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This story begins with gratitude. St. Mary of the Angels was blessed with a vibrant and dedicated altar guild for many decades. The last five years we gradually experienced a loss of membership and had no real plan or intentional program to address that attrition. We just continued to do the work with fewer and fewer people, until we found ourselves at the end of COVID with three members. Today we have four new teams of three members each. YES — we are grateful!

St. Mary of the Angels grew their altar guild from three to 12 during COVID

I was asked “how did that happen?” My immediate response was GRACE! We began with prayer. In consultation with our Rector, Fr. Kevin Bartle, we identified individuals whom we thought might enjoy the mission and service of the altar guild. After assembling this list, we prayed. We prayed expectantly and confidently that the Lord would bring forth those He wanted in this service. While we did make a general announcement opening the door for volunteers — no one responded. We were neither surprised nor discouraged. 

Our approach was individualized. We “invited” people to service — mentally and spiritually a very different demeanor than “asking.” We gave them space to consider the obligation and serenity of the opportunity and assured them that as we were praying for St. Mary’s, we were praying also for their discernment — understanding that the altar guild is not a chore or a list of tasks, but a ministry. 

We scheduled an informational meeting designed to share the expectations of the altar guild, as well as demonstrate some of our practical duties. Fr. Kevin also shared his perspective of our work and appreciation for the devotion and dedication expected of those who serve God in such humble endeavors. Not everyone we invited showed up — but everyone who showed up became a member. Thus, clearly, those God ordained were present! 

Anticipating the writing of this article, I asked some of our new members what stirred them into this ministry. One is a very active member in our congregation, the other a devoted member who attends mass every Sunday but had not found her place in any ministry at the church thus far. Their responses were surprisingly similar. They each remarked that it was meaningful that they were individually “invited” and, in addition, that their consideration was pre-ordained by the rector. We asked every potential candidate to pray about their response, to give it heartfelt consideration. They both said that was equally important; in taking time to prayerfully contemplate their answer, they truly felt called into the ministry. 

Our process was perhaps as simple as it gets — led by prayer and dependent on prayer. Our new members are doing exceptionally well in their training, are diligent and precise in their duties, and reflective in the process. We were thrilled to install them on August 15, the day designated to celebrate the Assumption of St. Mary, our namesake.

Michele Guest, St. Mary of the Angels, Province IV, Diocese of Central Florida

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