Altar Guild

The sign-up sheet & schedule for Altar Guild volunteers can be found here:

and the guidebook for the Altar Guild Committee:

The Ministry of the Altar Guild

Altar guild members, along with lectors, communion assistants, acolytes, ushers, musicians, and worship planners are “assisting ministers” in the broad sense of the term. In a narrow sense an assisting minister serves with the pastor (presiding minister) in leading the liturgy of the congregation, but all who serve the people gathered for worship are such assistants. All Christians who serve each other are exercising a ministry. The altar guild has a very specific ministry requiring knowledge and skill, and on its faithful service the congregation relies. The congregation’s joyful response to God’s presence in Word and sacrament simultaneously thanks those “assisting ministers” who make worship possible, including the altar guild.

The ministry of the altar guild is nothing new. It dates to the earliest Christian times. Today, we are in a transitional time because only recently have we grasped the historic factors which too often have led us to regard the altar guild as one of the women’s organizations of the church. Altar guild work has also been regarded in recent history as adjunct to the pastoral ministry and separate from it rather than partner with it. Developments in liturgical studies and church history, however, now make it possible to regard altar guild work as a ministry somewhat in the pattern found in the early church.

Already in the New Testament it is clear that women and men together “served” the Christian communities in a variety of functions. See Romans 16:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; or Acts 6 for examples of service. Often such persons were called deacons or deaconesses. Originally they helped the community proclaim the gospel by freeing the apostles for proclamation. The deacons and deaconesses assumed part of the time-consuming work of the church by becoming administrators, custodians, doorkeepers, even teachers and preachers.

Edward Schillebeck, a European scholar, has pointed out that all such work had a sense of “we” about it, not a sense of private and personally owned office in the church. In the time immediately after the death of the apostles, all members of the Christian community joined in the common task of building on the foundation established by those apostles. As the need for more specialized forms of ministry became apparent, the community called certain individuals to more clearly defined duties. Quite early in church history those duties included preparations for the frequent Eucharistic meals of the congregations. At this time, worship preparations (that which we now call altar guild duties) were probably handled by men and women of the church with the understanding that Christians were sharing in a common work to which all were called, not pastors only. All people were to make certain the work begun by the apostles was carried forward successfully.

Today, the phrase “priesthood of all believers” is applied also to worship life and to the work of the altar guild. The appearance of assisting ministers in worship is a result of the perception that the entire congregation is gathered in worship and shares the leadership roles necessary for effective liturgy. Altar guilds, like the deacons and deaconesses of the early church, will now exercise a ministry within their local congregations. The task facing the altar guild today is the simultaneous restoration of the best traditions of the church and the exercise of freedom to respond to new ideas, new practices, and new liturgical materials which enrich those traditions.

Resource: Altar Guild and Sacristy Handbook by:  S. Anita Stauffer