Why I Serve at the Altar

By Roberta Sautter

Monday, October 8

Last Spring, after serving as an acolyte at our glorious Easter morning 11 am service, I was chatting with friends at coffee hour.

One of my friends remarked that it is wonderful for those in the pew to see the procession and recession, and also to watch our complex liturgical dance as the service unfolds. He asked me how it feels to be part of it. This is my reflection about it.

I grew up in an Episcopal family, and I loved all things church from early childhood. I clearly remember reading the Book of Common Prayer (1928!) sitting next to my father in the pew shortly after I learned to read. Both my brothers served as acolytes, but since I was a girl, I was bitterly aware I was not allowed to serve.

Later, in college, I drifted away from organized religion, and explored other faith traditions. After something of an Epiphany, I returned to the Episcopal Church as a questing adult. Things had changed from my childhood, and women were being ordained! I was able, at last, to serve as an acolyte. I loved it as much as I thought I would.

That was many years ago. When I made my way to Grace, I began serving at the altar relatively soon after joining. There are several reasons that serving fills my soul.

First, I am by nature, a “Martha” in the story of Martha and Mary. (Martha zooms around preparing the meal, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, driving Martha crazy. Jesus tells Martha to chill. (Luke 10:38-42)) I love actively participating in the Eucharist, carrying things about and making myself useful. Serving focuses my spiritual energy, and I listen more closely, sing more joyfully, pray more deeply.

Second, serving with my fellow acolytes and clergy binds me more closely to my faith community. I find this to be true with anything I do with my church community, including participating in groups like Education for Ministry, serving opportunities such as Winter Interfaith Shelter and the stitching ministry, or socializing at coffee hour, but it is particularly true when serving at the altar.

Finally, and this is surprisingly important to me, one sees the church from a very different angle when serving. There is something so moving (literally, I suppose!) about seeing the faces of fellow congregants and visitors as we walk into the nave in procession, and then see the rapt attention as people participate, seeing the expressions on faces as they receive Christ’s gift of Eucharist, and finally seeing people listening to the closing music as we recess out. When the nave is packed with visitors for a special service, I can almost see the Spirit flowing among us. Heady stuff.

I am sure all who serve at the altar have their own reasons for it, and I hope others will be drawn to the camaraderie of being an acolyte. If you know people who might want to join us, please have them email our wonderful Canon Precentor, Jeffrey Hookom, jeffreyh@gracecathedral.org.

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