I have been serving as an acolyte during church services for 17 years. Unlike many “cradle Episcopalians” who may have started acolyting as youngsters, I began acolyting as an adult (I was confirmed an Episcopalian in late 1995). I served at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church (where I had been confirmed) and continued serving at my present church, Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, when I transferred there in 2005. Today was my last day acolyting regularly, at least for now. (I share responsibility with my husband for transporting my inlaws to their church now that neither one of them can drive. I had been “hanging on” by acolyting once a month but with my schedule, I sometimes have to decline my monthly assignment. It doesn’t feel fair to either party, them or me, for me to be so sporadic in my participation). This “break” feels a little bit more like a goodbye, though, at least to a worship responsibility that I have loved. It deserves a bit of reflection.
I was recruited to acolyte by Judy Coleman when she and I both attended St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church. Anyone who knows Judy knows that she is one of those people “you can’t say no to.” I am so glad she convinced me to serve. The way she and Michael Berry taught acolyting, you walked away prepared and respectful of the process (although this “prepared adult acolyte” had more than her share of misfires over her career!).
Judy focused a lot on decorum among the acolyte crew (remember, a lot of trainees were kids). You don’t swing your rope around; you don’t chew gum; you remember that you are at a place of reverence. The order in which you light the candles matter because you don’t want the gospel to go unilluminated. They are messages and lessons that I have perpetually carried with me, even in environments that were much more loosely structured.
As someone who gets drowsy easily, being an acolyte was a HUGE help to me in staying engaged with the service. Having an active role to play made a difference for me. Listening for the next cue to do something; counting attendees in order to have the right amount of supplies at communion; knowing that little kids were watching us and how we carried ourselves, the cross, and the candles was a reminder that we were, as we were often told, “leaders in worship.”
Eventually, Tenley (who I was pregnant with when I started training) began acolyting as well. It was such a pleasure to serve side by side with my daughter. She continued acolyting a bit at Holy Comforter. These are all times I treasure.
Getting To Know Parishioners Better: Having the opportunity to serve as an acolyte at funerals, as well as services I wouldn’t necessarily normally go to gave me a deeper connection to parishioners I did not know that well. I was soberingly honored to be part of the funerals of some cherished parishioners, and to help celebrate their lives.
Outtakes: Oh yes, there are outtakes! I guess there always are when you do something for a long time. There was the infamous (to me) time I didn’t ring the bells during communion at St. Francis (the prayer book didn’t have “ring now” notes for anything except Prayer A so I didn’t ring them when we were doing Prayer B). Father Gil saying he thought I omitted the bells “because I may have had a headache” still makes me laugh. // There’s the time I handed Father Tom the wrong piece of altar linen (maybe it was a purificator instead of a corporal – I still don’t know!) and exchanged an email with him afterwards in which he went out of his way to make sure I didn’t feel criticized // There’s the parishioner who (recently) suggested I hold my hands farther apart on the cross so “it wouldn’t wobble so much.” (Gotta admit I’m still smarting a little over that one given how I feel about reverence!!). // There was every time I tried to knot the rope myself and had to get help. Hopefully the outtakes are only a small portion of my acolyte CV.
Tenley and Wayne, when they were little, loved having the “job” of blowing out the torches at the end of the service. I guess I’m blowing out the torch on my career as an acolyte, at least temporarily. However, whether I am in the pew or serving as part of the altar party:
I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.