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Wow! Thank you!

When I arrived at “Holy Apostles on Happy Lane,” one of the first people who greeted me was the head of the altar guild who gave me a present celebrating my arrival. It was homemade and perfect! It was a small booklet with the photo, name, and some information (number of years service, recent widow, new to guild, husband in nursing home, mother of 4 little children…) of each of the members of the guild. It was an affirmation to me that we were being called for a period of time to be companions sharing the great work of the altar.

What you can see makes a difference…

On my first Sunday in a new interim situation, if there is another priest to celebrate, I tell people I will be sitting in the congregation so I can get a sense of moments at the altar and see what people experience in the pews. Then I have a sense of “how things have been.” I move around from section to section of the congregational area during the service. On one occasion, I noticed that sitting on the left rear side (which seemed to be a popular area), the beautiful floral arrangement by the pulpit totally blocked the sight line of the preacher.

Tell me, tell me, tell me please…

Let me be the first person you tell about what I’m doing that seems wrong, or cumbersome, or out of place, especially when I may be stepping on someone’s toes.

Face to face is better than behind the back…

It’s always hurtful (and often provides fuel for fire) when someone is told something that “the other” said about them. “Well, he’ll soon learn that I’ve been here longer than he has!” Be as direct as possible. You may suggest to the person that you know the interim wants to hear suggestions and concerns directly, so they can better serve the community.

You’ve got to do something about…

On several occasions, the first request from the director or another member of the guild was to please step in and help with a problem, usually a person who was making work difficult for the guild and the community. Share the issue with the interim so that the interim can be attentive and perhaps make suggestions as to how to handle the situation.

If I do it “wrong” it’s probably because I don’t know your “right” way…

It’s helpful to begin with a mutual conversation based upon the supposition that each church — altar guild and priest — have ways and practices regarding the Eucharist that have been a “part of their fabric” for years. Begin by walking through things and being clear with one another about how things have been done during a long tenure of a rector, and especially when there has been conflict with the previous rector. Interims and new rectors generally have never seen the previous rector celebrate, so change is inevitable.

What goes where..?

Take me on a little tour, and if your shelves and cabinets aren’t marked, please use some post-it notes for a while until I can find my way around when I need to get something. I know you know where things are, but you won’t always be here to ask. I’m a fast learner!

About setting the altar, I need to tell you….

Because I wear trifocals, I find that it is easier for me not to use the stand for the altar book. I place the book flat on the altar in front of me. If the stand is a memorial that needs to be seen then let’s find another use, and I will talk to the family that gave it. In one church it became the stand for the closed gospel book, before and after the gospel procession, and the family was thrilled.

Where did this come from..?

One of the first questions I ask is to be given a tour of the memorials. I like to remember the individuals who are remembered in gifts. To know that every time I put on that vestment or use that cup, or carry the gospel book, or…. I am “gifted” to carry forward a memory, just as we remember in the Eucharist how to carry forward what God has gifted each of us.

The Rev. Ron Delbane, Episcopal priest and interim rector

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