They are the most magical among us. They move quickly and in secret. They take a blank canvas, an empty wall, an unset table and transform it, so that each one of us feels welcomed into the place we call home. I like to call them the “The Sanctuary Fairies” (because as previously stated they move in magical secret!), but most of you know them as “The Altar Guild.”
The Altar Guild is a group of truly dedicated women (and a few men), whose entirety of effort is behind the scenes. They meet once a month at a member’s home, where they take a moment to have dessert and coffee; then they make plans to serve the rest of us.
Every Sunday we celebrate Communion, the Altar Guild sets the table: they fill those tiny glasses of wine and grape juice; they put out the chalices (big wine cups) and patens (little plates for bread); and they make sure the linens (towels that cover the cups and plates) are clean and ironed. They attend to so many little details, making sure the holy meal is a place full of love and grace.
In addition to their service during communion Sundays, the Altar Guild hand-creates baptismal napkins for all the people welcomed into the body of Christ through baptism and is also in charge of the frequently changing look of the sanctuary. The paraments (colorful cloths on altar and pulpit) are changed to match the color of the season (green for Ordinary Sundays, red for Reformation and Pentecost, blue for Advent, purple for Lent, White for really special Sundays or festivals); they change the banners on the wall to correspond to the season (how they get those banners all the way up there is a secret I’ve yet to uncover).
There’s the amazing transformation that happens on Christmas and Easter. The hanging of the greens during the Advent and Christmas season help create an atmosphere of joy and celebration. They decorate the beautiful tree with age-old Chrismon ornaments (ornaments whose patterns point to Christ), and fill the worship space with signs of the incarnate God in the world.
And then during at the end of Lent, during Holy Week, their service ramps up again. They strip the altar bare during the Maundy Thursday worship service to remind us of the stark reality that Jesus dies and all things reflect God’s absence among us during those three days. On Easter Saturday, they sneak into the building to transform the sanctuary into something holy and beautiful, so that all our senses might be filled with the joyous miracle that Christ lives and because of his resurrection, we live, too!
We worship every Sunday hardly aware of the workings of the “Sanctuary Fairies.” Let’s take this moment to thank them, those ones behind the scenes, for all their gifts of time and love; we thank them for making Bethesda a place of welcome, a place of gracious hospitality, a place where the smallest detail is shaped into a testament of one’s love for God.
[You might be wondering who these fairies are. Since they are such a quiet, humble group, their names are rarely divulged. But, one thing is certain—they (I’m sure) would love to know if God is calling you to be an attender to details with them (talk to Pastor Sarah, she’ll tell you who to talk to!).