Sunday, April 7, 2024

Ode to the altar guild. . .

Sometimes pastors regale us with funny and sad stories of the practices of their congregations -- prior to their arrival, of course.  Sometimes the object of these stories ends up being the altar guild ladies.  Though it might be intended in a pejorative sense by them, I will offer an extended thanks and appreciation for the ladies (largely though not always ladies) of the altar guild.  In fact, I think these are often the unsung heroes of the congregation.  They are certainly invisible though if they failed in their work it would be obvious so that is testament to the good work they do that most of the folks in the pew know nothing about them.

The altar guild tells time for us.  While some may not understand or appreciate the seasons, feasts, and festivals of the Church Year, the altar guild sets the clock for the people of God and for the Divine Service by changing the paraments, lecturn and pulpit hangings, veils (when needed), and banners (if you have them).  God bless them!  They remind us every Sunday that we walk not by the time of the world but by God's time.  They set the clock so that we may order our days under His grace and guidance.  God bless their good work in applying to our busy schedules and calendars the order of God's rhythm and pace.

The altar guild sets the table for us.  While some presume or in ignorance do not get the heavy lifting required to set the table of the Lord for us, the ladies of the altar guild do so with humility and ever so faithfully week after week, service after service.  It is a hidden work but extensive labor to prepare the chalice, ciborium, paten, cruet, and, if you have them, individual cups (yes, the vessels have names that these ladies know and you should also!).  They set up and then clean up.  It is not only about the washing of the silver or glass but the faithful care of what was in them.  These vessels need to be abluted (yup, one more important word) by taking care that any crumbs of the hosts or remains of the wine (we Lutherans call that the Body and Blood) do not go down to the sewer but through the piscina or sacrarium (lots of terms, huh) go back to the earth (along with the water in which they were cleansed).  God bless them.  These ladies act out in every Divine Service our confession of the Real Presence of Christ.

The altar guild keep clean the chancel, the sacred space around the altar.  While we have a custodian to handle the rest of the building, these ladies take care that God's House, especially around the altar, is kept clean and orderly.  Living in the South, we have flies and gnats and Asian beetles who show up every now and then to try and take over this space.  They are faithful beyond measure in this and it is no small task.  They honor the Lord and honor us by serving on our behalf to do this and their witness is an inspiration of how we should reverence and approach the Lord's altar.  God bless them.  They remind us that space is sacred because of what happens there and so we are encouraged to prepare ourselves as they have prepared the chancel every Divine Service.

The altar guild attends to the particular seasonal and festive appointments that may not seem all that important to folks.  Things are important not because they are recognized or appreciated but because they reflect in care the faith we confess.  When we veil the sacred images and crucifixes or set out the Advent wreath or move the Paschal Candle from font to chancel and back again or set out the candle for Vespers or Evening Prayer or attend to the eternal light or set out items for baptisms (among many other things), we are denoting the significance of the day in God's calendar and its part in the gift of Christ and His salvation.  These and many other small but significant acts help us know and appreciate the fullness of what it means to be His own and to live under Him in His Kingdom forever.  God bless them.  They can teach us much if we are willing to listen and learn.

The altar guild cares for the vestments of the pastor, assisting ministers, acolytes, etc.  Lord knows, we think clothing is pretty important.  The vesture of those who serve in God's House is no less important.  They stitch and wash and dry clean and care for these so that those who serve us do not look shoddy or unkept and therefore help us keep the focus on Christ and not our failings.  They do this for the linens that are used in the Divine Service and this is a bigger job than you might imagine (unless you love a little starch and a good iron!).  From albs to purificators and everything in between, they are the faithful stewards of the fabrics that are appointed for altar and those who serve there.  God bless them.  Nothing is as painfully obvious as when these appointments are worn, stained, or wrinkled -- it literally says "we do not care."  Your altar guild is serving you by keeping your attention on the right things.

Then there are flowers and candles, wicks and candlelighters, pew candelabra and oil stocks --  I could go on and on.  I will not but that does not mean that I have been exhaustive in my brief description of some of what all the ladies of the altar guild do.  I want to take this time to thank those who serve here where I serve and those who serve throughout the congregations of our Synod.  God bless you for your good and faithful work!  You make my life so much easier and your best work is that you do it without drawing much attention to yourselves.  That said, I want to draw all our attention to you now -- if for just a moment.  You have a busy few weeks and month.

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