How many protestant denominations use alter rails?

My nephews go to a Lutheran pre school and I went to a little Christmas play they were in and noticed the alter rails in the Church and it got me thinking about just how many different Churches kneel and receive communion on the tongue.

I think every denomination that requires the laity to come forward to the altar for holy Communion uses altar rails or places to kneel.

My tiny confessional Lutheran church has one. We receive kneeling and on the tongue as well.

Lutherans, Episcopalians, and most Methodists receive at an altar rail kneeling except for the infirm who stand when they can. I have even seen a man in his motorized wheel chair receive sitting.

At a Methodist church I attended, we had a rail there, and took communion up front, kneeling. There is a rail at the non-denominational community church I’m familiar with, but they don’t use it for communion.

I know of one Christian church that has alter rails but kicked a poor soul out for kneeling in prayer at one. :rolleyes:

First of all we need to divide the Protestant churches into two categories: mainline and and evangelical.

Mainline churches- depends on the type and when the church was built. If it was built before the 1960’s then they are likely to have them. If not, then they wouldn’t. The 1960’s was an important time in church architecture because that is when the costs for building materials went up and the churches became more ugly and simple. That is my opinion of the churches I have seen built post 1960’s.

Evangelical- never. (with the exception if they purchased an old church that had one.) They do have stages which is considered the altar but it is important to realize that inside the Protestant Churches, the way they do communion varies according to the specific denomination and church in general. For example inside the United church we celebrate communion several ways and which way is generally varies according to the season.

I’m sure it wasn’t meant that way, but I’ve heard use of “mainline” before, and wonder if “sacramental” or “liturgical” is more appropriate? It would be like a member of an Eastern Rite or the Roman Rite referring to their church as “mainstream Catholic” in comparison to the other.

Not true. I’ve been in numerous Evangelical churches, built for that church, which have an altar rail used for kneeling.

^^^This^^^. They have altar rails, the usage is just different. Communion is not generally received at the altar; this is a place for kneeling in personal or corporate prayer after an “altar call” in Baptist or Pentecostal denominations, especially.

I’d agree with that as a generalization of many Evangelical churches, but some do use the altar rail for Communion. Some Evangelicals go up to the rail and kneel to receive, though I don’t personally know any who receive on the tongue.

I agree with you that the time the church was built has a lot to do with whether they have altar rails or not. Older churches (whether mainline or evangelical) will most likely feature altar rails.

This is not true. Up until recent times, altar rails (and evangelicals do call them “altar rails” or just “the altar”) were standard features of church architecture.

They serve an important function as places of prayer and places to conduct altar calls.

Actually, the stage is considered the “stage” or “the platform”. The altar is only considered the area surrounding the altar rails, often centered at the Holy Communion table (on which often rests the flower display left over from the most recent wedding or funeral, the Holy Bible, the gold colored tithe plates, and the golden colored thing-a-ma-jig they carry the plastic cups of bread and grape juice in during Communion.

In newer churches, altar rails will be lacking. But evangelicals still will refer to the area between the pews and the platform as the"altar." And it is here that people come to kneel or stand for either individual or corporate prayers or to answer an altar call.

Mainline in America usually refers to the historic Protestant denominations o a certain theologically liberal reputation (Episcopalians, Presbyterians (PCUSA), United Church of Christ, Dutch Reformed, American Baptist Churches [the specific denomination, not American Baptists generally], Disciples of Christ, and the United Methodists, Evangelical Lutheran Church, etc). They aren’t really that “mainline” or “mainstream” in terms of numbers or influence anymore. Evangelical churches are just as “mainstream” or “mainline” today. Yet, the term has stuck.

Also note that groups such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptist Convention are just as historical as the above. However, they tend to be more theologically conservative, so they don’t qualify as “mainline” Protestant (though they are quite mainstream when it comes to Protestantism).

The problem with using a term like “sacramental” or “liturgical” to describe Mainline Protestants is that not all mainline Protestant churches are sacramental or liturgical. Many are decidedly low church.

Others have suggested “Ecumenical Protestants” as a descriptor. This is because Mainline Protestants tend to be involved in the organized Ecumenical Movement and tend to be tolerant of any and all beliefs, doctrines, or practices–even the non-Christian ones–in their own churches.

Essentially, the defining feature of mainline Protestantism today is its decidedly non-dogmatic outlook on Christianity. Things like the liturgy and the sacraments are areas where there is diversity.

This is a good summary.

I was Evangelical Protestant for the first 47 years of my life, and I’ve never seen Evangelical Protestants receive communion kneeling at an altar and on their tongues.

I’ve never seen an Evangelical Protestant church with an altar rail! **The altar is generally “open” for all, and there is no separation between the clergy and the laypeople, and there is NOTHING on this earth that separates the people from God!!! These are very important doctrines in most Evangelical Protestant denominations! **

Of course, perhaps the emergent or emerging church movement has resulted in some Evangelical Protestant churches returning to the earlier tradition of communion at an altar, kneeling, and maybe even on the tongue. They also do lectio divina, Latin, chant, candles, kneeling, silence, etc. I haven’t heard much about the emergent church movement lately, so I personally think it’s a bandwagon that’s passed through and is dying out or gone entirely in Evangelical Protestant churches. But perhaps in some cities or some parts of the U.S., it’s still popular. It’s a show. When something “new” comes along that attracts “seekers,” the Evangelical Protestant churches will cotton onto it and use it in their worship services.

