From July 5 until July 13, most Episcopalians were focused on the Church’s 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. During that time, most people were concentrating on the various resolutions bouncing around between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops – whether they were in Austin, or following along electronically. But there is another side to General Convention other than conducting the business of the church, and that is worshipping God and being a part of many different worship services. While the services varied in style, there was one constant – the Eucharist.
“There were 11 Eucharists at Convention,” said Dianne Walters, a member of Nativity and newly elected president of the National Altar Guild Association. “One each day, except for the Revival Service on Saturday night.” Dianne has previously served as first vice president, and treasurer for the national organization. According to Dianne, approximately 2,000 people took part in the opening Eucharist, while between 2,500 and 3,000 people were at the UTO ingathering and Parade of Bishops. “The rest averaged between 1,000 and 1,500 each day,” Dianne said.
There were nine communion stations, each with four chalices and eight bread baskets. Two deacons and two Altar Guild members were on hand at each station. The bread and wine were administered by volunteers. “The elements were all consecrated at the High Altar and then processed to the stations,” said Dianne.
All the chalices and bread baskets were shipped from the Church Office in New York and are the same ones used at every General Convention. NAGA unpacks and prepares the sacristy two days before Convention starts, and then are responsible for packing everything and getting it shipped back to New York (along with the massive altar).
Alongside the General Convention services, NAGA also provided support for the Episcopal Church Women’s closing Eucharist as well as several other small groups. “We also worked with seminarians in the sacristy to give them some training in working with altar guilds,” said Dianne. “We also had a room next to the sacristy where we helped the bishops steam press their vestments.”
Dianne will serve as president of NAGA for the next three years (until the next General Convention). The entire membership votes for the new president. Nativity's rector, the Rev. Peter Wong was the celebrant and preacher at Dianne’s installation, and Bishop Russell administered the oath of office. Commenting on her installation as president, Dianne said, “Peter’s sermon was awesome, as usual, and will be printed in the NAGA newsletter. I was so thankful to have them both [Bishop Russell and Father Peter] there.”
Dianne was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in Nurnberg, Germany, in 1979 by the bishop of the Armed Forces. She has served on parish-level altar guilds since 1984. “I have loved being involved with the altar guild since my first training session,” Dianne said. "I have made vestments, linens, banners and taught several different workshops in many different dioceses.” She has taken part in diocesan altar guild events, and in 2000 attended her first Province IV Altar Guild conference in Kanuga. That was the year she joined the National Altar Guild. In 2003, she attended her first General Convention in Minneapolis. Since then, she has attended every General Convention (Austin is her sixth).
The National Altar Guild Association is a diverse ministry. Members are men and women, young and old, and all ethnic groups and ages. NAGA follows various styles of worship and interpretations of theology within the Church. Members offer many individual gifts and talents, such as needle arts, flower arranging, writing, speaking and teaching. “We also make ourselves aware of the great diversity among us Episcopalians by staying abreast of liturgical changes not only in ceremony but also in the furnishings of worship,” said Dianne. “We help solve contemporary altar guild problems, and spread the word about who knows what ‘in altar guild country.’”
Additionally, NAGA is the center of the altar guild network, assisting parish, diocesan and provincial altar guilds by providing information and resources. Altar guilds around the country assist NAGA with its on-going projects, such as making stoles and chasubles for the chaplains of the armed forces.
Pictured above: Dianne Walters (left), Father Peter Wong, rector of Nativity Dothan, and Jay Walters following Dianne’s installation as president of the National Altar Guild. Dianne will remain in the position until the next national convention – set for 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland.