One of the differences I have found between the Church of Ireland and what I experienced in the States is who is responsible for setting up the church for a service. Here, our practice (at least in this Group) is that the Churchwardens set up the church. In the States, it is a special group called the Altar Guild. I checked the Constitution of the Church of Ireland and find that church setup is not among the duties listed for Churchwardens. Their duties have more to do with general leadership and protecting the well-being of the church, including its worship and its property. For example, from Chapter Three, on Parishes and Parochial Organisation, I found this:
26. It shall be the duty of the churchwardens
(a) to ensure that the churches, chapels, church halls and churchyards under their care are not used for any common or profane purpose;
(b) to ensure that, during the time of Divine Service, peace and order are maintained in the church, the church porch and churchyard, and to prevent any disturbance which may hinder the officiating member of the clergy or the congregation.
So, the way I read the Constitution is that Churchwardens might be responsible for seeing that the church is set up, but they do not have to do the actual work themselves. As I have told at least one Churchwarden, I need the Churchwardens for feedback about the state of the parish and for the leadership roles that the Constitution does outline.
Now I fear a mass exodus of the Churchwardens from setting up the churches for worship! Instead of this, I suggest a training for a number of people in each parish to assist in setting up for worship. Included in such a group might be the Lay Readers (this is a natural part of their duties), and anyone else who wishes to be part of this sacred responsibility. If we have enough people, we can set up a rota so that one or two people do not have to be on call every single week. The need is most urgent in Adare, where we need at least two people each Sunday (partly because of the long trek from the vestry to the nave where we hold the service). The Kilmallock Vestry has also talked about needing a rota of people.
‘What is involved?’ you might ask. Here is a list of possible duties; the exact ones needed depends on the parish:
- Setting up to play the music and being the ‘disc jockey’ during the service.
- Setting up microphones and turning on the sound system.
- Preparing the table for Communion (setting out the vessels, pouring wine into the flagon, pouring water into the pitcher).
- Bringing bread for Communion.
- Lighting candles.
- Hand out Prayer Books and Hymnals to people as they arrive.
- Counting the attendance.
- And a very important duty that a person could do at home: Wash (and sometimes iron) the linens!
And so, I appeal to you to consider being part of a team of people who set up the church. I will start with a training in Adare and will soon set a date for an evening training. Please contact me to volunteer or contact one of your Churchwardens (in Adare, this is Kieron Brislane and John Bradley). If you wish to come to the training before committing yourself, that is fine too.
And, many thanks to the Churchwardens who have been faithfully setting up the churches each Sunday!