In Depth

This section offers questions to explore and new concepts to mull over.

The Future Role Of The Altar Guild

What is the role of Diocesan Altar Guild in these changing times? What does it mean to serve our bishop and support congregational altar guilds?

Our work this year 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? Does anyone iron? Do we use no-iron purificators? Do we use real flowers every Sunday or do we adorn the altar in other ways –dried flowers, silk flowers, art? Do we have families on altar guilds? Do we set up for the service on Saturday morning or can this be done Friday evening to accommodate  those who have commitments on Saturday morning and would like to serve on the altar guild.

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in the face of our declining church membership, 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


Altar Guilds In The 21st Century
One issue the Diocesan Altar Guild is facing is the kind of support parish altar guilds need in the face of this decline in general church membership and therefore a decline in altar guild  ministries. In many congregations altar guild ministries have shrunk to a handful of older members who do the work previously done by teams. Church membership has declined in one generation from 6 million to 1.7 million.

Our diocese 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.

Social media is the preferred channel of communication. Digital/virtual meetings are taking the place of email exchanges and some face -to -face meetings. 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.

The Diocese Of California 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 and the digital revolution and the transformations it brought of the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

Some have written that altar guilds are the preparers and keepers of the timeless worship and ancient traditions of our episcopal church. We also reflect in our ministry the realities of our time and context, and the adaptations we make as we live into our ministries through the decades and centuries.

Altar guilds may be the mediators between the timelessness of our traditions and worship and the calls of new centuries. The Diocesan Altar Guild meets as a community, face-to-face, to learn; worship; work together in the face of declining numbers; to reflect ethnic and cultural diversity and the current  digital social norms of separateness and loneliness.

Is it time to re-imagine this ministry or to conclude it?

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.