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When I first entered the Sacristy 45 years ago, I was welcomed by a group of “seasoned” altar guild women who took me under their wings and taught me all I needed to know to become part of this ministry. 

There was a hand-typed manual complete with a glossary of liturgical terms to answer any questions I might have. On the wall was a step-by-step diagram on how to vest the chalice and set up the credence table, as well as a calendar showing the vestment and parament colors for each season and feast day. 

I was assigned to a “team” and began serving one week out of every month. I was encouraged to pray before beginning my work in the sacristy. A simple prayer, thumb-tacked to the cork board, reminded me this was a ministry and all I did in preparation for our communal worship was done to the glory of God. 

Periodically we received group instruction on such things as taking care of the linens and metalware, as well as fellowship with the occasional lunch. Communication was by personal contact, the dial-up telephone. We had no call waiting, caller ID, or messaging. Ours was a telephone tree, one calling another, calling another, etc. 

Somehow it all worked, and I became a part of this ministry, making many friends as we worked and shared side by side.

Forty years later I am still a part of this ministry but how things have changed. Our numbers have dwindled as women have moved into all other aspects of Ministry serving as Priests, Deacons, Lay Eucharistic Ministers, and Readers. Young women have entered the workforce and have little free time as they juggle careers and families. It has us broadening our ministry to include men, giving those interested an opportunity to serve behind the scenes. Still, there are times when I find myself alone in the Sacristy, cleaning up from one service and setting up for another. It can be an opportunity for quiet reflection as I handle the chalice or put the bread on the paten. 

The advent of technology has made the greatest changes in how we carry out our ministry, giving greater flexibility in communication, scheduling, and teaching. We have instant communication with our cell phones, e-mail, and messaging. Digital photography enables Sacristans the ability to provide verbal and pictorial instruction in all aspects of altar guild. Manuals are easily updated as changes come about. How many still vest the chalice and place it on the altar; how many put everything on the credence table for the deacon to set the table? Questions can be answered and knowledge can be readily accessed through the internet, Episcopalians on Facebook and the National Altar Guild Association either on Facebook or on the web are good places to start. 

In many ways we have adjusted our ministry to fit the society in which we find ourselves. As we gain more and more ways to “save” time we are tempted, and often do, involve ourselves in more time-consuming activities. We seem to have lost time to just be with one another. 

Altar guild still asks us, as it did forty years ago, to slow down, take a breath and reverently pay attention to the ministry to which we have been called. And to remember as we prepare God’s table for Eucharist, we also are called to be Eucharist one to another.

Lynn Hendricks, Past President, NAGA

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