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Bishop Curry: The Lord be with you.

All: And also with you.

Bishop Curry: Let us pray.

Gracious and loving God, we come before you as your children, praying your blessing on each one of us, praying your blessing on the ministry of the National Altar Guild and on altar guilds throughout the Episcopal Church. We pray that you will bless them so that they will continue to exercise their ministry of beautifying your sanctuary for the edification of your people, that they will continue their work and their ministry of hospitality and their ministry of service.

And now we ask you to likewise bless these corporals, these linens, that they may be fitting for your service, that they may bear and be a resting place for the bread and wine, the body and blood of your Son, our savior, Jesus, that your people, being fed by Him, may go forth into the world to bless this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spoke to the National Altar Guild Association at Triennial, July 9, 2018, 9:15 am

Well, thank you all, and it’s good to be here. I have to tell you, the altar guilds have always been dear to me. I may be the Presiding Bishop, but I’m still a parish priest. I’ll be a parish priest till the day I die. In my very first parish, Miss Olivette Vine was the head of the altar guild, and I learned more from Olivette about being a parish priest in a real church, than I frankly did in three years of field education and seminary. She was a retired public school teacher at that time. She’s gone on to Glory now, but I will always have fond memories of her.

Even growing up, the altar guild was part of my life. I remember, I was five years old, and I was the littlest acolyte. At the time, for whatever reason, they didn’t make small cassocks, they just didn’t make them that small. So I remember it was Miss Ruth Miller in our church altar guild who made my cassock, and I remember standing up on her dining room table and she was doing measurements. So it was the work of the altar guild that got me started! I mean, I’m serious when I say my memories of altar guilds really go way back deep, in deep memory, as they say.

I can tell you that I’ve seen the work of altar guilds in wondrous ways. I don’t know if there’s anybody here from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, but I remember several years ago when several bishops in the Fourth Province, we went to be with the folk there -— it’s probably about five or six years ago now — to just be with the folk there. Members of the various altar guilds around the Episcopal Church that had remained faithful to the Episcopal Church, they came and told their stories. And I remember listening to stories of, usually women, but not exclusively, but mostly women, many of whom were up in age. I say that carefully.

I never thought I would be moved to tears until I heard some of their stories of having lost their churches and having lost sacristies and having lost all the sacred vessels, having lost vestments — and to hear these women tell the stories about how they took silverware from their homes, and goblets from their homes and vessels, and recreated the church so that people could have Holy Eucharist. To hear them tell those stories of how they did it and set up altars in funeral homes, churches, in gymnasiums, and in libraries, how people would bring things from home so that church would look like church. Because Episcopalians like it decently and in order, and they made it that way. I said, “That’s what altar guilds are, wherever we happen to be. That’s mission altar guild.” It literally brought us to tears, the bishops that were there, the bishops of the Fourth Province — especially when members of the altar guild there decided to do a rap, that really brought us all to tears. And I said, “These altar guilds have spirit.”

NAGA Presidents with Bishop Curry (from left to right): Jane Ames (2009-2012), Lynn Hendricks (2015-2018), Bishop Michael Curry, Katrina Packard (2012-2015), Dianne Walters (2018-2021).

The ministry that you do helps the people of God to worship God and to be re-centered, not just on themselves, but on Him who died and gave His life for us, to be centered on God and Jesus Christ. That’s what your ministry does. It helps us to refocus. And I have a feeling that’s part of the reason we go to church, to refocus. Because all week long there’s a culture and a world diverting your focus; diverting your focus, diverting my focus. And diverting my focus to be obsessed with Michael and not paying attention to God and others.

We invite people into a church building, into a church place, to refocus, to focus on the Creator, the God who created us all, and then to focus on following that God and Jesus Christ into the world. That is the mission of the Church, to focus on God and then to follow Jesus in the world. And the ministry of the altar guild is right there at that point of intersection between God and following Jesus in the world. What you do for God matters, it matters profoundly. It matters to your clergy, it matters to the people in your congregations, because it helps us to really follow Jesus in the world by first worshipping God.

And it also does something else. I don’t know how long I’ve been walking preaching — I was at Saint James, Baltimore, which was a fairly large church building, and it has a wondrous Episcopal pulpit, and just kind of high and exalted and all that kind of stuff, and it’s very nice. I was at Saint James 12 years before I was elected Bishop. I would, you know, I would certainly be in the pulpit for Easter and Christmas service and that kind of stuff, but actually, most Sundays I tended to preach in the aisles and up and down and around. We had a fire when lightning struck the tower at the pinnacle of the church and it just kind of spread. So we were out of the church for almost two years, and we were worshipping in halls and that kind of stuff, and there was no pulpit. And actually, those were the best years of my life. It was wonderful! We’d have double services and all that kind of stuff, but it was just extraordinary that there was no big pulpit. So I was free to kind of run around the various halls in the sermon.

And so when we went back into the church, they kind of redesigned the floor plan, not dramatically, people were still able to find their pews. They created a large platform to move the altar closer to the congregation so that it actually was surrounded by the congregation, but the architect said we’ve created an altar-way large enough for you, a runway for you too. It was wonderful — it had a good sound system and all that stuff, so I was able to go up and down the aisles and preach and people could still hear me. And I would tend to sweat at some times. At one point, I must have done it, and I just took the alb and went like this (wiping his brow with his sleeve, followed by laughter). Okay. You got it! So the next Sunday, the very next Sunday, women from the Saint James altar guild were prepositioned in certain pews, and as I ran up and down the aisles, a handkerchief would suddenly appear. What you do for your clergy!

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for your ministry, thank you for your service, thank you for the way your ministry creates an atmosphere of hospitality so that people might really encounter the Living God and then go into the world to serve Him in Jesus’ name. So thank you and thank God for you.

All: And for you.

Bishop Curry: And thank you for that.

Following the Bishop’s address, Dianne Walters presented a gift to Bishop Curry from NAGA — a pillow with the NAGA cross on the front and National Altar Guild Association on the back

Many thanks to Deborah (Debbie) Mead, Diocese of Colorado, Holy Comforter, Broomfield, for transcribing Bishop Curry’s entire address. This is a condensed version of his remarks.

One Comment to “Presiding Bishop Curry’s Address — Ministry Of Hospitality”

  • […] Monday we were fortunate to have Presiding Bishop Curry speak to our small group (read his speech here). He told us that “the ministry that you do helps the people of God to worship God and to be […]