Dean Letter: Altar Guild (Interview with Konnie Dadmun)

Hello, St. Paul’s.

This week my letter is about our wonderful altar guild. This is a transcript of a conversation I had with Konnie Dadmun.

Penny:        I’m speaking with our longtime cannon sacristan and head of all things altar guild. Konnie Dadmun. Konnie, would you please start our conversation by introducing yourself?

Konnie:       Yes, I’m Konnie Dadmun and I have been a member at St. Paul since 1965. My husband Stew and I came to the cathedral early in that year, and we became active at the very beginning of our time. And as the years went on, we were more and more active in the life of a parish, and now Cathedral. And we will have our final resting place there. Stew rests in the columbarium, and I, when my time comes, I will join him there. It’s a very important place to us.

Penny:        Thank you. When did you start getting involved with the altar guild?

Konnie:       In the late 90s: it was out of guilt. Well, I had been asked to join altar guild, and I was doing so many other things in the cathedral. And I thought, Oh, I don’t have time for that. And finally, I said, Yes, I will join and I am so happy I did. Because it is really my favorite, favorite ministry, although I continue to do other things, but altar guild is where I spend most of my time.

Penny:        I know that you and Stew were instrumental in the early days of St. Paul’s Senior Services, and I’m sure that was time consuming. And I’m grateful to you for answering the call to serve on the altar guild. Will you tell us some things about what the altar guild does?

Konnie:       Well, the altar guild prepares the space for the congregation to meet Jesus; in your prayer you speak about the table that the people will come to, to  receive Communion. And we prepare the space and the elements. We prepare all the vessels, we set up the credence table and oblation table; the altar’s prepared. We have the vestments ready for the clergy to wear. And we want everything perfect as if you were inviting people into your home for a meal. You’re inviting them for the Eucharist at the cathedral.

Penny:        You mentioned the credence table and the oblation table. Would you tell us what those tables are?

Konnie:       Yes, the oblation table is in an area near the font. And before the service in normal times (I’m just talking about normal times now) we have the bread and the wine set up there for members of the congregation to carry it forward. And then the credence table is against the wall under the organ pipes. And it is set with the chalices and patens and the lavabo bowl and other things, the stands for the books. And that is set up for the priest to use during the service.

Penny:        I hear you using words like Chalice or lavabo bowl. And I wonder if you have to pass an exam to be a member of the altar Guild, if you have to learn all this vocabulary.

Konnie:       You do learn it, but you don’t pass an exam. You learn it because we try to explain these things in such a way that you know what the meaning is: lavabo, to wash. And the chalice is a cup. And the paten is a plate. So it’s not really hard. It’s just a new language. But it’s a simple language.

Penny:        And you can pick it up as you go along.

Konnie:       Yes. And we have pictures in the sacristy of our setups so that the workers can go to them and still to this day, I’ll go and make sure I have everything right for the credence table.

Penny:        I’ve heard people talk about the work of the altar guild being an exercise in prayer. Can you share something about that?

Konnie:       Yes, many of our members talk about how certain things they do in the preparation for the service are meditative for them, or they find them very holy. This came out just this last Saturday; someone was filling the candles with the oil that we use. And she was talking about how she felt such a spiritual presence when she does that. And also in polishing. When people polish the Gospel book cover, they will talk about how that is really a very special exercise and meditation as you clean it and, you know what’s inside the cover.

Penny:        Would you say that service on the altar guild helps people to grow in their spirituality and their faith?

Konnie:       Very, very much. You learn more about what happens at the service. As you prepare all the things that are going to be used in the service, you know, how important each thing that the priest does. You learn about the colors of the seasons, and why the clergy wear a certain vestment for a certain service. And the color of the season. And the deacon’s stole is different than the priest’s stole. And only Bishop Susan wears the miter.

Penny:        So as you learn more about the meaning of all these items that we use in worship, it enriches your faith.

Konnie:       Yes, it does. It does. And we didn’t just make this up. These are long traditions.

Penny:        Some of these words go back to the days of Latin being a spoken language.

Konnie:       Yes.

Penny:        Why would somebody make a commitment to the altar guild ministry?

