Scottish Guild of Servers

In my home parish it was quite a big thing to be admitted to the Guild of Servers. I think it was about being part of a group who believed in excellence and reverence in the sanctuary and as we had that drummed into us from the very beginning it seemed a natural progression.  You see, we were the first women ever to serve at my home parish and indeed one family left because of it.  So we had to be very good, very unobtrusive, with no make-up, black shoes (of course), and to try and not menstruate if at all possible.

Once a year the Guild met somewhere round the province for its AGM and we looked forward to a day out in the charabang, having a nosy round someone else’s sacristy and a rummage through their vestment cupboard. It all kicked off with a Eucharist where all the servers were robed as per their own custom. Oh how I remember sneering at those who wore albs and, what was that…? White shoes? slingbacks? Heaven forfend!  There we were in cassocks and cottas and black shiny shoes, bosoms bound and yet puffed out with pride. Then we were served refreshments which varied depending on which part of the country we were in, followed by the AGM.  Now the Chaplain-General was a rather elderly and infirm priest who didn’t really seem to approve of us ‘girls’ but we brazened it out.  After all, we knew that if it wasn’t for us girls then our church would be struggling with one or two servers per mass and not a full complement of five.  I don’t really remember what business was discussed at the AGM other than sniggering over the War Memorial Fund and what relevance it had for us today.  There was often an election which seemed to involve the same people decade after decade. Then we gathered in our robes again for the sung Guild Office which was almost impossible to sing in plainsong with elderly voices who’ve really seen their day of hitting that note. More giggling ensued.

When you were made a member of the Guild you had to kneel at the altar rail, make promises and were presented with a cross. Then you were given a copy of the Constitution and Rule which was to guide us in all our ministrations.  I remember it being a proud moment.  Children could be admitted too and we always tried to encourage them to come along to the AGM, although when I look back I do wonder why. What on earth would a child find attractive about that day? The language was archaic, as were most of the members, and really there was nothing to interest a little ‘un.  Occasionally a teenager would turn up but we never saw them again, and who can blame them?  In time the order of service for the Guild Office was updated to something more modern but the whole format of plainsong remained, which rather defeated the purpose in my view.

Years passed and I became a priest. I stopped going to the Server’s Guild because I knew that those in charge were against the ordination of women and who wants to go where they’re not welcome. I did go one year at the invitation of a dear friend and was asked to join as an Associate Priest. I stood in the choir stalls of some distant church and was duly ignored by every priest around me. I noted that the same people were in charge.  I vowed never to go again.  Years passed and one’s memory fades and I went once more at the invitation of some clergy friends in Glasgow diocese. We had a laugh but really it was dreadful. The mass was unbelievably bad and one wondered why a very old and infirm priest was presiding when there were so many others in attendance.  Please believe that I am not implying that old clergy should not preside at mass. Far from it. But you know there are just some occasions when you have to recognise that you shouldn’t be singing mass because your voice isn’t what it once was, and being helped up and down steps and having to sit at every available moment.  And yes, it was the same people who got voted in.  I didn’t go back.

My invitation arrived today for this year’s AGM. Same format, same people. There was also a note that the Constitution and Rule had been revised from the 1929 version. Hallelujah, I thought. The Secretary General even commented that it was easier then he’d thought it might be.  Servers will have an opportunity to make comments on the revision.  I had a quick look and stifled a guffaw.  Basically ‘he’ has been replaced with ‘the server’ throughout.  I’m sure that our young servers will immediately connect with the very first paragraph:

To the server is given the privilege of ministering like Samuel of old, in the Sanctuary. The Server should value this honour and ever strive to become more worthy of it by performing every duty with recollection of the Unseen Presence to Whom such services is rendered.  In order to attain this ideal the server should endeavour to be to the congregation an example of carefulness in observing, so far as able, the precepts and rules of the Church; using the sacraments frequently and with devotion, due preparation and thanksgiving; with application to prayer and meditation, and to a greater realisation of the boundless Love of God.

