Cathedral News, August 6, 2017

 
 
 

Behind the Scenes

Perhaps one of the oldest ministries in the church is that of the Altar Guild. The history of Altar Guilds goes back to the early church when Christians gathered in private homes to break bread and the head of the household provided whatever was required for the meal. By the fourth century, parish ministry was generally established and for centuries thereafter ordained clergy, known as sacrastans, were responsible for preparations for worship.

In the Church of England, sometime after the sixteenth century, laymen became sacristans and eventually women were included in the ministry as assistants. By the turn of the twentieth century women began organizing Altar Guilds and assuming the role of sacristans. Until the 1970’s, this was the only channel through which women could serve God at the altar. Now, however, we recognize that preparation for worship is a joint ministry of all the baptized and men as well as youth are taking part in Altar Guilds in increasing numbers.

Members of the Altar Guild prepare the sacred vessels, provide clean up and maintain all the paraphernalia for worship. Every Sunday, there are anywhere from seven to nine members of the Altar Guild behind the scenes making sure that the chalices, patens and linens are prepared so that the rest of us can worship with the beautifully set vessels that enhance our prayerful experience. In addition to Sunday duties, the Altar Guild supervises the cleaning and decorating of the church for Advent, Christmas, Easter and other major feasts. Guild members also maintain the altar flowers and assist at weddings, funerals and baptisms. Theirs is an essential ministry from which we all benefit every Sunday as well as on special occasions.

The Altar Guild is a spiritual community whose energy emerges from the sacristy to set the tone for worship. This energy ripples out to the entire congregation, enhancing the wonder of our rich sacramental practices and bringing us deeper into worship. The Sacristy is a sacred space filled with the vessels of worship, some of which go back to the earliest days of the Cathedral. So being a member of the Altar Guild is also a way of preserving and promoting our history.

The Cathedral Altar Guild is composed of four teams and ideally there should be six people on each team. The teams alternate Sundays in each month so that members are required to serve only one service each month.

We want to thank all members of the Altar Guild. You might see them wearing aprons and a special Altar Guild name tag. If so, please take a moment to express your appreciation for their dedication to this ministry.

The Altar Guild ministry needs your energy and support. No experience is required because new members are ‘mentored’ by an experienced member until they are ready to work on their own. If you or even your teenaged children are curious about what goes on ‘behind the scenes’, have a member of the Altar Guild give you a tour of the working sacristy. You are guaranteed to be amazed.

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