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The closing workshop at September’s Province VIII Altar Guild meeting was “Shared Thoughts and Ideas,” conducted by Sister Suzanne Elizabeth of The Community of St. John Baptist and past NAGA president Jane Ames. First in small groups and then as a whole, we were reminded that most altar guilds share the problems of recruiting, training and retaining members and are increasingly venturing beyond their sacristies to bring the altar guild ministry into the congregation.

Venturing Beyond the Sacristy

Recruiting: Stress the sacredness of the ministry, its prayerfulness and liturgical foundation to erase the mindset of altar guild service as housework; substitute the concept of hospitality at the altar and to the congregation. Emphasize the altar guild’s function in enhancing the parish’s worship experience. Participate in ministry fairs, have displays at coffee hours and other events to bring altar guild into the midst of the parish.

Training: Ensure that every new member has resource materials such as the local manual, check-lists and instructions as well as a national manual. Have pictures of the altar and credence table set-ups in an accessible location (taped on cabinet doors, for instance) and keep them current. Assign each new member a mentor to be a sounding board as well as a trainer.

Retaining: Be flexibile, especially in scheduling. Look at each member as an individual and take advantage of his/her gifts: don’t expect everyone to be able or interested in doing everything. Gather occasionally for some social time — lunch or tea. Worship together at least once a year in a pre-meeting Eucharist. Have a yearly commissioning service.

Also discussed: Offering altar guild units to church school pupils, confirmation and adult classes; flower guilds and their relationship with the altar guild; and forming junior guilds. In response to the perennial complaint about the difficulty in keeping the sacristy a work space on Sunday rather than a gathering place, one participant said she kept candy out to encourage children to drop in and see what was going on.


Submitted by Sister Suzanne Elizabeth, Jane Ames and Connie Castillo

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