By Jack Horrigan
Last year, Rich Creehan brought myself and my co-verger Madigan Balfe to the National Cathedral in D.C. for the National Acolyte Convention. We had a great time; Madigan and I carried our virges during the procession, with Rich ahead of us proudly hoisting St. Paul’s banner. Come communion, Madigan and I were even able to serve the wine.
It went so well, in fact, that we decided we’d go back. But this time we decided to bring a few more friends. In addition to Rich, Madigan, and me, there were acolytes (Elijah Melvin, Eva Hendricks, and Jacob Vito) Choir members and LEMS (Frank Horrigan and Kathleen Davies), former church youth (Jack Brownfield), Luke Zerra and Rev. Laura Di Panfilo. Gradually, we all made our way down to D.C. in preparation for the festival.
The next morning, we all piled into our cars to head to the Cathedral. It’s a daunting place; the church itself is pretty much what you would expect from a national cathedral. But once we stepped inside, the atmosphere became much less regal. We saw kids from all across the country that, like us, chose to show their faith through acolyting every Sunday. And as an added bonus, a photo of me, Rich, and Madigan even made it onto the cover of the bulletin.
When the service began, the Cathedral acolytes (“the Home Team,” as Rich dubbed them) began a procession that included all the staples of a service at St. Paul’s. There was a cross, two torches, led by a verger. During that first procession, however, we got a taste of things to come. They had streamers, banners, even a guy swinging a thurible full of incense. When the procession ended and the Reverend reached the altar, he said a few words of welcome -- but the thing that struck all of us, I think, was that he started his speech by saying “Welcome home.”
Finally the grand procession began. The procession with all the churches there, where every acolyte would have a chance to do what we do best. Seeing the hundreds and hundreds of faces coming through, we all felt a sense of community with one another. We got to experience a small taste of services in churches miles and miles away from ours. Many churches brought their streamers, their torches, their incense (the scent of incense was inescapable before long), one church even brought an impressively long idol, and one by one, we walked down the long cathedral aisle. Their robes were different, their equipment was different, but we were all acolytes in some way or another.
We sat down, and the convention officially started. The gospel procession was, as you’d expect, dramatic, but it was still overshadowed by the gospel itself being read in both English and Spanish. The entire experience was one of unity and togetherness -- here we were, with so many diverse churches and people, listening to something that transcends language. The sermon was equally wonderful, discussing the various ways people are called to serve.
Pretty soon the service was over. We took a group picture, tore off our various robes and vestments, and packed up. On paper, the convention had been pretty standard. A procession, a few readings, a sermon, and communion. But I think we all left that cathedral with a little bit more than we expected. As Laura is fond of saying, “The worship has ended, the service begins.” All of us, I think, felt just a little bit more excited -- even proud -- to be an acolyte.