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So you want to form a diocesan altar guild! Where do you begin? What should be your goals?

Because altar guild has in the past, and is still often looked upon as being a “women’s” ministry many dioceses have formed their diocesan altar guilds under the umbrella of the diocesan ECW and are funded by the same. However, with more and more men becoming involved this is changing and we look at altar guild as a ministry open to all who wish to aid in the preparations for worship.


Just as altar guilds at the parish level serve “at the pleasure” and under the direction of the parish priest, so the DAG will serve at the pleasure and under the direction of the bishop. So a good place to begin is with the bishop! Having his/her support will go a long way in assuring a successful and viable diocesan altar guild.

Altar guild is a service ministry dealing directly with worship and as such it is appropriate that at the diocesan level it becomes part of the Liturgical Committee. When the bishop appoints an altar guild chairperson for the diocese it is fitting that he/she be made a member of this committee.

Starting Up

Once a chair has been named by the bishop the real work of organization begins and will involve more than one person. With the help of the diocesan office, form a small committee of five to eight members who represent the spectrum of the diocese both in terms of parish size as well as geography.

Purpose, Organization and Bylaws

The purposes of the diocesan altar guild need to be set forth and decisions made as to how “formally” you wish to be organized. Some dioceses, such as Mississippi, have a very structured DAG with a set of bylaws and term offices while others, such as Alabama and West Texas, have a looser committee structure. And yet others, such as West Tennessee and North Carolina, work under their ECW or, as in Nebraska, under Women’s Ministries, a component of the Diocese of Nebraska.

Looking at the NAGA bylaws, or those of another province or diocese would be a good starting place to formulate ideas on how you wish to be fashioned and what it is you wish to accomplish.

Working closely with the bishop’s staff will insure his/her goals are met and hopefully render full support. Ideally you will want to be an aid to the bishop as well as the diocese. Does he have a chapel that needs tending? Is there a camp or university chapel in need of attention? Occasionally there may be a service held outside of a church (this is often the case when a bishop is consecrated) when an altar and all that is necessary for the Eucharist needs to be set up. Perhaps you will make linens or even vestments. Some dioceses are experiencing a growth in the Hispanic population while others have retirement homes which may look to the DAG as a resource.


Of course you will want to be a forum for education and sharing for all the parish altar guilds in your diocese. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. Some dioceses hold annual meetings in various parishes offering a speaker and or workshops of interest; others meet in conjunction with the diocesan convention while others meet and share during ECW or women’s ministries meetings. How structured you wish to be will depend on the needs and desires within the diocese.


Now, it is time to decide how you will be funded. Ideally the diocese will show its support by making you a line item in the budget as is the case in Mississippi, the Gulf Coast, and Central Florida, or budget you through the liturgical committee. In addition some diocesan altar guilds collect nominal dues from each parish, while others such as Alabama support their ministry through workshop fees. If your altar guild is formed under the ECW umbrella funding will come from them.


Finally comes the important task of letting parishes know of your existence and encouraging them to be a part of this ministry. A letter to each parish and a follow-up phone call is a good place to begin. You will need to keep a current list of altar guild chairpersons with addresses and phone numbers. In this day of electronic mail, e-mail is a fast and inexpensive way to disseminate information. So with your first mailer include a questionnaire to gather this data along with any other information you might like to have (perhaps interests for workshops, etc.). A newsletter once or twice a year is an excellent way to keep in touch. It can contain news from parish altar guilds as well as tips and articles pertaining to altar guild. The National Altar Guild Association’s Epistle offers excellent articles which may be added or adapted to your particular needs.

These guildelines to forming a diocesan altar guild are just that-guide-lines! Each diocese will have its own particular ideas and needs but hopefully this offers a place to begin. Altar Guild is a wonderful ministry for both women and men, offering an opportunity to serve as well as providing a forum for spiritual growth and a fellowship among persons throughout your diocese. And once you are organized at the diocesan level you may broaden your horizons to become active in your province and with the National Altar Guild Association. So embrace your DAG with enthusiasm knowing that the Lord himself will guide you along the way.

Thanks to May Sherrod, Jan Smith, Mac Hollopeter, Ellen Martin, Marilyn Schneider, Ann McCormack and Dianne Walters for their contributions to this article.

Lynn Hendricks, Diocese of AL, Reprinted from Epistle #133, Autumn 2004

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