Monday, July 03, 2006

Coordinating Altar Service

My wife and I are currently considering whether we should volunteer to take over coordination of the altar servers at our church. Apparently the current coordinator doesn't really wanto to do it, and it does seem like a pretty thankless job given that the kids often fail to show up and rarely try to find a substitute. At the same time, the scheduling is usually not done until after people's plans for a month have been made, so I think there need to be some changes.

Now, for those who aren't familiar with St. John's Cathedral in Boise, we follow the new(-ish) missal. We don't have a Tridentine mass within reasonable travelling distance with the exception of an SSPX chapel. We occasionally have a Byzantine Rite Liturgy in the area, but not regularly enough for us to fulfill our weekly obligations. So we have altar girls. I'm not yet convinced that having altar girls are a bad thing in and of itself, but I do think there's something to the argument that the inclusion of altar girls has caused problems with attracting boys to the priestly vocations.

The fact is that boys at this age are not interested in mixing with girls yet, and forcing them to do so simply causes them to quit and find other things to do. You can see this factor at work in children's choirs. Like it or not, if we want boys to take part, we need to be realistic and sensitive to their needs.

So, here's what I'm thinking.

If my wife and I take this on, we'll push to set up service teams of three servers: one senior server with two less-experienced servers. These will be strictly separated. Boys will serve with boys, and girls will serve with girls. If altar service is to be a means of discerning vocations, I don't see why we would want to set up conditions that are different than for religious life. We'll also have assigned substitutes. Schedules will come up two to three weeks in advanced.

We'd also have regular meetings. Currently, the only meetings are held twice a year for basic and senior training and during Advent and Lent to prepare for special masses. I think these kids need to have more time spent discussing what they're doing. It would give us a chance to address errors that occur and changes that might come up. It also provides another means for faith formation.

Finally, we'd have stringent attendance requirements, as well as rewards for good performance. Three absences without a substitute or reasonable excuse kicks a kid off the team. We'd use a roster and ask the deacon to sign after each mass to verify attendance.

My father is in the cathedral's chancel choir, and those choristers who perform well are made senior or head choristers, have medals, and occasionally get other rewards as well (gift certificates, outings to water parks, etc.). As far as I can tell, alter service has no such rewards.

Any other suggestions? Can anyone suggest good resources for running an altar service program?

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