Ask The Bishop
April 2014: On Altar Guilds
I had the wonderful opportunity to spend this morning (Saturday, March 1, 2014) with 80 members of altar guilds from several O‘ahu congregations. We were graciously hosted by St. Mary’s Church, Honolulu, and it included a great lunch. Thank you to Fr. Greg Johnson and everyone at St. Mary’s. It is great to have St. Mary’s hosting diocesan events again.
Those present asked that I share some of my reading suggestions and comments. I decided this might make a good “Ask the Bishop” article.
I suggested that the altar guilds that function best have a congregational manual for local use with photos and detailed notes on customs and practices unique to the congregation. I do think it helpful to have a standard handbook to aid in preparation of a local congregational manual. These are two commonly used handbooks written for Episcopal Churches:
a. The New Altar Guild Book by Barbara Gent (Morehouse Publishing, revised edition 1996)
b. A Working Manual for Altar Guilds by Dorothy C. Diggs (Morehouse Publishing, third edition 1988)
It would be helpful for each altar guild to choose one of these handbooks and prepare a local congregational manual based on the principles in the selected handbook and in keeping with local practice. READ MORE
I also suggested that it is helpful to have a couple of books on the self in every sacristy. In fact, these can be helpful for every Episcopalian to own and review to better understand our tradition:
a. The Episcopal Handbook (Morehouse Publishing, 2008)
b. A Dictionary for Episcopalians by John Wall (Cowley Publications, revised edition 2000)
These can provide some general answers to questions “Episcopalian” and they are relatively inexpensive.
Additionally, I did recommend two books in the 2014 Bishop's Reading List that I think could be helpful to altar guild members and others involved in the worship ministry of the Church:
a. Liturgical Sense: The Logic of Rite by Louis Weil (Seabury Books, 2013)
b. The Liturgy Explained by James W. Farwell (Morehouse Publishing, new edition 2013)
Weil has taught liturgical and sacramental studies at three Episcopal seminaries. He is one of a generation of scholars that shaped the current liturgical practice embodied in the Book of Common Prayer (1979). His (140-page) analysis of the liturgy and his reflection on popular practices is a worthy aid to help us review the worship habits in every local church. Farwell is currently the Associate Professor of Theology and Liturgy at Virginia Theological Seminary. These two short books (Farwell’s book has only 56 pages) could do much to enhance the style of and practices in worship for our congregation.
Several participants at today’s gathering talked with me about the need for a better understanding and consistency of liturgical practice in their congregations. Some congregations have had a change in clergy leadership and others are not always sure why things are done as they have been done. I suggested that it is helpful for each congregation to have a “customary.” This is a set of guidelines for local practice in a congregation’s worship. It is a synopsis of the ceremonies. It need not be an absolute formulary and it should provide some flexibility. It can provide the “standard” for instruction of worship ministers and aid in the planning of the Church year.
I tend to use a series from Cowley Publication by Galley and Mitchell as my customary [the basis of my liturgical practice with some re-evaluation in light of Liturgical Sense: The Logic of Rite by Louis Weil noted above and augmented by insights from The Bishop Is Coming!: A Practical Guide for Bishops and Congregations by Paul V. Marshall (Church Publishing, 2007)]:
1.a. The Ceremonies of the Eucharist: A Guide to Celebration by Howard E. Galley (Cowley Publications, 1989)
1.b. Pastoral and Occasional Liturgies: A Ceremonial Guide by Leonel L. Mitchell (Cowley Publications, 1998)
1.c. Lent, Holy Week, Easter and the Great Fifty Days: A Ceremonial Guide by Leonel Mitchell (Cowley Publications, 2006)
I have also found two newer works from Church Publishing by Malloy and Turrell to be helpful (with good illustrations):
2.a. Celebrating the Eucharist: A Practical Ceremonial Guide for Clergy and Other Liturgical Ministers by Patrick Malloy (Church Publishing, 2008)
2.b. Celebrating the Rites of Initiation: A Practical Ceremonial Guide for Clergy and Other Liturgical Ministers by James F. Turrell (Church Publishing, 2013)
It is helpful for teaching purposes to have a standard customary in each congregation. Having heard from members of altar guilds and lay worship ministers, I think it would be helpful in every church in our Diocese.