Ministry Spotlight: Nancy Templeton

Ministry Spotlight: Nancy Templeton & 

St. Anne’s Altar Guild

By James Deaton


Liturgy, the church’s public worship of God, begins and ends with the work of the altar guild. Behind the scenes, this volunteer team of lay members cares for the bread and wine, sacred vessels, linens, candles, and other elements used in weekly worship.


Altar guild members follow the direction of the rector or priest in charge by preparing the sanctuary for weekly worship and special services like baptisms, weddings, and funerals. This work is more than a checklist of tasks to be done. It’s a ministry borne out of a heart for serving and caring for holy spaces.


Recently, Grace Episcopal Church celebrated Nancy Templeton’s retirement. Nancy had been a member of St. Anne’s Altar Guild for over 50 years. Nancy took time to look back on those years, reflecting on what brought her to Grace and what this ministry has meant to her faith.


Nancy grew up a Buckeye in a village outside Toledo and spent most of her formative years attending a Lutheran church, where she belonged to the youth group and sang in the choir. Michigan State University’s swim program drew her across the state line, and she got her bachelor’s degree and met her then-husband while attending MSU in East Lansing.


Once married, they moved to Pontiac and began seeking a church. The Lutheran church in town wasn’t the right fit, so they visited All Saints’ Episcopal Church. “I fell in love with it the first time I went,” Nancy remembers, “and I’ve stayed Episcopalian with each town I’ve lived in.”


Life took her farther north, and while living in West Branch and Grayling, she got involved with Trinity Episcopal Church and St. Francis’ Episcopal Church, respectively. It’s at Trinity where she began volunteering on the altar guild.


Dedication to ministry can lead one to go above and beyond the call of duty. Nancy recalls a humorous story about getting stopped by a West Branch policeman one Saturday night. While preparing for Sunday’s eucharist at the church, she realized they were out of distilled water used to mix with the wine. She took off and raced through town, trying to make it to the last store that was still open before they closed. A policeman pulled Nancy over and gave her a warning: “I’ll let you off, but no speeding through town.”


Nancy’s then-husband purchased Boughey Bottling Company in Traverse City in 1969, and they found a house in Northport. There, Nancy’s family was instrumental in resurrecting St. Christopher’s, an Episcopal mission church that was inactive.


“There were a few people up there who wanted to revive it,” Nancy says. “I had a family with four kids, and with another family with nine, we made up half the church!” The congregation was small, so Nancy got involved with many aspects of ministry. “There were maybe 20 of us at the time. I was on the vestry, and we all did everything that needed to be done.”

St. Christopher’s eventually received the support of Grace Church, which sent members to bolster the congregation. The faith community grew and officially became a parish in 1996.


In 1972, Nancy moved to Traverse City following a divorce. She started attending Grace as she juggled being a single mother with four boys in school and holding down full-time employment. She got a job in advertising sales for the Record-Eagle, which demanded long hours and many weekends.


“To be honest,” she says, “I wasn’t very faithful about going to church. With that job, you couldn’t get it all done each day. And so, I would often be at work on Sunday, but my heart was always here.”


Grace Church immediately became a community of faith and love for Nancy. As a divorcée, she had questions about how the congregation would accept her. “I was early in my divorce,” she explains, “and I was having questions about the church, whether I’d be accepted. I knew the Roman Catholic Church frowned upon divorcées, and they were not allowed to have communion. I wanted to be sure I could still participate.” Nancy counseled with Fr. Cecil Wagstaff, who assured her of Grace’s welcome and Nancy’s full participation.


Nancy became a member of St. Anne’s Altar Guild soon after joining Grace Church. Although she has been involved in many other capacities at Grace over the years, including the vestry and the former Parish Life Committee, serving on the altar guild has had a special place in her heart.


It’s been a ministry of service, working closely with others to care for weekly communion, from preparation to cleanup. The altar guild has been a close-knit group of people, and she is grateful for the relationships God has gifted her through the years.

She particularly remembers visiting Mimi Dixon’s house on Old Mission Peninsula in the 1990s. “One time, we had an altar guild meeting out there. I recall a young man going through the priesthood, Thomas Brown, joined us when he was at Grace. He’s now the bishop of Maine. Everybody brought something to put in a salad, and then we’d mix it all up and eat lunch together. So that brought a lot of togetherness, and we got to know each other well. I sure made some good friends from it.”


Over the years, Nancy has seen changes to the ministry of the altar guild, and members must stay flexible and adapt to each priest’s unique way of celebrating the eucharist. Some of the biggest changes came about as the congregation transitioned to the new sanctuary in 2005.


The sacristy in the previous church configuration was tiny, and many preparations had to be done in a small kitchen downstairs in the undercroft. “This new sacristy is so wonderful,” Nancy says, “there’s so much more space now!” 


Large linens were once used to cover the altar, but Fr. Ed Emenheiser and the altar guild came to a decision not to use them on the new Amish-made altar. “The wood is just so beautiful, and we didn’t want to cover it up,” says Nancy.


She notes changes in who handles the flowers to decorate the sanctuary. They used to be done by the altar guild, but now a separate committee takes care of them. The move from wax to oil-filled candles was significant. Each candle type has its merits and downsides. Filling the oil candles is probably the most time-consuming part of altar guild work, in her opinion: “They run out quickly, and they don’t hold a lot.”

The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges to the ministry. Using micro chalices has been a helpful accommodation, but handwashing and sterilizing dozens of them is a labor of love.


Although these tasks may seem tedious and chore-like, Nancy believes the ministry has a purpose for all those who serve on it.


Each vessel — chalice, paten, cruet, lavabo — has a history and has been handled with loving care by many faithful Christians over the decades. Each linen has been ironed, folded, and stored for the proper occasion. Each piece of furniture, from the credence table to the altar to the candlestick holders, is cleaned and polished with reverence.


“It’s been great to be part of taking care of all that,” Nancy reflects. “Basically, it’s preparing the table. Someone explained one time that it is like having a picnic. You put the napkin out; that’s your tablecloth. You set out the plate for the bread and the cup for the wine. And then there’s the cleanup and putting away.”


Nancy admits she’ll miss it but understands it is time to retire. But she’s not quitting all aspects of ministry at Grace Church. She still helps count the offerings and wants to serve however she can.


“I’ve always been involved,” she concludes, “and I will continue to be involved. I love this church. It’s my second home, my second family.”


Are you interested in learning more about St. Anne’s Altar Guild? If so, talk to Brenda Lau, Kate Wood, or any member of the altar guild. They’d be glad to share more about this valuable ministry of our church.

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