This section offers questions to explore and new concepts to mull over.
We wish you and your congregations well during this Christmas and New Year’s which we will be marking in a very different way this year. We will not be joining together in our congregations. We will be scattered in our homes because of the Covid virus. Many of us are continuing the work of our ministry in setting up chancels for recorded or streamed services.
Digital technology is enabling us to create new kinds of community in the face of being scattered. We are streaming services, holding meetings, small groups, adult education programs and coffee hours on Zoom. The Diocese has a Tech Chaplain. Congregations have IT teams. Digital services allow people living distantly and those with mobility issues to worship more easily. Some churches see having a hybrid form of worship with digital and in person services once the virus is controlled.
Now that our services are changing, how will our ministry change. We are putting out vestments for the clergy and seasonal frontals and hangings in the chancel. We are putting flowers or plants on altars. We are working with the clergy and the technical people to make adjustments in how things are arranged so they work better for purposes of camera angles and streamed and recorded services. What will our ministry be when we begin having in person, outdoor services: setting up an outdoor altar, distributing pew bulletins, providing/handing out hand sanitizer, masks?
The profound changes in our lives, our country, our world brought about by Covid 19 may be accelerating changes in how we worship.
DAG was established in 1938. Many more people were worshipping in churches in the 40s and 50’s than are worshipping in churches today. In the last generation church membership nationally has shrunk by two thirds from nearly 5 million members to just under 2 million.
By 2018 membership in DAG was half what it was in 2010. The declining membership of DAG may reflect the shrinking membership in our church generally. Or it may mean The Diocesan Altar Guild is not meeting the needs of its members. We need to assess the ministry, what is working and what is not working. If it continues, new leadership needs to step up. We need to consider if it is time to conclude the 82-year-old DAG ministry. If the ministry concludes, the diocese suggests it should be in a service with a celebration of and thanksgiving for the ministry.
After the holidays, during Epiphany, we will send out a five-question survey to ask members how they want to proceed – to reimagine the ministry or conclude it.
Meanwhile during this holiday season when we are scattered in our celebration. Let us remember to make space for encountering the divine.
The Future Role Of The Diocesan Altar Guild
What is the role of a Diocesan Altar Guild in these changing times?
What does it mean to serve our bishop and support congregational altar guilds in our diocese in this new decade of 2020?
Our work going forward is not about answers. It is about questions. Where are we coming from and where are we going. We are coming from silver, crystal, hand hemmed linens and real flowers. It is a ritual rooted in our history. Given times are changing and given dramatically declining church membership generally, where do we want to go? How do we want to set the Lord’s Table? What is the core of our mission, our service? What do we want to retain? What do we want to modify and what do we want to jettison? Do we use real flowers every Sunday or do we adorn the altar in other ways –dried flowers, silk flowers, art? Do we have men, youth, children families on altar guilds? How can the Diocesan Altar Guild support altar guild ministries in our diocese going forward.
The Diocese of California (DAG) Altar Guild Ministry Then and Now
The DAG was established in 1938 and has served the diocese for just over 80 years. DAG has helped set up new churches and their altar guilds, equipped chaplains going to WWII, Korea and Vietnam. It served congregational altar guilds as they lived through the culture changes of the 1960s and 70s, the digital revolution and the transformations it brought in the 90s and 2000s. Over the last 6 years we responded to members’ requests that we move to digital communications and provide opportunities for community among people serving on altar guild ministries throughout our diocese. DAG shifted from a paper newsletter and notices to digital notices. We created a website. We held annual luncheon meetings with speakers at Grace Cathedral which was considered a central location by our members.
Is it time to make more changes, to re-imagine this ministry or is it time to conclude it with thanksgiving and in celebration of its long history of service?
In order to continue and re-imagine our Diocesan Altar Guild Ministry needs leaders.
Please email thoughts and suggestions to:
Mail to Jane Phillips 10 Crystal Springs Rd, #2512 San Mateo, CA 94402
Phone Jane Phillips 650-796-2428
Changes and Goals
Digital technology: Social media are the preferred channels of communication. Digital/virtual meetings are taking the place some face -to -face meetings. In these times of the Covid Virus we are worshiping digitally. Zoom is our new best friend. Should DAG have an Instagram account, a Facebook page? How can we attract younger members to this ministry.
In the midst of all this change, the Diocesan Altar Guild (DAG) is called to explore the needs of our members and what they want in support of their altar guild ministries.
Reflecting the diversity of our diocese: The Diocese of California is rich in ethnic diversity with Asian, Hispanic Filipino Native American and more cultures following our Episcopal Liturgy in their worship of God and incorporating into this worship parts of their culture. It is a goal of our national church and our diocese to reflect the cultures of those who worship in our congregations.
The Concept Of Liminal Space
Liminal spaces is a phrase is being used in sermons and presentations to describe special places where the veil between reality and the holy is lifted, when it becomes thin, more permeable and we experience the presence of God. These liminal spaces can be felt on mountain-tops, by the sea, in the woods. A sense of sacred and the presence of God can be felt looking at art, listening to music and especially working in the chancel and at the altar.
We see liminal space being created by the altar guild and clergy working closely together so the sense of reality is suspended to make room for the sacred, for God’s presence.
The sense of suspending the real world and entering into a special place where we experience the presence of God is accomplished by the altar guild and clergy working together so the service proceeds smoothly and beautifully with all things in their expected places with nothing to interrupt the sense of unfolding mystery. The sense of suspended reality begins with the procession, cross, vestments, and choir accompanied by music moving down the aisle to the chancel where we hear the Word of God. We are led further into the sacred liminal space of worship at the altar set for Eucharist where we experience the presence of God. Then we recess up the aisle and back out into the real world charged with inspiration about how we are to serve God in the world.
Presiding Bishop Curry’s Way of Love
Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, has invited us deeper into the Way of Love through a set of practices that form our faith, our commitment to follow Jesus and model this to the world. Is the work of an altar guild, the tasks it does to set the altar, to prepare the church for worship, to care for vestments, hangings, banners, processional crosses, to wash and iron linens polish vessels also a spiritual practice that brings us closer to God? Is this a way we nurture and deepen our own faith? Is this a way we attract members to our altar guilds and to our congregations? Are clergy and lay going to be working collaboratively to explore these questions and make choices for their congregations about how to go forward in preparing space for worship? Way Of Love is found at https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love