We see one or two them at every service, sitting quietly in the East Transept. Surely everyone recognizes them as the Altar Guild. The casual observer might assume that it is the same one or two that are always there without giving much thought to who they are, and what it is that they do.
What they do dates back to the time of Jesus. Martha and other women took care of His daily needs; and so, today, the Altar Guild takes care of the clergy, making sure that everything necessary for each worship service is made ready. At St. Philip’s, the current guild are all women, though historically, men have also been members of the guild in other churches.
The Martha Room, accessed from the East Transept or the Sacristy, is home base. There are four teams of six to eight members. The Directress assigns each team to one week each month. (Months with five Sundays are rotated among the teams.) Each person on the team does at least one service on Sunday, Tuesday, or Thursday during their week. Team captains make sure that everyone is available for their assigned week. The team captain is responsible to the Directress.
There is a scheduled workday every Friday for the team scheduled for that week. The tasks for the workday are on a rotation schedule. Except for linens, most of the tasks are multifaceted.
Acolyte alley is where the Lay Liturgical Ministers’ robes, surplices, and crosses are kept. Any garments worn for a service are set aside so they can be examined and placed in the wash if needed. After drying, the garment is steamed or pressed and replaced in the area for services. The same is true of the Acolytes’ garments.
The Clergy vesting room is off the Sacristy. Cassocks and albs are washed, ironed or steamed when necessary. The stoles and chasubles are straightened and checked to be sure they are ready for service. All of the drawers on one side of the room contain the stoles used by the clergy for the services and are organized by color according to the liturgical season. (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost).
Towels and linens used in a service are laundered and ironed on workdays each week.
The person filling candles on workday also fills the candles on the bride’s candelabra and the Eucharistic candle when they are used. They also clean the brass and silver and straighten the upper sacristy. The team captain sees that all workday tasks are completed.
During the Eucharist service, the host and wine is passed through the small, arched door and placed on the credence table before being sanctified. After the Eucharist, the unused, consecrated wine is passed back, where it is poured into the piscine and disposed of directly into the ground. The chalices are cleaned and stored after each use.
Guild members spend a year in training before being assigned to a team. Team memberships are rotated every year, allowing members over time to work with many others. Team captains and the Directress also spend a provisional year in training for their positions.
Carolyn McKeeman, current Directress, joined a number of ministries when she moved here from Long Island. “Altar Guild felt comfortable, she said. “Setting the table for the Lord is a blessing.”
Geri Ashworth, a previous Directress said, “We are God’s vessel of love. I am so happy that I’ve found this group where I can serve St. Philip’s.
Jane Chilcott, also a former Directress, commented that this diverse group of women is a cohesive group that forges unconditional friendships as part of the work they do for St. Philip’s. “People often claim that a given book or lecture series has changed their lives. Altar Guild membership truly changed mine.”
Melinda Carrell, a previous Directress said, “This has been a very special part of my life. I have developed a special feeling about the sacred objects that we care for.”
Katherine Knez-Phillips, former Directress, said, “I still feel God’s closeness whenever I am serving at a service. It is a great privilege to serve with so many loving women.”
After speaking with guild members, it is clear that this ministry attracts people who are devoted in their service to this ministry. In Medieval Europe, a “guild” was described as “an association … sharing the same interests … formed for mutual aid and protection and to maintain … standards. After speaking with guild members, it is clear that this ministry attracts people who are devoted to their “Guild.” Many members serve for years. Each member is special and brings something unique. They pray together before every workday, exchange birthday cards, and take food to those who may be ill or experiencing a crisis of some sort.
Inquiries about membership in the guild are welcome: women, men, young, old are welcome to explore this ministry. There will soon be a pamphlet available with an application for Altar Guild service. Until then, you may contact the Directress, Carolyn McKeeman, or call 577-2045.