In contemporary Anglicanism, “acolytes” is a general term which covers not only servers, torchbearers, and lighters of candles but also crucifers, thurifers, and banner-bearers. Acolytes are mentioned as a minor order (along with porters, lectors, and exorcists) as early as a letter of Pope Cornelius to Fabius of Antioch in 252. They were also mentioned in Cyprian’s writings. They assisted deacons or subdeacons at the preparation of the table. Later they carried candles in processions. In Rome they carried fragments of the bread consecrated at the papal Mass to other churches. In the late middle ages, when candles began to appear upon altars, they lighted the altar candles.
Eventually, lay servers or sacristans performed duties earlier associated with acolytes, and the order of acolyte was normally conferred upon a candidate for priesthood in the course of his training. The minor orders were not perpetuated in Anglicanism. Some of the duties earlier performed by persons in the minor order of acolyte were taken over by lay clerks. In the later nineteenth century the clerks were suppressed and their duties were largely taken over by lay “acolytes” and sacristans or altar guilds.
There are a variety of resources available to support acolytes in their ministry. Training is important. While every church (and priest!) has their own way of doing things, there are some basics that apply to most churches.
The Manual for Acolytes by Dennis Michno is available from Church Publishing as is Parish Acolyte Guide by Donna H. Barthle and The New Complete Server by Christopher Heller.
St. Patrick’s Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma made their own acolyte training video which you might find helpful.
If you are “high church” (i.e., have formal liturgy with incense, etc.), St. James in Springfield, Missouri has prepared a detailed manual and offers it as a free download on Amazon. You can download it here: Acolyte Manual. If you search the internet, you can find several others done by local churches that you can use to develop a manual for your church.