Altar Guild

The ministry of the Altar Guild is to care for the altar, vestments, vessels, and altar linens of the parish. Altar Guild members prepare the sanctuary for services and clean up afterwards. Altar Guild members also frequently supervise the decoration of the sanctuary of the parish with flowers — although in some congregations there is a separate Flower Guild that prepares the flowers and often delivers them to the sick and shut in after the service.

Church Publishing offers several resources for Altar Guilds including A Working Manual for Altar Guild by Dorothy Diggs, The New Altar Guild Book by Barbara Gent and Betty Sturges, The Complete Training Course for Altar Guilds by B. Don Taylor and Meditations for Altar Guild Members by Caroline Conklin. Altar Guilds interested making vestments might also find Vestments for all Seasons by Barbara Dee Baumgarten useful.

There is a National Altar Guild Association (NAGA) website which includes

NAGA is a diverse ministry. Members come from both sexes, all ethnic groups and ages. They follow various styles of worship and interpretations of theology within the Church. They offer many individual gifts and talents, such as needle arts, flower arranging, writing, speaking and teaching.

They provide members with a variety of valuable and informative resources:

  • You’ll receive a quarterly newsletter, the Epistle, offering news from altar guilds around the country, helpful information and hints, as well as interpretations and guidelines for services, seasons, and specific ceremonies.
  • You may participate in stoles-making projects for chaplains who serve under the Bishop of the Armed Forces.
  • You may borrow from our extensive collection of books on subjects related to altar guild interests—needle arts, flower arranging, liturgical, history and practice, etc.—which is housed at Nashotah House and available to anyone through inter-library loan.
  • You may attend our triennial meeting during General Convention and contribute items of ecclesiastical art to be displayed in our art exhibit.
  • You may “shop” at our Sacristy Shop, featuring items designed specifically for NAGA such as aprons, tote bags, cincture starters and purificator stamps.
  • You may request that a NAGA representative (usually the president) speak about NAGA and its ministry for diocesan groups and others.


Most gracious Father Who has called me Your child to serve in the preparation of Your Altar, so that it may be a suitable place for the offering of Your Body and Blood;

Sanctify my life and consecrate my hands so that I may worthily handle those Sacred Gifts which are being offered to You.

As I handle holy things, grant that my whole life may be illuminated and blessed by You, in whose honor I prepare them, and grant that the people who shall be blessed by their use, may find their lives drawn closer to Him Whose Body and Blood is our hope and our strength, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

by The Rt. Rev. E. Don Taylor, Vicar Bishop of New York City



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.