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In the words of Presiding Bishop Curry, “People go to church to refocus. Focus on God. What you do for God matters. The altar guild helps us to refocus. Focus on God the Creator then follow Jesus into the world.” The altar guild is charged with this awesome responsibility and privilege of tending to the Sanctuary and enabling our congregation to engage in worship that is filled with order, beauty, peace, and tranquility. 

At Saint Benedict’s, the altar guild also includes the flower guild and sacristy team. What joy it is for us to set the stage for the “sacred theatre.” As with theatre production, so much happens behind the scenes. During this time of preparation, it is an opportunity for us to experience spiritual reflection as we work with our hands and work in quiet meditation. Sometimes we work while the musicians and choir are practicing and have our own private concert. Or, while setting up for the 8 am service, experience the glory of the sun rising and the Great Blue Herons or White Egrets hunting. While we know that God is everywhere and all of creation is sacred, there are some places where God’s presence is more intensely felt, as in the sanctuary — a sacred space. 

The altar guild is not a social group. We don’t have pot lucks; we seldom have meetings. We are not involved in the business of the church. We don’t take votes or make momentous decisions. Most of what we do is invisible to the congregation and is meant to be that way. The work we do facilitates and enhances our worship and particularly the Eucharist.

Joining the altar guild means learning many fascinating aspects of Church tradition, including the esoteric names for all the various vessels, vestments, linens and paraments we use in worship. Most importantly, serving on the altar guild is a spiritual ministry. Caring for the altar is a way to act out our relationship with God. It is quiet, prayerful work.

While altar guilds can trace their roots to the women who cared for Jesus, at various times in the history of the Anglican Church, altar guilds have been composed exclusively of men or exclusively of women. Today, anyone can be a member of the altar guild. You don’t have to have any experience to join the altar guild. Your training will consist of hands-on instruction from experienced altar guild members.

This article was written for the Parish Newsletter as an incentive to attract new members for the altar guild. It was submitted by Sarah Chesebro, Director of Altar Guild at Saint Benedict’s Episcopal Church in Los Osos, California, Diocese of El Camino Real; Sarah is also NAGA Province VIII Representative

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