Cathedral and church services – a quick guide

You may have found yourself listening to a service while visiting an historic church or cathedral. Or you may decide to explore your local church. Either way, you will find that church services vary enormously and there is something for everyone.

Services can be short and reflective or longer and more exuberant but there is sure to be a style which works for you. The style of the language can vary too – from modern day to more traditional wording. Whatever you choose, some elements will almost always be present: prayers, readings from the Bible, and hymns or songs. And there will often be a short talk or sermon, usually based around a Bible reading.

Worshippers stand and sing at a church service.


Some people might find the thought of negotiating a church service intimidating. You might wonder where to sit or how to follow what is happening or when to stand up or when to join in with prayers or hymns. Don’t worry. The key thing is to know that God is absolutely delighted that you are there and everyone else is pleased that you have joined them. No-one is trying to catch you out and people will be only too happy to help you. Take your time to watch what is happening and join in when you feel comfortable. As a general rule, you stand up to sing and sit or kneel to pray. Sometimes people will stand during a reading from the Gospels.

Types of services

Cathedrals and most other churches hold their main services on Sundays. All will usually have a morning service; some will have an evening service; and many will have smaller or different services on other days of the week. If you are visiting, there will be details on websites and noticeboards. You can choose which service appeals most to you. You can also visit many services online now. Visit our Come and see page to see examples of services and other activities.

People stand to receive communion at a church service.

Here some examples of services to explore:

  • Morning and Evening services, which usually include songs, prayers, readings and a talk. The congregation follows the order of the service in a book, on a card, or on a screen. In the Church of England, 'Morning Prayer' and 'Evensong' or 'Evening Prayer' (in the afternoon or early evening) may use words from the Book of Common Prayer.

‘Attending Evensong, listening to the sung Psalms – I felt bathed and cleansed by those sounds ... sound-washed if you like. It soothes, nourishes and is imbued with beauty.’  
Cathedral visitor

  • Holy Communion – also called the Mass, Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. The service includes hymns or songs, Bible readings, prayers and often a sermon. The centre of the service will be the sharing of bread and wine to remember the Last Supper and the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • All-age services – these include talks and activities for children
  • Compline – a simple, peaceful service for the end of the day.

There are a variety of other services too including Messy Church and Café Church which are very relaxed and family friendly.

Two girls kneel on cushions and smile into the camera at a church gathering.

"I come to church with my son and people are really nice, I feel I can relax there. It is important for my faith that I can share that time with others. When my son was really small I was worried people might get cross if he was noisy or ran about, but everyone was fine."