In Evangelical Protestant churches, communion is passed around the pews in a plate, and the tiny cups of grape juice are used, which are also passed. There is a symbolism to the passing of the communion–holding the trays and helping others to take communion is a picture of helping our Christian brothers and sisters.

Mainline is a term understood by most Protestants. To use terms that aren’t universally understood would be confusing, even if they are technically correct. It’s like using the word “football” to mean “soccer” when you’re in the United States. Most people would be confused, and some would even argue with you!

A lot of the mainline churches are eliminating traditional liturgy and are offering worship services that resemble the Evangelical “worship experience”. Also, there are Evangelical Protestant churches that use a traditional liturgy, but not very many. I can’t think of any in our city.

You really can’t pin Protestants down and make any generalizations these days. It’s all about survival. It is imperative for Protestant churches to do whatever they have to do to attract a viable crowd of people who support the church financially. If there aren’t enough people and “seekers”, the church will not receive enough funds to operate, and they will shut down. Some Protestant denominations have a “central headquarters” that bails financially-troubled churches out, but usually not on a permanent basis. If a church isn’t financially viable, it can’t keep operating, and it closes.

Since Protestant denominations don’t have any obligation to attend church, many Protestants spend Sundays at the Church of the Inner Springs.

Many Protestants do the “church hop” and go from church to church depending on what is being offered that week. This compels local churches to do the very best they can to offer a worship service that attracts a crowd (and offering monies).

And there’s even more competition these days than in the past, because many Protestants are heading for the megachurches, where their children attend lively children’s classes, and the adults sit at tables and sip lattes while listening to a video message by an internationally-known pastor who is skilled in oratory and gives a compelling and interesting messge. In many of the megachurches, the music is done by a professional band and singers, so it’s always spot-on and excellent. Please keep in mind that even though some of you strongly dislike “contemporary” Christian music, many many others–in fact, I would say the vast majority–of Christians, especially Protestants, DO like contemporary Christian music and attend the megachurches so they can hear the best.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there in the Protestant churches! Only the best win!

I read this and all I could think about was how people view their Church as something for them. They base their entire decision off of their emotions and with an entirely selfish view. They base their decision on what they can “get” out of Church rather than base it on truth. It makes me sad.

Really? In the South, many the Baptist, Pentecostal, etc. churches have altar rails if they were built in a certain style. In our old building we had a wooden rail lining the edge of the platform covered in fabric which we could lean on during prayer. We also had a long cushion on the floor so we could kneel comfortably.

We still had “open altars” because the rule was that “our altars are always open” no matter what point in the service it was.

Though, evangelical church architecture is diverse. I’ve definitely been in a lot that had no altar rails.

I haven’t been in too many Baptist or Pentecostal churches, but I’ve been in numerous Wesleyan/Holiness churches of different denominations which have altar rails and use them for Communion as well as altar calls. Going on something besides what I’ve seen firsthand, (The Church of the Nazarene forum) has threads on altars, altar rails, and their use or lack thereof.

I’ve also seen altars and rails in Evangelical Free Churches of America, though in the ones I’ve been in people share Communion in the pews rather than up front.

Regarding what are the Mainline churches, I always wondered if the name might come from the Philadelphia Main Line communities, which are very wealthy, “old money” suburbs of Philadelphia. I figured I was probably wrong in speculating that way, but a few years ago I looked it up on the web and found a number of articles giving that as a viable theory to account for the origin of the name. (My theorizing was very unacademically based on having been down in the Philadelphia Main Line area among some of the very wealthy old conclaves, and having been in some of those wealthy old churches, and feeling uncomfortable in both.:p)

I knew of a Baptist church once that bought an old church building (don’t know if it was Catholic or mainline Protestant), and had altar rails removed because kneeling was so…Catholic. :rolleyes:

Let me take this in a different direction for all the posters:
In evangelical and fundamentalist churches they have the “altar call” for people to come and pray or “get saved”. I’ve often called that the “Baptist Sacrament” ;). I personally have nothing against people coming forward for prayer during a service. The practice dates back to the Methodists.
But here is my question.
Does the evangelical “altar call” replace Catholic confession?

I don’t want to derail the thread further. Some people do “church hop” for selfish reasons. But, based on what I’ve seen, heard, and read, often others do so because they’ve been hurt by a person(s) in a church and they find it too stressful to stay.

Other times families are trying desperately to keep their teenagers and children engaged in a church–any church–against the overwhelming present-day influence of popular media, so they look for a “high-stimulation” type of service.

I think both sorts of reasons are sad, but I’m not going to get on my high horse about it.

I worked on the Main Line for a while years ago, but always went to Trinity Lutheran, Havertown - more my style coming out a blue collar steel town. :stuck_out_tongue:


I have to say I’ve been in tons of PA Dutch built Lutheran churches in Berks County (where I live) and only once did I feel uncomfortable. Most are friendly, earthy farm folks around here.

I honestly wish I didn’t have the negative associations towards some of the mainline churches that I do, and I’m trying not to engage in reverse snobbery towards those where I feel uncomfortable.

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