October 1st, 2009

News from the Altar Guild

I learned a new word yesterday, although I did not know how to spell it until today, when I approximated my way to greatness in the OED. A gold star to all of you lovely people out there who already knew that a dossal is a curtain that hangs behind the altar in a church. Up until yesterday I would have simply called it a curtain. Of course, now I know the right term and will not be the recipient of patronizing stares from the mistresses of the arcane in the altar guild. At least for that reason. The pitfalls may well be endless.

Not that they have been anything but perfectly kind and welcoming. At the meeting yesterday they offered lovely berries and cookies. The table was set with lavender scalloped paper placemats.

There is an undercurrent of steel, however, beneath the amiable exterior. One member admonished the group to look before folding. Some of the thousand different kinds of napkin involved in God’s table service are ironed and folded with the embroidery on the inside, and others on the outside. Each different napkin has a specialized name. If I knew the names, I might have a prayer about remembering which ones fold which way, but right now, I just fold things along the creases that are already there. This may be compounding someone’s error, but I think it’s better than striking out on my own.

Which brings me back to the dossal. There is one in the chapel. It’s an off-white drape that hangs behind the cross. It’s the kind of drape my grandmother might have selected, formally pleated, long-wearing, respectable. One of the senior members of the altar guild in theory could remember the dossal prior to this one, but in practice it is only known in its subsequent incarnation as some kind of fancy ecclesiastical item in the children’s chapel. The distinguishing characteristic of the previous dossal is that it is blue. Blue! A color that might clash with the seasonal vestments and other paraphernalia!

There is intrigue. Members of another guild in the church want to get a new blue dossal. This infringes on the rights of the altar guild, who would welcome the funds, but not the interference with their mission to provide all things aesthetic and holy. A wholesale smackdown was avoided by planning mediation in the presence of the rector.

I’m fascinated.