Do you know that the color of the hangings on the altar tell you what church season we are in? Do you know what a lavabo bowl is? Do you know that our weekly scripture readings are part of a three-year cycle? Are you looking for a unique spiritual practice? These and other questions can be answered by the ministry of the Altar Guild. The altar guild is responsible for the physical maintenance and appearance of the altar and sacristy, as well as certain other aspects of the church.
Over the years prior to seminary and to the present date I have seen and been blessed by the ministry of altar guilds. The function and make up vary from place to place, but the altar guild is far more of a force in the parish than the holy housekeeping tasks they perform. It is a spiritual community - the spirit in which it lives ripples out to affect the feel of the whole congregation - for better or worse, depending on its spirit.
I have seen and worked with various models which all to some degree serve the purpose of the particular context. Some altar guilds are dominated by over functioning perfectionists surrounded by a cluster of nervous assistants. That model may get the work done but it does not build up the members of the guild. Other altar guilds become real teams. The senior members are neither rulers giving orders nor doers taking care of everything themselves. Instead they are leaders and teachers, bringing along others and valuing their formation more than perfection. Some are closed groups. If they have the services covered, there is no room for new members. That keeps new people at the edge of the congregation. But others welcome new members and use altar guild service as a way to build relationships.
This ministry of men and women do the behind the scenes work necessary to make worship happen for the rest of us. I find at times it is a ministry that is underappreciated. As the altar guild celebrates its anniversary, my hope is that they continue to grasp the depth and complexity of their role as spiritual facilitators. Thank you for your ministry and may God bless your service.
Rev'd. Fr. Colin Humes