of vestry members and the term of office varies from parish to parish. Vestry members are usually elected at the annual parish meeting. The presiding officer of the vestry is the rector. There are usually two wardens. The senior warden leads the parish between rectors and is a support person for the rector. The junior warden often has responsibility for church property and buildings. A treasurer and a secretary or clerk may be chosen. These officers may or may not be vestry members. The basic responsibilities of the vestry are to help define and articulate the mission of the congregation; to support the church's mission by word and deed, to select the rector, to ensure effective organization and planning, and to manage resources and finances.  -from the Glossary at episcopalchurch.org

Book of Common Prayer

First organized in 1549, this red or black book can be found all over Episcopal churches, most often in the pews. Inside are ancient and modern liturgies for most of the services that we encounter, including Holy Eucharist, baptism, burial, and so much more. The book also includes all 150 Psalms, prayers for dozens of occasions, and the catechism (an outline of the faith). And the contents are grounded in scripture. You may not realize that nearly two-thirds of the BCP comes directly from the Old and New Testaments!

Aside from these tremendous and varied contents, the special value of the BCP is that these are common prayers--congregations spread across the United States and the world use these liturgies, these words, these prayers, and the same basic outline of faith. Any Episcopal Church you walk into may look different and move differently, but the flow of the service and the words will be immediately familiar. Crack yours open and see just what you find!


In many places, the room adjoining a church where vestments, altar hangings and linens, sacred vessels, and liturgical books are kept until needed for use in worship. Clergy typically vest in the sacristy.

At Saint John's, we have a working sacristy behind the organ, where sacred vessels, like chalices, and altar linens are kept. We also have a separate vesting sacristy, next to the Bride's Room, where the vestments and liturgical books are kept. 

Pictured to the left is a small "seboreum" where communion wafers are held, with a memorial inscription. 

Reverence (v.)

To bow, cross oneself, pause, or otherwise perform a ceromonial act of humility and respect. In some parishes, it is customary to reverence the altar or the consecrated elements of the Eucharist with a genuflection or a solemn bow. A gesture of reverence may be made as one approaches or departs from the altar, when one passes in front of the altar, as the cross is carried by in procession, or at other times. A gesture of reverence may also be made by the celebrant at the conclusion of the eucharistic prayer. These gestures are not required but more an act of personal piety and choice. Keep your eye out for them next time you're in church.


The sacramental rite in which the candidates "express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop" (BCP, p. 860). Confirmation is rooted in the baptismal covenant. The candidates reaffirm their renunciation of evil, and renew their commitment to Jesus Christ. They reaffirm the promises made by them or for them at the time of baptism. However, confirmation is no longer seen as the completion of Christian initiation, nor is Confirmation a prerequisite for receiving communion.  - adapted from episcopalchurch.org

At Saint John's, as in many Episcopal Churches, confirmation is a necessary step to full participation in the institutional elements of the church, including the right to vote in elections and serve on the Vestry. However, a number of adult congregants are not yet confirmed in the Episcopal Church, many of whom come from other denominational backgrounds and have not fully " made the switch."


The pastoral staff of a Bishop. It was originally a walking stick and later acquired the symbolism of a shepherd's crook. It is a sign of pastoral authority. It may also be carried by abbots and abbeses. In liturgy the diocesan bishop carries the crozier in the left hand, with the crook facing outward. Its use dates from the seventh century. Kids may see one at the PreYC Advent Party, with special visitor, Saint Nicholas!  - from the glossary at Episcopalchurch.org 

Pictured here, Bishop Johnson, with his crozier and Dean Andy Andrews of St. Mary's Cathedral.


The manger is "well known" as the cute box in every nativity stable. However, Sandra Richter has a different take on the holy baby bassinet. "Lawrence Stager has proposed that the story of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem had nothing to do with a stable down the street.... [Although the innkeeper] has no room for the laboring woman in the house proper, the little family is welcome to stay on the first floor with the animals. Here, hopefully, they would be warm and safe and the innkeeper's wife would be close at hand in case of trouble. The stone feed troughs that typically separated the stalls from the central room probably served as Luke's 'manger'." (Epic of Eden, p. 37).


To most American ears, creche designates a model or tableau representing the scene of Jesus Christ's birth, displayed in homes or public places at Christmas, though some Brits use the term to indicate a day care or nursery for infants. Creche designs range from elaborate to minimalist to playful and come from all over God's creation.


An architectural term referring to a portion of the nave. In a "cruciform" (cross-shaped) church building, the transepts are the parts of the building which form the two lateral arms of the cross. The transepts may extend from the nave and chancel. At Saint John's, the north transept holds the Holy Spirit Chapel and the south transept holds the Lady Chapel, each with an altar and three murals.

On the left, SOULWorks Spritual Weekend pilgrims attend Eucharist in the Holy Spirit Chapel.

The Nicene Creed

It was first issued by the Council of Nicaea in 325, but in the form used today it is frequently thought to have been perfected at the Council of Constantinople in 381. It is commonly held to be based on the baptismal creed of Jerusalem. It states the full divinity of the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. It also states the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. The use of the Nicene Creed in the eucharist (right after the gospel), in contrast to the use of the Apostles' Creed in baptism, began in the fifth century in Antioch and became the universal practice in the church. The Nicene Creed is expressed in its original form of "We believe" in the Rite 2 liturgy of the 1979 BCP.


The term means a self-supporting congregation under a rector, as opposed to a mission or other congregation under a vicar. Some state laws provide for the incorporation of Episcopal parishes, and the election of rectors, wardens, and vestry members. Many diocesan canons distinguish between a fully self-supporting congregation with a full-time priest and one which is not, calling the former "parishes" and the latter "missions." However, other Episcopal dioceses call all congregations "parishes," or simply "congregations." In English canon law, a parish is a geographical area under the spiritual care of a priest. The term is used without any specific definition other than a "Congregation of this Church" in the canons of the Episcopal Church. 