Konnie:       Well, it’s a behind the scenes ministry. So it’s nice for people that do not want to be lectors or acolytes or a verger. Although we have people serving in  all those capacities and altar guild. It’s a place where you can do your work. And you can learn about the church, and you can make a difference at St. Paul’s; you can really make a difference. Because if the altar guild hasn’t done their work, the priest is going to have a hard time performing his or her job. Because we really prepare for the service. And also we form wonderful friendships. Most of the time we work in teams, and they bond; it’s a wonderful thing to see. And they often have friendships where they do things outside of the cathedral. But it’s a very special ministry very special.

Penny:        There is something added to an activity when you do it with other people, and I think your policy of having teams is really sound policy; it pays off. And when you talk about preparing the altar, so that the priest has everything he or she needs, I can speak to that, of course I can give testimony to how important that is. We are very spoiled as clergy: we walk in and everything is ready for us. And we just have to turn around and there is what we need. The altar guild prepares for every possibility. And we’re always well equipped with beautifully clean and ironed linens and polished silver. We’re using these precious materials to worship God and you help us take care take good care of them. I know that you also keep a close eye for anything getting dented or broken that has to be repaired. I’ve been guilty of denting things, as probably most clergy have been. And you’re always very gracious about not blaming, but just quietly getting things repaired and fixed.

Konnie:       Well, if we don’t use them, there’s no reason to have them so they’re gonna get dented.

Penny:        Would you say there are certain skills or gifts that are particularly useful? Maybe not everybody has all of them,  but different people have particular gifts to offer?

Konnie:       Well, I think that sewing can come in handy.But not a lot of people have that gift on the altar Guild, but the thing that is most important is that you just  take a job to do for the morning, or whatever, is that you just do it the very best you can. And most anybody can polish; most anybody can follow the worksheet and put the things out. So it doesn’t take a lot of skill, it really doesn’t. And I think that it’s a nice ministry for people that have other stressful jobs, because you can come in and do this job, and just follow the worksheet and do the things that need to be done. And there are some  very simple things that need to be done.

Penny:        And when it comes to personality, you mentioned working in a team; it obviously must be important for altar guild members to be willing to be part of a team, and also to be willing to stay in the background, because it’s not an upfront kind of ministry.

Konnie:       Right. It’s very important for the altar guild members to be respectful to their team and to work together. And to be on time and dependable to, to come to the service. But all of this leads to people having a good experience and they enjoy preparing for the service and, and cleaning up after, and the friendships, and getting to know people and the clergy better.

Penny:        What is the approximate time commitment?

Konnie:       We have the normal times and we have now. But right now you would show up at 9:30 for the 10:30 service. And then you would be finished by noon, or a little after noon. After it we don’t have very much to clean up. Now we are only using one chalice and one paten. And we aren’t using many linens, so it doesn’t take as much time to clear up.

Penny:        Did you mention a Saturday commitment as well?

Konnie:       On Saturday, it’s about an hour and a half to two hours. And we go in about nine o’clock. And that’s the time when the candles are filled. We use a liquid called Joy to fill –  not the detergent, liquid candle – and we fill the candles. We get everything set out on our sideboard in the sacristy and we do cleaning. We polish the brass plates at the communion rail and the Queen’s Pew and just general dusting and cleaning. And then we get out the vestments for the next day. And if we have a baptism, we get out the special things for the baptisms; or any other special service, we would get out the things that were needed for that.

Penny:        Are you the longest serving member of the altar guild?

Konnie:       No, no, no. Almira Fort, and Paula Peeling,  and Roxanne Perfect-Knight have been there longer than I have. And maybe others I can’t remember right off.

Penny:        So many, many years of experience and growth, for a number of you.

Konnie:       But we have a new person coming this week or this month. So we have new people coming right along.

Penny:        Oh, that’s great news, because I know that several people have retired from altar guild over the course of this last year. I know that you would welcome having conversations with people who think they might be called

Konnie:       Yes, I would really like to talk to people if they would be interested in this ministry. Because it’s a very important ministry and we do need more people. Some of our sacristans have had had major health issues and have had to retire. We’re hoping that their health will get better and they can return to us but for now, some of the teams are lacking in in membership.