And so it goes on. The ‘Fraternity’ still exists so women still not welcome. You know I’d thought I might make some amendments and send it in but I can see that it would be a mammoth task of rewriting the whole thing and frankly I can’t be bothered. But if they’re wondering why more young people don’t join then perhaps they ought to have a look at the language and ask what they are offering them.  And to stop standing for the senior posts themselves and encourage younger people to take their place.

Rant over.

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31 thoughts on “Scottish Guild of Servers

  1. I think you should start a rival group. “The REAL Guild Of Servers” would be a snappy name for it.

    I’m sure you could come up with a programme that appeals to the kids a damn sight more than their stuffy meetings. And for the adults – decent sherry and Hendricks gin. You should have them out of business within 6 months.

  2. Oh yes, I can see it now. And we could run training days on What To Do When Mother Loses Her Specs, or How To Turn a Stamping Out of Hot Coals from the Thurible into Liturgical Dance.

  3. Wow. I’ve been serving for several years now and I don’t think I even knew there was such a thing as a ‘Guild of Servers’. Pause to rack brains. Okay, I think I heard our sacristan mention it once.
    I can certainly back you up in saying it would not appeal to young people. I would not stand the original version for one second, nor the ‘updated but not’ version either. Turning the Unexpected Event into liturgical dance sounds fabulous though!

  4. I remember in 1968, when I was 15, thinking I’d struck a huge blow for the Faith by walking from the car park to the Cathedral in Perth wearing a cassock. We were down from Forres for the day for a Scottish Guild of Servers AGM.

  5. Doug, as MP says, if you’ve not been asked – then don’t go looking for it unless you want something to mock. But as you’re a Synod member then you’ve probably got enough to keep you going.

  6. Funny you should write this post now… I and two others are being admitted into the Guild of Servers this Sunday, and the service was so appalling that we’ve pretty much re-written it. I’m not sure how much that’s ‘allowed’ but, as you say, I don’t think I’d want to be a server if I had to go along with what was written originally. I really shouldn’t be shocked anymore, but the language was truly dreadful.

  7. I’ve always avoided the AGM as it clashed with Cursillo’s UK Ultreya (big bash)
    This year I promised to go – what on earth have I let myself in for?

  8. As a teenager I was the only server in our church and I felt such a responsibilty for the old priest. even though non of my family went to church i went every Sunday to help him. Things like to guild give you people to look up to, people to ask advice, things you would never ask the vicar incase you sounded daft. hope thinsg are better and more young people encouraged, be lovely more black polished shoes in church and not flip flops !

  9. What’s with the server shoe fetish? Its not as if Mary & Joseph went out and got Jesus Start-Rites is it? I would have thought flip flops would have been the most biblically appropriate footwear there is.

  10. Oh, for goodness sake, Agatha!!!

    Jesus wore sandals when he was walking round the Holy Land because it is hot and dusty out there.

    When he was in the U.K. he always wore sensible, black brogues as did his Uncle Joseph of Arimathea.

    Didn’t you pay any attention to what they taught you in history class at school?

  11. Thanks for the reminder! I need black shoes now I’ve lost my brown sandal exemption. Not that I’m expecting to be doing much serving in the immediate future, but I’d hate to be incorrectly attired!

  12. Quite right, Moyra. You know how important it is. Don’t tell anyone but I wore black Birkenstocks on Sunday (with black socks of course).

  13. Drat! How did you hear that when I whispered it? (In my defence I have some swelling disease which means I can’t get shoes on. It was them or pink/purple trainers.)

  14. Oh, you first offer a medical defence, which might pass muster but then ruin that by making an appeal to moral relativism.

    It is the way of all flesh, I tell you.

  15. Being a Roman Catholic I wasn’t even allowed to be an altar server when I was growing up. It wasn’t until the 1980s that women and girls were allowed to serve…but only if no men or boys were available.
    I go to a church which has no problems with female altar servers but had to move away from the church in the village where I live which I think is a real shame.

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