During the Season of Lay Ministries, we’ll be sharing a series of blogs from Christians called to serve in affirmed, commissioned and licensed lay ministries across the Diocese.

Michael Lewis, Head Server at Southwark Cathedral and Chair, Southwark and London Chapter, Company of Servers writes:

The primary role of an Altar Server is to assist the Clergy in the provision of divine worship. It is has been a privilege for me to be an adult Altar Server for over 30 years and, having been part of the team at Southwark Cathedral since 2010, I was invited by the former Dean to become Head Server five years ago. This role involves recruitment of new servers, overseeing training, managing the rota for a team of 25 fellow Altar Servers, ensuring safeguarding requirements are met and providing support and encouragement.

The role of an Altar Server might be likened to that of a stagehand in the theatre:

  • to be as unobtrusive as possible (we usually wear plain clothes such as an alb or a cassock)
  • to be responsible for props (such as the cross, candles, a thurible and eucharist vessels)
  • to be attentive throughout the service and ready to take action when and where necessary
    to oversee the clearing up, cleaning and storage of equipment after a service.

At the Cathedral, we have the invaluable support of the Vergers to deal with most of the practical matters but in a local Parish context, the Serving Team can be very small – even only one faithful soul undertaking the role of Altar Server and, also, having to encompass the duties of Sacristan – being the first to open the church, prayerfully preparing the altar, laying out the Priest’s vestments and getting the eucharist vessels ready. Then, having been on duty throughout, at the end of the service (probably largely unnoticed by the congregation) doing all the clearing up, washing, cleaning and putting away… hoping that, by the time they get to the refreshments table, there’ll still be some coffee left in the pot!

So, being an Altar Server can easily be overlooked and undervalued as a form of Lay Ministry and, to remedy this in some way, the Company of Servers exists – of which I am the Chair of the Southwark and London Chapter. The Company was born out of the Society of Catholic Priests over 20 years ago to provide an inclusive, Catholic home for Altar Servers and individual Chapters developed in a number of Dioceses. The Southwark and London Chapters merged six years ago to reflect where Altar Servers live and worship across both sides of the River Thames and beyond. We meet regularly during the year – including our Summer Festival of Evensong and Benediction (with refreshments to follow) when we invite a friendly Bishop as our guest preacher. As part of providing a network of support to our members, we hold training events, host talks and presentations, visit places of interest and have the beneficial support of a Chaplain each for Southwark and London.

I experience an absolute joy in being an Altar Server, as I’m sure all do who undertake this role –  not only at the eucharist but, also, when partaking in the real life events of the church community (such as baptisms, weddings and funerals) where I hope we ensure each service runs as smoothly as possible and we have, indeed, met our primary role of duly assisting the clergy in the provision of divine worship.