from “The Altar Guild” by David A. Menges
“The love or the care which one expends on anything indicates the value he attaches to it. This involves the element of time. It includes the spending of money. It touches less material things such as beauty, artistry, taste, and refinement. We are told that this is how we acquired the word “worship.” It comes from the old English “worthship” and indicates the value, the importance we attach to God and holy things.
Mankind in worship expresses a sense of worth. By the care we give to worship, whether private or public, we tell ourselves and the world how much God means to us. By the loving devotion we expend on God’s House and its furnishing we publish abroad our estimation of religion. By the attitude we display toward all the things involved in worship it is possible to judge our valuation of them and of God. Care and devotion, as expressed in terms of time and money and artistry, do indicate a sense of worth.”
In the history of the church, which began in the New Testament and which is still in the making, Christian peoples have repeated the story of Israel. Christians have said that their best is not too good for God. They have striven to make His House a distinguished building. They have put into it their combined efforts, far more than any one of them could put into his own home.
They bestow upon their churches beauty, art, fabric, precious metal, as a result of their love for God and their highest devotion to Him. They feel that their churches should be beautiful Houses of Prayer, places where God, through His Son, can commune with them and they with Him. A sense of worth erects these buildings and then lovingly cares for them generation after generation.
In this care, bands of women have had an honored place, especially in the work of tending to the furnishings of altar and chancel. In the days of Moses “all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen. And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats’ hair.” (Exodus 35:25, 26).
Ever since they have contributed their special talents, employing them to this day in the service of the Christian Church.
All who have any labor to perform in God’s house must bring the spirit of reverence to do their work. Nothing so detracts from acceptable service as a secular spirit. Loud conversation, hurried footsteps, work that could more properly be done in the parish house or basement or church kitchen; these interfere with keeping the sacred place holy.
All who are engaged in caring for any part of God’s House should cultivate and diligently practice that respect which marks the place a holy of holies. Church buildings have their unwritten rules of proper conduct, as the athletic field and the theater and the symphony hall have theirs. Reverence at all times, when the church is in use and when it is empty, is fitting and proper.
There is a devotion that is of God and there is another type that is of duty. In all the work about the sanctuary ours should be the one that proceeds from the love of God. Here we touch and handle things divine. We ought therefore bring to them the most complete offering possible of heart and hand.
Members of the altar guilds face inconvenience as to the time when they can do their work in an empty church. This may mean and extra journey or an early journey to God’s House. They will find in most churches few facilities for doing that work. Lack of space in which to toil and lack of space in which to store their properties are very common deficiencies. Only the highest consecration will overcome these limitations and make their service a joy to themselves and an abiding satisfaction to the parish.
This work is the kind which cannot be done in haste, at least not acceptably. Its very nature requires that it be given plenty of time, a factor we will emphasize again and again in these pages. A candle out of line, a crooked hanging, a faulty arrangement of flowers may be due to carelessness born of crowded moments when many minutes should have been employed. The beauty of holiness demands that we sacrifice speed for service.
This must be one of the practical results of our consecration and of the spirit of reverence. Perhaps better that we do not try to serve in this capacity than that we serve halfheartedly in haste. This is a needed warning with reference to much of the work in the chancel and sanctuary. Otherwise results will be disappointing and distracting when they should be elevating and inspiring. Here tidiness may be said to be next to godliness.”