Photo from St. Peter’s in Columbia, Tennesee
This has been a week for receiving calls or emails about a problem many guilds share across the state- and the country. How do we entice new members to altar guild work? Along with this plaintive cry comes an affiliated sidebar, “Our gals are getting weary of the “holy housework”.” It’s a busy world today, with every hour crammed with places to go and things to do. For all the modern conveniences, it seems we are expected to do more and do it faster. Some guild members have been on the job for decades, some directresses have stayed on because nobody wants to take over the responsibilities. Burn-out is an expected commodity and the feeling guilty part about having this slump is not surprising. Here are some ideas I have found which work to inject some energy in the crucial ministry we perform in our parishes.
1. Have regular meetings of the guild, maybe monthly with a summer break.
2. Schedule your meetings at a time convenient for working members or members with young children. For instance, Thursday morning at 10 a.m. will reduce dramatically the possibility of attending for many. Early evening around 7-7:30 is an excellent window to accommodate young families and working persons.
3. Sons, husbands, fathers, and MEN in general are wonderful candidates for altar guild work. More and more guilds are discovering that women are not the only possibility for altar guild members! The guys are great at brass-polishing, handyman chores, church garden maintenance, constructing much-needed spaces and shelving in the sacristy, and yes- I have seen beautiful flower-arranging work done by men, and even ironing! One husband member made an ingenious cruet -drying device using wooden dowels. The cruets are washed and inverted over the dowels to dry. Tiverton has a fantastic mother and son brass polishing team- you should see that brass shine at Holy Trinity!
4. Have an annual Christmas party and June end-of-year luncheon at a local restaurant or in a member’s home.
5. Consider an “Open Sacristy” one Sunday in your church. After services, invite the congregation to see the sacristy. Have some of the most beautiful hangings and metalware on display, and be on hand to answer questions. You have no idea how many times I have heard parishioners shrink away from going near a sacristy- “Oh, I am not supposed to go in there”! You’d be surprised at how many folks think something mysterious happens in sacristies, just for the special few to enjoy. Yes, there are wonderful mysteries in our church to be sure, but the sacristy and the work done there should be information everyone can access without trepidation.
6. Offer training for probationers. The director should be able to facilitate this. Often newbies are scared of making a big mistake. Nobody is born knowing all about altar guild work. Training is fun. Assign a new candidate to a long-time member until he/she feels comfortable. Every member should know ALL facets of altar guild work.
7. Every member should have their own altar guild manual. Second- hand Diggs or Sturges/Gent or Edith Perry manuals are available through Morehouse or on Ebay or through used books services like alibris, Bookfind or Amazon.com.
8. Plan a parish visit to another sacristy. Your altar guild can pay a call on a nearby sacristy (Saturday mornings are perfect). Then reciprocate by having the host guild visit YOUR sacristy. Refreshments and a social time after will add some fun and you will enjoy seeing other ways of doing things, exchanging products tips, seeing vestments, needlepoint, metalware, etc. is great fun and can be very useful and informative.
9. Invite a speaker to a regular meeting. Flower arranging, textiles, history of vestments, conservation, church architecture, are all fun topics. Refreshment and education for your guild members is critical.
10. Guild work days can foster a sense of teamwork. Cleaning out closets, polishing and dusting and a general overhaul twice a year can be fun if done as a guild. Afterward, a lunch and social time at a local eatery is a great reward! Also consider an embroidery or needlepoint circle if you have enough women interested in handwork. Old linens can be recycled into small linens, new small linens can be made, repairs done on a guild “Sewing Afternoon”.
11. Invite your Diocesan or Provincial Directress to pay a call to one of your guild meetings.
12. Don’t be afraid to “take a break”. At one time Directresses used to serve no more than 3 years, then were replaced by a new person. The rector was in charge of this appointment. Sometimes a year off to pursue other ministry work in the church or in the community can recharge the batteries, and you will return refreshed and renewed to the altar guild.
13. Visit museums to see religious art and textiles- and read about your “craft” to learn the history of vestments, textiles, church architecture. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has wonderful historic vestments.
14. In September, a Ministries Night in your guild hall may be just the thing! Each ministry has a table set up, the altar guild may display some vestments, flower arrangement, etc., and have a little printed handout about “What We Do” . Staff your table with members of the guild who can answer questions. This is your frontline for recruitment!
15. Ask your rector/vicar to do an “Illustrated Eucharist”. This is a wonderful teaching opportunity whereby the celebrant explains the WHY of everything that happens at the Eucharist as it is being celebrated. As each vestment is put on, the priest will explain what it means and where it comes from. Why do we genuflect, why is the Host and chalice elevated? To learn about the “equipment”, ritual, and ceremonial of our church is important for altar guild members and congregants alike.
16. Consider a junior altar guild for the youth in the parish.
17. Bring a daughter, grand daughter, niece, nephew, etc. to your team work day to help and see how things are done.
18. Invite your rector to a meeting. He/she may love an opportunity to offer appreciation for work done by the guild, suggest ideas, discuss vestments and needs for the sacristy, etc.
Don’t be afraid to suggest ideas to your parish directress. She is there to coordinate the work of the guild and to keep a lively, inspired and dedicated team on task. Input from guild members is always valuable for directors/directresses to hear. Don’t be afraid to try something new!