Subscribe: Posts | Comments

The Rev. David M. Crosby, Province III, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

As a “Free Range Priest,” offering supply coverage primarily for Sunday services only in parishes in two adjacent dioceses, I have a deep appreciation for the ministry of the altar guild in churches I visit. My pedigree includes a long-time membership on an altar guild in an Anglo-Catholic parish, serving twice as its president for Christmas and Easter respectively, and serving as a class sacristan in seminary during my education/formation process leading to ordination.

The Rev. David M. Crosby, Province III, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

The primary role of ‘supply clergy’ is to permit your parish clergy an opportunity to be away for continuing education or rest and relaxation. In some instances, I serve congregations that have been without regular clergy during extended transitions. I usually seek a ‘walk-thru’ customary with the priest to better understand the flow and expectations of logistics in worship. I obtain a copy of the Sunday bulletin, verify the Lectionary track being followed, and agree to arrive with a sermon to be preached. My aim is to leave the church standing — meaning me upright and the building still erect.

I have encountered a variety of guilds that are all, in their own ways, ‘faithful in the care of holy things.’ Being aware of the liturgical vestments available and what I should bring for myself, how the altar and chancel will be adorned with appointments, the types of Eucharistic elements used, and the roles of other worship ministers are some of the things I wouldn’t know much about, if not for the walk-thru customary. 

During the past few years coping with the pandemic while remaining faithful to the Body of Christ, we have had to learn new things and different ways to be church. Live-streaming worship services that involved the Liturgy of the Word and a different Liturgy of the Table became our challenge. Spiritual Communion may have included the comfortable words of the Eucharist, but we may have abstained from receiving, distributing, or reserving consecrated elements, based on the guidance of your Bishop. But while the ‘doing’ of church was new, the components of gathering made worship life easier. And that’s because of the loving ministry of altar guilds in our parishes. We had to pivot in liturgy, but guilds remained constant in their ministry of preparation. That made stepping into a church new to me, and a church service which still felt odd to many, if not all, a little easier. At least this priest found comfort in things being where I knew they would be and should be.

This is a prayer I used with my altar guild crews before working in my home parish:

“O loving Savior, we pray Thee to send Thy blessing upon this Altar Guild and the work of all its members.  Give us Thy grace that we may be loyal to Thy Holy Church and faithful in our care of holy things.  Grant that as we adorn and make ready Thy Altar, we may learn great vision of the inward and spiritual truth taught by them. We ask this for Thy sake, O Blessed Lord.  Amen.”

I may have met some of you along the way, and I don’t know many of you at all, but please know that I deeply appreciate all of you for your ministry to our God, to God’s people, and to this Church. If there has been any “glue” that has helped us remain together during these unprecedented times, it was because of your loving work in our churches and at those altars. Thank you. 

Grace & Peace.

Comments are closed.