I had just joined the congregation and was anxious to get involved, to get to know people in this new community. So when I was asked to join the altar guild, I readily said yes. I was just 26 and really didn’t know the ins and outs of an altar guild, but I said yes anyway.
I was a bit apprehensive at first. After all, there was a whole new vocabulary to learn: fair linen, purificators, ewer, among others. The silver communionware had to be polished (and I’d never polished silver before). Then there were the diagrams showing what went where. My greatest fear was in marking the wrong page in the missal. I needn’t have worried though.
Dorothy and I were paired together, working four Sundays in a row. She guided me gently, all the while talking my ear off about family and friends. And all the women met regularly to review expectations, share tips for getting red wine out of white cloths and generally to pray for their work.
This particular altar guild was extraordinary. Theirs was a sacred duty entrusted to their care. They prepared for worship each week as if Jesus himself was going to be present. Which of course, he was.
I was reminded of all this last week when I saw that the fourth revised edition of the Altar Guild and Sacristy Handbook, written by S. Anita Stauffer, was just published (and now available as an e-book too). It was an earlier edition that I had received when I embarked on my altar guild journey. I smiled, remembering Dorothy and a host of other women who taught me much about setting the table and preparing for worship.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director. While she doesn’t serve on an altar guild right now, she does bake bread for communion now and again.
The chalices and patens seen in this photo–made for and used at the Ninth Triennial Gathering–don’t require any polishing! Photo by author.