Several years ago, I learned how unaware I had been about how a church service happens. As I entered the building on Sunday mornings, everything was in place: bulletins, collection plates for the offertory, attendance pads, children’s activity packets, Communion elements, ushers at the door, pews filling with the congregation. All I had to do was sit down and hopefully not fall asleep during the sermon!
My perspective changed when I became a member of the Altar Guild. Many mornings of the year, I now arrive at 7:30 a.m. The church is already humming by the time I get there! Ushers have already placed bulletins at every entrance to the Sanctuary. Now they are gathered in the vestibule, plotting out who will do which job, making sure all their responsibilities are covered. It is a treat to see how committed they are to their job and what great fellowship they share!
The organist is practicing all the hymns. Hearing the soaring melodies of hymns I know often prompts me to sing while I work. On occasion, Noralyn Carpenter is rehearsing the Bell Choir, another real delight to hear the beautiful music that they make. Young men responsible for the complicated task of balancing the sound and making sure all the microphones are working cover the entire Sanctuary. Others make sure the video equipment is working and ready to go.
And what am I doing in the midst of all this activity? I am quietly working in the sacristy, preparing a holy meal for the congregation. The beautiful chalices come out of their protective flannel bags. Bread is placed on a paten. Crisp, clean white napkins come out of a drawer. Silver bowls for the wafers, small porcelain bowls for the gluten-free wafers, hand cleaner for the servers at each station. I load the rolling cart with all these elements; then carefully, I wheel the loaded cart into the Sanctuary. Climbing the steps up to the altar is serious business because it reminds me that this is God’s table, not mine. I place the bread first and cover it with one of the napkins. Then the large chalice is filled with the juice, and it is covered with a napkin. The gluten free items are to the right of the main elements. Take time to make it perfect, I remind myself; this isn’t a casual picnic. Now down to the four tables placed across the front of the Sanctuary. Each one receives a bowl of wafers, a large chalice and the gluten-free elements, everything but the gluten-free elements covered with a napkin. When I have finished, I always check to be sure everything is placed where it should be.
Now I am off-duty until the end of the 8:30 a.m. service. With the help of other Altar Guild members, we clear all the stations. When everything is back in the sacristy, we clean each chalice, bowl and the paten. Unused elements are returned to the earth. Mission accomplished, I am off to the Goodwill Class, but always with a sense that I have served both my church and my God with joy!