The Altar Guild at church has responsibility for all the vestments, linens and shiny things that adorn the church.  Candles, wafers, flowers, the whole smash is our responsibility.  We have a good system of passing on the leadership.  Every six months there is a new president.  From July to January there is the Christmas President and then from January to July is the Easter president.  In December of 2007 our priest asked me if I would be the Easter 2009 President. (You are asked a year out so you can learn from the current president for your season.)  There is a brunch twice a year where we have a meeting, and the serving president turns the keys (and yet another binder, I’m up to 4 now) to the new president.  Usually the outgoing and the incoming presidents make some small remarks. 
I don’t often write things out when I speak in public, except perhaps a few notes on a cocktail napkin.  Usually I really don’t know what I am going to say until shortly before I say it.  But in the last few months, several thoughts about church and Altar Guild had been occurring to me over and over again, so I thought this was an indicator that I ought to try to be more serious for once, and actually pencil out some thoughts.  After the usual thank you type things, I said the following.

A verse has been running through my head of late, and I would like to share it with you:

“Let us now praise famous men, men of little showing. For their work continueth, broad and deep continueth, greater than their knowing

I was in college when I read the book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” and I knew in the back of my mind that there was a great quote from which that line came. I thought it might be biblical, but of course I wasn’t sure, because I am an Episcopalian, and I couldn’t find it in the prayer book

So I called my mother, who of course, was able to supply me with the above line. It is from a Rudyard Kipling poem, but he drew inspiration from Ecclesiasticus (Not even the bible, but the apocrypha no less?) The lines speak not only of those who have gone before who are known, but those who labored and are forgotten. Their works continue as well. I went on to write my paper and talk about the beauty that comes through use. That things and people that are worn and old and eventually forgotten are beautiful because they have served a purpose

Now, I am not referring to my mother when I say this: I love our beautiful old things in our sacristy. Oh a new crisp linen is lovely to be sure. But my favorite linens to iron are those that are soft and tissue thin, because they have been washed and used over and over through the years. I love how that thinness is representative of all the hands that have touched it, that hands that cut and sew, the hands that wash and iron, the hands that consecrate, even the lips of the congregation, as the linens have slid along and wiped the cup they have used. The things we care for represent the life of our community

I love being on Altar guild, because we are the caretakers of the years, and I think the members of the guild have been wonderful stewards of these beautiful resources. Anything that has had the engraving washed off of it is a well used and well loved thing! Again, the number of hands that have done that work! It is marvelous. That is why something that is a little worn is beautiful to me, knowing how lovingly it has been cared for all along

But more than just caring for these resources, we have the capacity to care for each other. I remember that my first year on the guild was frustrating. I never seemed to know what I was doing! It was the other members of the guild who continued to answer my questions again and again, to show me where the manuals were again and again, and demonstrate again and again their love for not only these things, but their love for Grace, and their love for God. Again and again, they washed me out and ironed me up so I could be ready to serve again another day. I stuck with Altar Guild because of the joy I found in the community that is there. Life gives us dings and dents, and we need the loving kindness of those friends who would pick us up and mend us.

I am honored to be chosen to take on this leadership role. I’m afraid too, because of how much I don’t know, but over the last few months, what other wiser members have made clear to me, is that on altar guild, we don’t stand alone, we stand together, so that if one person stumbles, then some one else supports them.

I aspire to be an old worn thing at Grace. I want all of us to be like these holy vessels and linens and vestments. Carefully cared for so at the end of the day, we are clean and glowing, ready to continue to serve.

I’m very honored to be part of such and organization. To be another link in the chain of those who work quietly, and in community to serve God by serving each other and our fellow parishioners…“For our work continueth, broad and deep continueth, greater than our knowing.”

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5 Responses to

  1. RomeLover says:

    I think I’m glad I only read this. I’d have been an absolute wreck hearing this!
    This is beautiful and oh, so true.

  2. Anne C says:

    This expresses so well what many of us feel when we handle, touch,wash, press, polish and care for the beautiful, worn and sacred things in our trust. We feel that way about each other too.

    Thank you for expressing this so eloguently!

  3. El, thanks for posting your remarks, but it lost something in the reading I treasured from hearing it shared. You, friend, are a treasure and operate in no one’s shadow. As I iron linens, I often think of the hands that have handled them before me. I am happy & proud to be a sacristan with you. Peace, SS.

  4. Carrie M says:

    I love how this makes me think. I definitely care for those around me in this way. (I hope)
    Much Love!

  5. bastognebulldog says:


    J&K really enjoyed this!

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