Thursday, January 13, 2011

Altar Service

Bob Musselman age 13, St. Rita Catholic Church, Dayton, Ohio
By Bob Musselman

It was during 7:45 a.m. Sunday Mass, and I was the only server on duty. Thirteen years old, I had been up since 5 a.m., when my dad and I set out to deliver Sunday papers on my Dayton Daily News route. Toward the end of the homily I began to nod off.

“AHEM!” boomed Father Tom Meyer, right before the words “We believe in One God,” to start the creed, and I was jolted from my reverie.

I got a similar holy “ahem” in 1998, when I was called to become director of altar servers at St. Raphael’s. Father Ken Malley, the parochial vicar at the time, was happy to have a volunteer handle organizing, training and scheduling our huge team of youth altar servers. Father Meyer, and other good priests of my youth, had planted seeds that turned into service.

St. Raphael has one of the largest crews of youth altar servers in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. If you travel to other churches, as I often do, you’ll seldom if ever see as many servers in the sanctuary or as active in the Mass. At any given time there are nearly 100 servers signed up to serve on Sunday, representing nearly as many families. It must be the largest volunteer ministry in our parish.

I’m not really sure how it got that way. Other big churches with schools and lots of families don’t always have active server programs. I’m sure it has something to do with the Holy Spirit and the high standards set by our church leaders.

Monsignor Caverly, the first pastor I worked with, always valued the quantity and quality of our server crew. If kids feel more connected to the Mass, won’t vocations tend to follow? Won’t the parish be encouraged to see young men and women front and center in the Eucharistic celebration? I always thought he sent a strong, silent, subtle message (in typical Monsignor fashion). Father Sherwood has expressed the same support for an active server corps.

Great parents have a lot to do with the success of our server program. Competing with sports, academic activities and travel plans is not easy. So many St. Raphael parents make serving a priority. I’ve had parents say they’ve skipped a soccer tournament on a Sunday morning to make sure a serving assignment was fulfilled. That would be heresy in secular circles.

The program is not perfect. Kids make mistakes, act irreverently, act like kids, miss assignments. But I try to stress to adults who complain that kids will be kids, and parents are doing the best they can. These are the best and brightest children in our parish and we must be patient with them. In my 13 years, I’ve never had to “fire” a server for failure to do a good job. Patience is surely an important virtue when trying to mold the next generation of Catholics.

At our server meeting to begin each year, I always teach the kids what “ironic” means by describing the contrasting duality of their server chores: “Serving will be the most important thing you do all week, more important than school or chores or sports. But the ironic thing is that it doesn’t matter if you mess up or make a mistake. As long as you’re trying and being reverent it really doesn’t matter. Just do your best and God will be happy with your service.”

Bob Musselman directs the altar server ministry at St. Raphael Catholic Church.

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