The first Christians worshiped in their synagogues, but they also decided to meet on the first day of the week in order to obey the Lord’s directive to meet around the table and partake of a meal in his memory. With the passing of time, that meal evolved into the principal Christian worship service. Throughout all its stages, this service has been an experience of active participation on the part of the congregation. It is not a sacrament in which only the officiants act, but one in which all members of the congregation may participate. Ideally, there should be no spectators.
What are acolytes, and why is this ministry important?
Acolytes are members of the congregation who help with the worship service: as examples for worshipers, as leaders of the congregation during the service, as assistants for church leaders to help them better carry out their functions in worship. As examples for worshipers, acolytes participate in all phases of worship. They usually enter the church in procession at the beginning of the service, carrying banners, candlelighters, incense burners, or other instruments. At the end of the service, they extinguish the candles and leave the sanctuary in procession. In short, they are leaders of worship.
Their task is as important a ministry as that of choir members, musicians, and others. The program is also important because it offers children and youth an opportunity to get involved in the work of the church and to feel they can make a positive contribution. This helps their self-esteem and their spiritual development. Their service also provides a fine opportunity for the pastor to establish a closer relationship with them and to better identify their needs as young Christians.
Acolytes should wear appropriate attire — in most cases, a robe or alb. A rope or cincture around the waist may be used. Its colors change in accordance with the seasons of the Christian Year.
How can an acolyte program that includes adequate training be developed?
An acolyte program is easy to start and maintain. One can start with children and youth from the Sunday school. The pastor may visit the classes, speak to children and youth about this ministry, and recruit volunteers. The teachers may also help in selecting candidates. Certain requirements should be established, such as regular attendance at worship, rehearsals, and acceptable behavior. If possible, the pastor should personally be in charge of the program. This provides a better relationship with the children and youth. After the program is launched, it can be placed in the hands of an experienced layperson, but it is vital for the pastor to maintain a close relationship with those helping him or her in worship. It is always good to formally recognize the acolytes’ work in a systematic manner. An installation ceremony for new acolytes can be held, and certificates and awards given to those who have served.
The church that establishes a good acolyte program will discover, with the passage of time, that it not only renders a better service to its congregation, but it is also laying a foundation, so that those who are serving as acolytes may have a closer relationship with their church as they reach adulthood. They will carry with them pleasant memories of their childhood as they served in this important ministry of the church.