Penny:        Do you have a favorite task?

Konnie:       Um, you know, I really don’t. I just like for everything to be set out there. And when I go in to work with a team, I just say, Well, what job isn’t being done right now? Because I find that on the teams, a lot of the members have their favorite thing and they will just go straight to that and start working on it. So it’s easy for me just to fill in in another place.

Penny:        Do you have a story, a memory of an event that the altar guild was involved in that was particularly memorable?

Konnie:       Oh, yes. The consecration of Bishop Susan. That was our second Bishop consecration. For Bishop Mathes we were at the Town and Country. That was a very different setting. But this for our Bishop, Susan was right at St. Paul’s. And we were so thrilled to be welcoming everyone. And we knew it was a lot of work to be done. And we had a lot of preparation. We did a lot of polishing. And we had to borrow some of the vessels, we had to borrow patens and chalices; we had 27 chalices that day. That’s a lot of linen. Each Chalice gets its own special linen. And we prepared for that event. Every altar guild member that was available served that day, they each had assigned to them one specific job, before the service, during the service, and after the service. And it worked like clockwork. It was a wonderful experience for us. And I was so proud of our team, our altar guild. Everyone held up their end of the job and it was wonderful. It was a glorious day.

Penny:        Have you ever experienced anything that was really strange or surprising in the course of your altar guild ministry?

Konnie:       Well, I guess that the surprise, the biggest surprise I ever had was when [Dean] Scott Richardson called me one day in early January 2013. And he said, “I have a question, and you can’t answer No.” And I said, “Oh,” and he said, “We would like to for you to be the Canon sacristan.”

And I was quite overwhelmed. I was the first lay volunteer canon at St. Paul’s. And I didn’t know they did things like that. I was honored. And of course I said yes. So that was the biggest surprise.

Penny:        And you were already in charge of the altar Guild.

Konnie:       Yes. I was. But we never had a canon sacristan.

Penny:        So that was like a promotion.

Konnie:       It was.

Penny:        As we end our conversation, I wonder if there’s anything you want to share about what St. Paul means to you?

Konnie:       Well, St. Paul’s has been part of our lives since 1965. But through the years, it became more important to both my husband and myself. And he served in many responsible jobs through the years. And he had a Bible study that went on for  over 40 years. And he was senior Warden many times and on the search committees, and I worked in education and formation and hospitality. I did a lot of hospitality and still do.

But after Stew died, the cathedral family really embraced me more and more. And then during COVID, I’ve met with St. Paul’s people every day, except for about two weeks after I had my knee replaced. I would go to morning prayer as many days as I could as well as evening prayer and all the other things, and St. Paul’s is really part of my family, a very important part of my family. And they’ve supported me, and I do my best to support them.

Penny:        Oh, and you do, Konnie, and your presence at the zoom services every day is something that we all count on. I know that you help us keep track of the prayers and the attendance. There’s no stopping you, even a pandemic, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all that you do, and all that the altar guild does for St. Paul’s. We would not be the community we are without you and without your teams. And I’m very, very grateful. And I hope that we’ll find two or three more people to join you soon. As we come back out of the pandemic, things are going to get busier again for the altar guild.

Konnie:       Yeah, I’m excited about the reopening possibilities.

Penny:        The guidelines are relaxing. And I look forward to seeing more of the altar guild and being able to be back fully into the beauty of our liturgy very soon. So thank you very much, Konnie, I very much appreciate this time with you.

Konnie:       Thank you.

Penny         You’re welcome. And to our Paul’s family, I will see you on Sunday.

Your sister in Christ,
Penny

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3 thoughts on “Dean Letter: Altar Guild (Interview with Konnie Dadmun)”

  1. I would love for everything to go back to normal so that we all can continue to share stories and lives.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for this interesting interview and testimony about this lay ministry, Dean Penny and Canon Konnie!
    God bless your service Konnie.

    Reply
  3. It was so nice to get this picture of what is involved in the sacristy. It is much more than meets the eye. We are very blessed to have people like Konnie to keep everything in order and on time.

    Reply

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