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Hallo again to all.

The prophet Elijah had many followers during his time as a prophet. Were his only acolyte Elisha, it is unlikely we would read of his exploits to this day, however, it is Elisha of whom we know, and who was anointed his successor. From their story in 2 Kings, we see Elisha as a disciple and servant who later goes on to perform more miracles than his master.acolyte lighting a candle

The first probable reference of the term, which comes from the Greek akolouthos (companion, attendant, or helper) dates from the time of Pope Victor I (189–199), and appears regularly after the 4th century.  First in Rome and North Africa, acolytes in the early church were in training for the priesthood. Though very common in the Eastern Church, this minor order only gained wide-spread popularity in the Western Church following the Council of Trent (1545-63).  It was only in the 1970s that the Roman Catholic church converted this (and the three other minor orders) into a lay ministry. There is record of acolytes carrying candles and alms basins, and assisting in the preparation of the Eucharist, but also of bringing communion to other churches, the sick and those in prison, as well as organizing processions, and preparing candidates for Baptism and Confirmation.

No longer a precursor to ordination, acolytes today typically serve as altar servers: carrying crosses and processional crosses or throwing incense or carrying an incense boat. In our travels we have seen acolytes distribute palm fronds and pledge cards, carry gospel books, congregational and ministry banners, kites, regional and national flags, and move chairs and tables during special services. Some congregations have highly professional acolyte guilds of adults with many sessions of training and exacting expectations, and others with children as young as five years, struggling to see around the torch, far taller than they.  This morning we traveled to a parish an hour's drive from our home where our goddaughters, ages 13 and 10, were serving as torch bearers, the ten year old wiggling her legs which did not quite touch the floor from her seat. We too have served regularly, serving as a subdeacon and thurifer on occasion.  

A well-known American weatherman who regularly attends an Episcopal Church in a major US city said in an interview that his autistic son's ability to serve as an acolyte has given him a feeling of welcome, inclusion, and usefulness that was not found elsewhere. With his limitations, he is able to fully serve God and the community.

This regular lay ministry is one that brings us joy and familiarity in our travels across the globe. From festive street processions to small, quiet early mornings, this historic, active lay service is one of quiet continuity.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

30 June 2019


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