SOME OF THE 50 SERVERS at Immaculate Conception and Father Gingras with Siobhan and Melinda.
SOME OF THE 50 SERVERS at Immaculate Conception and Father Gingras with Siobhan and Melinda.
Immaculate Conception parish in Glenville is bursting at the seams with altar servers.

While some parishes struggle to get girls and boys to volunteer as altar servers, Immaculate Conception currently has more than 50 young people trained to assist Rev. Jerome Gingras, pastor, at Masses.

Ministry coordinator Tom Bigos told The Evangelist that the community Father Gingras has created among the servers is a big reason the ministry is so popular.

"A lot of our young people really enjoy being with Father Jerry," Mr. Bigos said.

Father Gingras explained that he checks on the servers before a liturgy even begins: "I always make it a point to talk to them and ask them if they're all set."

He doesn't reprimand them for making mistakes, either. "I always try to be calm with them," he said. "There are a lot of little mistakes; they're kids."

The altar servers, who are between the ages of eight and 17, understand that they aren't always perfect. Carrie Watkins, a sixth-grader from Iroquois Middle School, noted that, when a fellow server makes a mistake, others have to notice it immediately and fix it, without missing a beat.

"We have a lot of jobs," she said.

Quartet every time
For many parishes, one or two altar servers per Mass is the norm. At Immaculate Conception, there are usually four serving at each liturgy. After the First Communion season, the parish usually gains four or five new servers, and only one or two leave the ministry each year as they graduate from high school.

Isabel Nelson, an 11-year-old sixth-grader, noted that she has "no clue" how other parishes operate with fewer servers or none at all.

Carrie wants helping hands; she said she relies on other servers to remind her what to do.

"Usually everyone is busy," she added.

On the other hand, Bryan Schulte, a junior at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, doesn't mind taking the lead when there are fewer servers.

"It can get stressful," he said. "It's nice serving by yourself."

Long-time server
Bryan has been an altar server for seven years. As a newcomer, he started with a bang: The first first Mass he served was on Christmas Eve.

Since then, Bryan has helped visiting pastors, lit hard-to-reach candles and substituted for fellow servers who didn't make it to Mass. Balancing his commitment to serving and his weekend homework poses a challenge, but Bryan likes the sense of responsibility that serving brings him: "I'm helping to move Mass along" by serving.

Isabel sees serving as a fun way to help her community. "It's hard to go to church every Sunday," she remarked. "It's easier when you know you have something to do."

Altar servers at Immaculate Conception go through training before they begin serving on the altar: first, an afternoon session with Mr. Bigos where they go through the motions of what happens at Mass; then shadowing an experienced server.

Ceremonial moment
Finally, there's an initiation that makes the process official. "We have this very wonderful ceremony," Mr. Bigos told The Evangelist. "I call them up to the front of the altar along with their parents" to answer questions about the faith and be dressed by the parents in an altar server's white alb.

Father Gingras developed the ceremony. He said he "stole it a little bit from the rite of ordination, like how the priest is dressed in [his] vestments."

The young servers said the process gives them a sense of importance and pride in their work.

Carrie believes that altar servers contribute in a big way to the Mass: They "do a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff. I don't think people realize it.

"When Father Jerry is preparing the body and blood [of Christ], people don't really notice that we wash his hands," she explained. "Before I became an altar server, I never noticed that happened."

(For information on Immaculate Conception's altar server ministry, call Mr. Bigos at 518-399-9203.)