The Wisconsin Federation of Lutheran Altar Guilds was organized by Dr. John F. Johnson during the years 1959 to 1961. The first annual meeting was held at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Brookfield, on September 21, 1961. It was this meeting that organized the federation on an on-going basis. The attached article appeared in the Lutheran Witness during the 1960’s, and its author voices some of the concerns and interests of Lutheran altar guilds of that era. Some of these concerns still apply today.
In the intervening years, the federation (WFLAG) has had different iterations, but the main purpose has been to advance the knowledge of the members, in a ministry of bringing a sense of beauty and worship to the preparation of the church’s altar area. Recent meetings have included such wide-ranging topics as an introduction to the new hymnal (Lutheran Service Book), the adoption, by members, of Russian orphans, the history of Wisconsin’s oldest Lutheran church, and an introduction to Rev. Dr. Timothy Maschke’s book, Gathered Guests.
Every meeting includes a tour of the host church’s facilities, with emphasis on the altar area, preparation and storage areas, and banners. In this way, ideas can be exchanged. The gatherings also include a service of Holy Communion - the meal that we are blessed to support in our individual churches.
Since the beginning of the federation, one or more pastors have served as mentors. Currently, St. Martin, Chilton's Rev. Thomas K. Schmitt is serving as our advisor, answering questions and guiding us on meaningful topics.
This article was written around the time of the establishment of WFLAG, and published in the Lutheran Witness. It outlines the reasons a federation was thought to be helpful.
In My Opinion
The Silent Ministry By Eunice A. Frank
This past April, the altar guild of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois, observed its 60th anniversary. The what? The altar guild?
Altar guilds have been properly dubbed “the silent ministry.” Silent, yes, but not dead! Actually, they might more accurately be called “the overlooked, the forgotten, the neglected, silent ministry.” To many people, the altar guild brings to mind a few kind, elderly women who clean the church every Saturday morning….until death. Others think, “Oh, they’re the ladies who put poinsettias on the altar at Christmas and lilies at Easter.” Still others constantly misspell the title as ‘alter,’ thus completely missing the focal point and purpose of the altar guild.
The term “altar guild” means little to synodical and pastoral groups. To my knowledge, THE LUTHERAN WITNESS hasn’t published an article on altar guilds in years. (She’s right – Ed.) Concordia Publishing House offers one altar guild manual – revised many times since 1964. And the subject seems to be non-existent on the agendas of church-related conventions and conferences.
Pastors, reflecting their seminary training, can scarcely recall lectures on the subject. They and their boards of elders concern themselves with the selection of hymns, soloists, readings, and other matters relating to worship preparation, but pay hardly any attention to the services of their altar guilds.
Do even the reports and recommendations of the synodical President’s Commission on Women speak of the opportunities for women’s service in altar guilds? If there has been anything mentioned on the subject, I’ve missed it.
With all the hullabaloo concerning what women can and cannot do in the ministry of the church, service in the altar guild, in my opinion, is one of the finest services a woman can render to her Lord and His church. Because altar guilds (variously known as chancel guilds, Martha Circles, what have you) are already composed mostly of women, there’s no gender hassle to overcome.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has many priorities – foreign and domestic missions, training future pastors, social ministry, evangelism, communication the mission of the church to its members, etc. – but it dare not neglect another of its top priorities: the worship and praise of our God. Forms of worship on all levels have changed over the years, and they will continue to do so. Are our altar guilds enlightened and prepared to handle these changes? Hardly. The church needs to provide altar guilds with more guidance and instruction, both of which could come largely through the increased interest and involvement of pastors and boards of elders.
The church needs to encourage altar guilds to continue their fine services. Members should be urged to grow in the knowledge of altar guild work, which comprises much more than cleaning and floral arrangement.
Finally, the church needs to give altar guilds the proper attention and recognition they deserve. Appreciation – a simple “thank you” – is due the many loyal, dedicated women of all the altar guilds of our beloved church body.