worship glossary

by seth o'kegley, osl

Alb- a white robe worn during services. In its origin, the alb was every-day wear for the Romans. It evolved into a Baptismal garment worn by Christians, and later a vestment worn by clergy. 


Altar- the table at the front of the church where we celebrate Holy Communion. The specifics of altars vary from church to church, such as size, shape, and materials. However, local traditions often make their way into the design. At First United Methodist, there is a small sparrow with a worm. The Henslow’s Sparrow has a healthy population in the Oak Ridge area. 


Bishop-An administrative role in the Christian church. In the United Methodist Church, bishops oversee the spiritual and administrative life of a regional conference. Bishops are ordained as elders, but elected and consecrated by the regional clergy and laity. Bishops from all of the conferences around the world make up the Council of Bishops. While they do not make theological changes for the United Methodist Church, the Council of Bishops is important to the order and administration of the church. There is no one bishop in charge of the Council of Bishops. Bishops are identified by a crozier or the seal of the Council of Bishops. 


Chalice Pall- a rigid piece of fabric or cardboard used to cover a chalice. Originally used practically to keep debris out of the chalice and ceremonially to represent death linens on the elements of communion, hence the term “pall.”


Chasuble- developing from of a traveling garment worn by early Christian ministers, the modern chasuble is a circular piece of cloth worn by the presiding minister at Holy Communion. Most often, the chasuble reflects the liturgical color of the day. The chasuble is traditionally a Eucharistic vestment (for Communion), so a pastor might not wear it at a non-Communion service. 


Church Year (liturgical calendar)-a calendar of thematic readings and celebrations that guide the Christian worship year. Beginning in late November or early December, and going until the following calendar year, the Liturgical calendar explores different themes of our lives as Christians. These seasons also have a corresponding color that helps us to visualize the important parts of each season. One is likely to see these colors on decorations around the altar or the stoles of the elders and deacons.

            Advent- the four weeks before Christmas day. This is a hopeful season where we patiently await the birth of Christ at Christmas. The color for Advent is blue or purple.

            Christmastide-Also known as the 12 days of Christmas, Christmastide is the season where we joyfully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Earth. The color for Christmastide is white or gold.

            Epiphanytide-Beginning January 6th, the church celebrates the visit of the magi to the infant Jesus Christ. The season carries on this celebration of wisdom and light until Ash Wednesday. The color for Epiphany day (January 6th) is white or gold, the rest of the season is green.

            Ash Wednesday- the last Wednesday before the season of Lent begins. This day reminds us of our mortality. Often a service is held that includes having ashes put on our hands or foreheads reminding us that from dust we come, and to dust we will return. The color for this day is violet. 

            Lent-the season of size weeks before Easter day. This season encourages us to spend time looking at ourselves and turning back to God. Often the music and worship is more somber, and there are more opportunities for prayer, fasting (not eating or not eating certain things), and contemplation. You may have heard of somebody “giving something up for Lent.” This practice reminds us that we need God by taking away something we love and filling it with time with God instead. The color for this season is violet.

            Holy Week-the week before Easter. During this week, the church has a set of three services to prepare us for Easter. On Holy Thursday (often called “Maundy Thursday” from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment- Jesus gave us a new commandment, that we love others as God has loved us), the church remembers the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples before he was arrested and crucified. This service often includes Holy Communion, foot washing, and a ceremonial removal of the pieces of the altar. The color for this day is violet. On Holy Friday (often called “Good Friday,” recognizing the good love God has for us), the church remembers the story of his death. There can be a few different services on this day. A passion service remembers the death of Jesus, especially thinking about the cross on which he died. A Tenebrae service (Tenebraeis Latin for shadow) tells the story of Jesus’ death and involves extinguishing candles through the night, symbolizing the light of Christ leaving the world at his death. There is no liturgical color for Good Friday. On Holy Saturday (sometimes called “Black Saturday”), the church thinks about the world without the presence of Christ in it. The day is usually a day for prayer and total fasting. Some churches will have a service that night to celebrate Easter. The Great Vigil of Easter (a vigil is a service that celebrates Easter at sundown the day before, in the way the Jewish day started at sundown) is a long service of readings, hymns, canticles, baptisms, and Holy Communion. The service ceremonially marks the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The liturgical color for this service is white or gold.

            Eastertide-Easter day the six weeks after it mark the season of Easter. During this season, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and explore the foundations of the early church. The season is marked by exciting music and worship, special flowers like Easter lilies, and the addition of a large Christ candle. The liturgical color for this season is white or gold.


Cruciform- a spiritually enhancing style of architecture developed by the early church in which the worship space is shaped like a cross. 

            Nave- the main part of the worship space, between the back of the church and the chancel. This is traditionally the space where               laity sits or stands.

            Transept- the areas to the side of the altar in a cruciform church. Often labeled by their relationship to the pulpit (Gospel) and                 the lectern (Epistle). 

            Chancel- the often-elevated space around the altar, including the choir loft and the sanctuary. 

            Sanctuary- the space immediately around the altar. This is considered to be a sacred and holy space where sacraments take                      place. 

            Narthex- sometimes referred to as a lobby, this is the area immediately outside of the nave. It is often used as a gathering space             or entrance room.

Deacon- An order of set-apart ministers in the Christian church. In the United Methodist Church, deacons are called to preach, to serve the people of God in many ways, to advocate for justice in the world, and to love others compassionately. A person who feels called to ministry as a deacon should complete the educational requirements and be vetted by the denomination. Deacons typically are identified by a stole that is placed over the left shoulder.  


Doxology- a song of thanks. In our current tradition, the doxology notates the presentation and consecration of our gifts, tithes, and offerings after being collected. 


Elder-An order of set-apart ministers in the Christian church. In the United Methodist Church, elders are called to preach, to administer the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, to administrate and order the church, and to serve the people of God in many ways. A person who feels called to ministry as an elder should complete the educational requirements and be vetted by the denomination. Elders are typically identified by a stole that is placed around the neck.


Eucharist- literally meaning, “thanksgiving,” this is the Sacrament whereby the Elder consecrates the elements (bread and wine or juice) with the Holy Spirit, remembering the last supper Jesus had with his disciples before his crucifixion.