What is the Altar Guild?
The Altar Guild is the liturgical partner of the Priest. As one Altar Guild manual puts it, "We are the ones chosen to prepare for the meeting of the people with God." (Working Manual for Altar Guilds, Dorothy Diggs)
We care for the objects used in worship. We handle them carefully and respectfully, because these objects have been dedicated in prayer for use in worship for the glory of God.
We also care for the sanctuary of the church. The work of the Altar Guild is to ensure that our sanctuary reflects the holiness and the joy that we all create together in our worship.
The Altar Guild is not a social group. We don't have pot lucks, we seldom have meetings. We are not involved in the business of the church. We don't take votes or make momentous decisions. Most of what we do is invisible to the congregation, and is meant to be that way. The work we do facilitates and enhances our worship and particularly the Eucharist and should never distract from it.
The rewards of serving on the Altar Guild
The members of the Altar Guild are part of an unbroken tradition reaching back to the faithful women who provided for Jesus during his lifetime. (Mark 15: 40-41; Matthew 27:55). We follow our patron saint, Martha, partly because of her practical life of active service, yet also because she was among the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah (John 11:7-29).
Joining the Altar Guild means learning many fascinating aspects of Church tradition, including the esoteric names for all the various vessels, vestments, linens and paraments we use in worship.
Most importantly, serving on the Altar Guild is a spiritual exercise. Caring for the Altar is a way to act out our relationship with God. It is quiet, prayerful work.
How to join the Altar Guild
While Altar Guilds can trace their roots to the women who cared for Jesus, at various times in the history of the Anglican Church Altar Guilds have been composed exclusively of men or exclusively of women. Today, anyone can be a member of the Altar Guild. Anyone, men or women, young or old, may have a vocation for Altar Guild service.
You don't have to have any experience to join the Altar Guild. Your training will consist of hands on instruction from experienced Altar Guild members, plus some background reading.
If you are interested in exploring Altar Guild service, please contact Becky Fleenor at BFleenor1@comcast.net or through our church office: 615-883-4595
Common Episcopal Terms
Alms Basin - An Episcopalian "offering plate."
Altar - a table (located in the sanctuary or the crossing) on which are placed the vessels for holding the bread, wine, and water used in the Eucharist or communion.
Altar Guild - a lay group in a church charged with the maintenance and preparation of the altar and its furnishings in a church; altar guilds may also supervise church decorations and flowers, weddings and funerals.
Aumbry - A box or cupboard in the wall of a church building or in a sacristy where the Reserved Sacrament is kept.
Bread - One of the two elements of communion, signifying to us the Body of Christ. As Scripture reminds us, "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body." (Matthew 26:26)
Chalice - the cup at communion. We use silver, ceramic and glass.
Chasuble - From Latin, casula, meaning "little house". A chasuble is a type of vestment worn by the celebrant during Communion. It is usually oval in shape, with a hole for the head to pass through. The chasuble may have been derived from an ancient Roman cloak only worn outdoors and shaped like a tent (hence the name, "little house"). Many Low Church clergy will tell you the that chasuble's liturgical origins were from an identically shaped garment that Hebrew priests would wear to keep blood off them as they were sacrificing animals.
Ciborium - A cup that resembles a chalice, except that it has a removable lid. A ciborium is used to hold communion wafers during the Eucharist.
Corporal - From Latin: corpus, meaning "body." A square piece of linen laid on top of the altar cloth at Communion.
Cruet - From old French, crue, meaning "a vial or a glass." A cruet is the vessel (glass or metal) used to hold the water and wine for the Eucharist.
Elements - The bread and wine of Holy Communion.
Fair Linen - A white linen cloth cover for the altar, used during Eucharist.
Host - The consecrated "bread" part of the Holy Communion. In most Episcopal churches a wafer is used as the host. The wafer the priest breaks at the fraction is called a "priest's host."
Lavabo - From Latin, meaning, "I will wash." The name originally referred to the ceremonial washing of the priest’s hands before he or she celebrated Communion, while saying the words, "I will wash my hands in innocence." (Psalm 26:6). The name lavabo also refers to the small towel used to dry the hands and the bowl into which water is poured during the washing. Thus, to call the towel a lavabo towel, or to call the bowl a lavabo bowl would be technically redundant.
Missal - The altar book - The big book on the Altar or Holy Table containing the services of Holy Eucharist.
Paten - the plate for bread at communion.
Purificator - From Latin purus (pure) and facare (to make). A purificator is a small piece of white linen used at Communion to cleanse the chalice, by wiping the rim of the chalice with the purificator.
Wafer - the bread part of the Lord's Supper; often an unleavened, thin cracker; sometimes the wafer is imprinted with a cross; some wafers are large, being several inches in diameter.