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Now known as National Altar Guild Association (NAGA)

The National Association of Diocesan Altar Guilds had its beginnings over 50 years ago, when, at the 1919 Convention held in Detroit, the National Council of the Episcopal Church was formed and the Provinces organized. A year after this, a meeting of the heads of Province I was called to decide on some form of a national organization. There was dissention between those who thought such an organization should be part of the Episcopal Church Women (then the Women’s Auxiliary) or a separate and independent group. These arguments were resolved and in 1922 plans were made to form a National Committee at General Convention which was to meet in Washington D.C. This was successfully accomplished and the first president of the National Committee of Diocesan Altar Guilds was elected, as well as a secretary and treasurer. In 1925 at the Convention in Atlantic City, the National Committee put on its first altar guild exhibit.

Before the next Convention, a new President carried the idea of separate and independent status to the membership and from then on the National Committee commenced a regular program of a corporate communion and breakfast at each General Convention, had an altar guild booth for exhibits, kept a mailing list, collected dues and acted as a clearing house for filling the needs of mission altars at home and abroad.

In World War II, the need for supplies became urgent and the altar guilds made purificators and corporals and kept a ready supply on hand for chaplains’ needs. Eventually, fair linens, corporals, purificators, burses, veils, stoles and superfrontals, which fitted in the carrying cases for communion vessels supplied for chaplains, came in from all over the country.

The Committee was represented by an exhibition booth as well as the program mentioned above at all General Conventions, except 1955 in Honolulu. During all this time, the principal organization and direction of the National Committee centered in the Diocese of Massachusetts. In 1958, Mrs. Herman Osgood, president of the Massachusetts DAG called the altar guilds together at the Convention in Miami Beach at which an Interim National Committee was set up. Sixteen Dioceses were represented and a group of officers elected that represented Maine, Rhode Island, Oregon, Virginia, Eau Claire, and Massachusetts. The group unanimously agreed on an exhibit booth and information center, for annual contributions for mailing expenses, and planning for the exhibit in 1961.

Mrs. Osgood was appointed chairman for the Convention in Detroit and the first exhibit of ecclesiastical art was presented with vestments, linens, hangings, and education materials from all over the country. Altar guild workshops were planned for two afternoons, and the corporate communion and breakfast were held, followed by a business meeting. Mrs. Osgood was able to report enough money collected to cover the expenses of the Convention and, that in response to 86 letters to altar guild directresses (diocesan) and with the approval of their Bishops, and the Presiding Bishop, (Bp. Lichtenberger), a National Association of Diocesan Altar Guilds (NADAG) would be formed. The purpose of the Association would be to take care of the needs of mission altars, exchange altar guild material, respond to the needs of Chaplains of the Armed Forces, and give advice and assistance to diocesan altar guilds when asked. Two hundred persons attended this meeting at which it was so moved, seconded, and voted to form NADAG. The first President was Mrs. Richard Loring of Massachusetts, and a vice-president, secretary, and treasurer were elected to serve a three year term. Mrs. Loring appointed two members-at-large to serve as mission chair and to prepare a set of by-laws.

At this Convention in Detroit, at the Triennial Meeting, a resolution was presented asking that the NADAG be represented in the General Division of Women’s Work, as a cooperating agency. This was referred to the General Division which recommended against the request causing great disappointment at the time, though, with eventual disappearance of the General Division, it was a beneficial decision.

In 1964, in St. Louis, the first set of by-laws was accepted. In Seattle, in 1967, a spectacular liturgical art exhibit was presented along with an exciting series of altar guild meetings. Such programs and art exhibits have continued to be part of Convention altar guild activities in Houston in 1970, Louisville in 1973, and Denver in 1979. The by-laws have been revised and refined from the first set in 1964, and the purpose has been restated, in the revision in 1979, to read, “In consultation with the Presiding Bishop, the purpose of this organization shall be to unite Diocesan Altar Guilds and assist them in their work in order that personal and corporate spiritual life may be deepened and purified, and public worship to Almighty God in His Church be offered in the beauty of holiness.”

In almost 20 years of existence, the NADAG has brought help, advice, news, and equipment for sacristies, clergy, and missions, abroad and at home, to diocesan and parish guilds beyond counting. Communion linens, vestments, hangings; everything that comes within the scope of the ecclesiastical seamstress and embroiderers has been created for some need expressed. A quarterly newsletter brings news of DAG activities around the country. Guilds have a national recognition pin, custom-designed from the now familiar NADAG logo showing the cross with the Altar superimposed on the upper half.

In 1974, the National Altar Guilds presented a cope and mitre beautifully embroidered, made by Anna Crossley, to the Presiding Bishop, John Maury Allin, in honor of his installation. Contributions from all the diocesan altar guilds made this possible. Again in 1978, the diocesan altar guilds contributed to the supplying of new vestments and linens for the Presiding Bishop’s Chapel at 815 Second Avenue, New York. Over and over again the generosity of altar guild members has been demonstrated by the quick and generous response to published needs.

A “Directory of Ecclesiastical Embroidery in the Episcopal Church” was compiled after two years of questionnaires, collating, and editing, and was printed for distribution at General Convention in Denver. A Secretary of Supply and Resources was added to the committees of the Board in 1979 to handle the sale of altar guild supplies such as fine sewing thread, sterling pins with NADAG logo, transfer designs, paper purificator kits, resource sheets, and other materials. Over the years there have been many changes in the style and locations of services. Altar guilds have been required to be open-minded and flexible often far beyond their imaginings. They have proven to be equal to all challenges. “Amidst changing liturgies and a troubled world, the altar guilds continue to perform their quiet and necessary function.”**

** This quote was first used as a closing sentence of a history of the Altar Guilds written in 1967. It is as fitting today as it was then.

(This is an exact reproduction, including spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, of an undated “History” written sometime after 1979, author unknown. If anyone knows the author or exact date of publication, please contact NAGA President Dianne Walters at The comment above preceded by “**” dates back to 1979 or whenever the document was written. It still rings true in 2018.)

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