- from the Glossary at EpiscopalChurch.org

Above are prize winners from Bible Trivia at Saint John's.


A psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms, often with other devotional material bound in as well, such as a liturgical calendar and litany of the Saints. Until the later medieval emergence of the book of hours, psalters were the books most widely owned by wealthy lay persons and were commonly used for learning to read. Many Psalters were richly illuminated and they include some of the most spectacular surviving examples of medieval book art.
There are 150 Psalms in the Jewish and Western Christian tradition that fall into several different genres, including hymns of praise, laments, royal psalms, thanksgivings, and others. The Psalms are traditionally linked to King David, though modern scholars posit that his direct authorship may be more symbolic than factual. The Psalms have long been adapted into many musical styles, such as those heard during the 10:30 service on Sunday.  - adapted from Wikipedia


What does discipleship mean to you? Here's a basic definition:

A disciple is a learner who follows a movement or teacher and helps to spread the master's teaching. The term is used in various senses and contexts in the NT to indicate the followers of Jesus.

How would you define a disciple?


From the Greek euangelion, "good news." By definition, an evangelist is one who tells the story of Jesus, who spreads the gospel. An evangelist is primarily someone who shares the good news of the life, suffering, and death of Jesus. As Jesus said to the disciples at the end of Mark's gospel, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation." In this picture, folks from Saint John's and Emmanuel Center bring welcome bags to new neighbors --an act of evangelism. 

The evangelist adapts this message for their own time and cultural situation. Therefore, the message and style of specific evangelists can differ from what others have said, even though they are all presenting the good news. St. Francis famously taught us to "preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." Evangelism is relational. It can be conversational or experiential. As we do the work of Christ in the world, we open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit, and we spread the Gospel, whether we realize it or not. We are each called to be "evangelists."  - adapted from the Glossary at EpiscopalChurch.org.


The people of God. The term is from the Greek laos, "the people." All baptized persons are members of the Body of Christ, the church, but with different functions and ministries (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12:12). The ministry of the laity is "to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church" (BCP, p. 855).  - from the Glossary at EpiscopalChurch.org.

On the right, brother and sister, Austin and Katie, are vested as acolytes for church.


The priest in charge of a parish. Typically, a rector is the priest in charge of a self-supporting parish, and a vicar is the priest in charge of a supported mission. The rector is the ecclesiastical authority of the parish. The term is derived from the Latin for "rule." The rector has authority and responsibility for worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the parish, subject to the rubrics of the BCP, the constitution and canons of the church, and the pastoral direction of the bishop - from the Glossary at EpiscopalChurch.org.

Fr. John Sewell, former rector of Saint John's, was photographed with Wesley Grace, serving at Manna House.

Chalice and Paten

The cup for the wine that is consecrated and administered at the eucharist. The chalice normally has a footed base. It is appropriate for only one chalice to be on the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer, but additional chalices may be filled with consecrated wine as needed after the breaking of the bread. The chalice usually matches the paten, which is the plate or dish for the consecrated bread. Chalices are typically made of silver, or other precious or semi-precious metals, and may be decorated by jewels or engraved designs. Pottery chalices are also used. - from the Glossary at EpiscopalChurch.org.

The silver chalice shown here was given in memory of four young men from Saint John's who fought and died in WWII, each represented by a jewel. Thus it is known as the "jeweled chalice." Several members of the Parish recently donated a new amethyst to replace a missing jewel.


A covenant is an agreement between two parties, originally based on power relationships in the ancient world. The OT tells many stories of God's covenants. God made covenants with Noah, with Abraham,  with Moses, and with David. God always kept his promise, but mankind repeatedly failed to keep up its end of the bargain, leading to periods of distance from God and eventually new covenants.  The promise of Jesus' death for our sins became the New Covenant that remains with us forever. - adapted from the Glossary at EpiscopalChurch.org and The Epic of Eden.

This pottery-made chalice and paten are among the liturgical supplies in Saint John's sacristy.


"A lay minister who assists the clergy in the conduct of public worship, especially in the marshaling of processions. Vergers may be full-time or part-time, paid or volunteer. The history of the verger dates back to the middle ages when the verger was the "Protector of the Procession." He would lead the way, making room for the procession to enter the church from the town square, and with his virge (mace) in hand would literally clear the way if necessary." - from the Glossary at EpiscopalChurch.org

Below, a verger (Lain Whitaker-Ryder), poses with acolytes and chalice bearers on Easter Day at the High Altar.


"The place in the church building for the congregation. It is between the sanctuary (behind the altar rail) and the narthex or entry of the church building (our tower room). The term may be derived from the Latin navis, "ship," which was an early symbol of the church [and many church interiors resemble the inside of a ship turned upside down]." - from the Glossary at EpiscopalChurch.org

This photo shows Saint John's center aisle from the rear of the church on Easter morning.


From the Greek, meaning to awaken, or reveal. In our religious context, it concerns the revealing of Christ to the world. Different Christian groups celebrate this time in very different ways, or at least with different scriptural focuses. Episcopalians like to consider the wise men from the east, the first Gentiles (non-Jews) to encounter Jesus. It fits nicely between his birth and baptism. Other traditions focus heavily on the symbol of water, either in baptism, or at the Wedding in Cana where Jesus makes a whole bunch of wine from jugs of water.

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Saint John’s Episcopal Church
3245 Central Avenue | Memphis, Tennessee 38111
Phone (901) 323-8597 | Fax (901) 327-9032