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This column answers some of the many questions we receive from altar guild members at parishes across the country. So ask us your questions and we will find the answers from those who know! Send questions to:

Albe Larsen, Epistle Managing Editor
May Sherrod, Column Author

NOTE: We’ve had several inquiries about the best way to hang vestments. If you have any suggestions to resolve this ongoing problem, please send the information to

It is time for a few of the articles in our parish to be retired. Some have been dedicated with memorials. What do we do with these precious articles?

This is a hard decision and, depending on the article, there are a number of things you can, or should, do:

• Eucharistic linens should be deconsecrated and burned. The ashes may be used for Ash Wednesday service or scattered around the church garden. If the linen still retains strong, material purificators can be made from a fair linen.

• Vestments may be recycled by removing the orphrey bands and reapplied on to new fabric.

• Paraments may also be recycled by using the adornments to reapply to new fabric.

• Metal objects, candle sticks, alms basons, advent wreath holders, if given as a memorial, might be placed in an appropriated exhibit. Consider creating an archive for the parish to contain pieces of history.

• Candles may be given to those in need as they were put into use originally for light. A Paschal Candle should be stripped of the decoration before disposing. Consider those that may be changed to coincide with the year. (See page 21 for a request for recycled Pascal Candles for Native American burial rites.)

If any of the above are still in usable condition, think about sharing with a mission overseas that may need such items.

What is a stole protector?

Many stoles have metallic gold embroidery and cannot be cleaned professionally as the heat causes tarnishing. To help in keeping the stoles clean, small embroidered linen may be basted to the neck and removed for laundering. The protector should be 14” by 2” and centered over the “kissing cross.” A good use for retired linens!

What is the best way to clean lipstick from the burse?

Try to use multiple Q-tips and alcohol. Use a hair dryer on its no heat setting, constantly drying. Avoid wetting as this will smear. And keep using fresh Q-tips as a dirty Q-tip will smear as well.

Need some information on the oils used in the Episcopal Church?? 

We use two types of holy oil in the Episcopal Church.

SC, the abbreviation for sanctum chrisma, is used for anointing in the service of Baptism. This oil is usually made of olive oil and balsam and has been blessed by the Bishop.

OC, the oil of catechumens, is pure olive oil and is not used in the Episcopal Church.

OI, oleum infirmorum, may be used for anointing the sick or the dying by a Bishop or a Priest.

The use of oils has undergone numerous changes through the ages, and each time there has been a revision in the Book of Common Prayer the use of oil has changed. The 1979 BCP outlines the uses of oil for Baptism and the anointing of the sick.

What is a Stoup? 

A stoup is the bowl of holy water used by those entering and leaving a church. Primarily found in Roman Catholic churches, some Anglican churches, particularly old Gothic style, retain them. A stoup is used at General Convention. The water has been blessed so should be removed (frequently, to avoid bacterial growth) according to the practices used for Baptismal font cleaning. The use of distilled water helps in keeping the water clear. >

Why do we have piscinas? And what is their purpose? 

I am often asked this question by those in new and young parishes or new church plants.

This tradition was established years ago for the disposal of blessed water. The vessels were washed following the service and piscinas allowed the waste water to be sent straight to the ground by way of a special drain.

It is not possible to have these drains in some places and the water that is used to clean the vessels should be poured on the ground by a member of the altar guild. Additionally, the water from the baptismal font must be poured on the ground as it has been blessed during the service.

What should we do with our left over palms? 

Unless they have been blessed you may dispose of them by recycling. If blessed, use them to create your ashes for next year’s season of Lent. Should you discover stains on your linens from ashes, spray directly on the stain with Oxi-clean and then launder.

Where is the alms basin placed after the gifts are received? 

Opinions vary but the consensus remains that the basin is placed on the altar or the retable (if the altar is small) and remains during the Great Thanksgiving. We are returning the gifts to the Giver.

What is the usual tradition for candles in the chancel that are not lit? Extra gospel torches?

They should be removed and left in the Sacristy until needed.

We are anticipating a new sanctuary and are debating the placement of the Baptismal font. Any suggestions?

Originally the font was placed at the entrance to the church, signifying the entrance to the community of faith. Architectural changes have resulted in moving the font to other locations for more visibility during the Baptism and the Renewal of vows by the congregation.

What is the time frame for using the Advent wreath?

If you adhere to the seasons of the year as noted in your Book of Common Prayer, Christmas season starts on December 25th. Thus the wreath should be removed following the last service in Advent.

How do you dispose of oil-filled Paschal Candles? 

The use of oil-filled Paschal Candles has increased as the cost of replacing annually becomes a problem. However, they will show wear over a number of years and must eventually be replaced. Remove all decals, empty the unused oil properly and send the casing to the recycle.

How can we prevent “drips” from the candle lighter/snuffer on our fair linens?  

This has been the bane of many a laundress for years. If you are using liquid candles, try the attachment that is available from C.M. Almy that attaches to your lighter. We have had only rave reviews from those that have started using them. It uses the same liquid and although it can be tricky to fill at first, it saves your linens. Use a small medicine dropper when filling the attachment and watch the small hole on the side that allows for overfill. A filled lighter will last through three or four services but should be checked each week.

When should the Paschal candle be extinguished on Pentecost Day?  

After consulting with many priests, the answer from all was that the Paschal candle is extinguished in the same order as the lighting of the candles. This would apply to all services where the Paschal candle is lit, such as the celebration of baptisms or burials.

Is there a rule that governs the use of silk or artificial flowers on the altar?  

Fresh flowers, greenery, fruit and vegetables or dried materials may be used to adorn the altar. Save the rest for the narthex or the parish house.

On more than one occasion, I’ve woken up in the middle of a Saturday night and wondered if I had put extra purificators in the burse when I set up for the Sunday service? Do you have any suggestions to prevent this? 

One way to prevent Saturday night anxiety is to make a checklist that is unique to your parish or mission. List every step, including dusting and sweeping, with places for check marks. A fresh sheet should be filled out each Saturday. This way, you will not forget and can sleep peacefully!

What is the protocol for using colored embroidery on altar linens? 

The Book of Common Prayer states, “The holy table is spread with a clean white cloth during the celebration.” It would seem consistent to keep all linen that is to be used for the Eucharist in white. It is certainly permissible when the setting is at a camp or other less formal occasions to use colors.

Where does the inscription go on vessels or paraments that are presented as memorials? 

The inscription should be in an unseen place. It should always read, “To the glory of God and in memory of [person being memorialized].” Also, remember that when those linens that have been blessed for the use in the Eucharist are to be retired, they should be burned.

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