Note: The persons described below come in all gender identities. The Altar Guild Man is somewhat rare, but by no means unknown.
The Altar Guild Lady
I love Altar Guild Ladies! They have keys to everything, and they are treasure troves of fascinating church knowledge, like what that flat thing on top of the chalice is called and which colors to wear for Lent. They also do the quiet, thankless, enormous work of making the sanctuary a beautiful place. I cannot say enough good things about them. They are awesome.
I have no idea what happens if you cross them. I don’t plan to find out.
The Cardinal Rector Enthusiast
This person has read every novel ever written by Jan Karon and insists on addressing your priest as “Father,” even if everyone else calls him Steve. In times of trouble, he refuses all ministrations from anyone except the rector; he will have no truck with lesser clergy or laypeople. His reverence for the priesthood is absolute, and he is nostalgic for the days when your church had an active women’s group that kept the kitchen clean. If your church has a female deacon or associate, he will touch her arm a lot and call her “sweetheart.”
If your church has a female rector, you probably have not met the Cardinal Rector Enthusiast. He switched to the parish down the street a few years ago and hasn’t looked back.
The Denominational Polity Fiend
If your local, regional, or national ecclesiastical body has a convention of some kind, you can bet your Sunday shoes that the Denominational Polity Fiend will be there with bells on. She complains that her schedule is filled with meetings, but you don’t remember anyone strong-arming her into running for this position, or chairing that board. She has memorized your church’s canons and speaks of your bishop as though he is a close personal friend. A signature perk of the Fiend is that you can spark her interest in any social issue, as long as your denomination is sponsoring an initiative to address it. The Episcopal Ecological Network? The United Methodist Malaria Initiative? Sure! She’s all over it!
The History Buff
History Buffs know when your church was founded, how the property was acquired, and who laid the first stone. Often, they can recite the name of every rector, vicar, or lead pastor the congregation has ever had. They are usually working on a narrative history of the parish, which they plan to self-publish someday. Try not to ask about it.
The Pretty Girl Who Wakes Up Early on Sunday Morning and Drives Across Town to Hear You Preach, Even Though You Have Already Made Her Sit Through Your Sermon Five Hundred Times While You Practiced It in Your Living Room
She is mine and you cannot have her.
The Guerrilla Liturgist
Find some mercy in your heart for the Guerrilla Liturgist, who cannot understand why your clergy, acolytes, and altar guild insist on doing everything WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Why must your priest wear those shoes with the distracting silver buckles? Didn’t anyone tell the acolytes they should stand exactly three feet apart to process? Nothing escapes the notice of the Guerrilla Liturgist, who only wants the liturgy to be done. just. right. If things are for some reason not right, he will be generous enough to let you know.
If you have ever stumbled upon a strange adult looming over a trembling preteen acolyte, saying, “You know the rule about hoop earrings when you’re serving. Give them to me now,” you are dealing with a Guerrilla Liturgist. Good luck to you.
The Voice in the Wilderness
First cousin to the Guerrilla Liturgist, the Voice in the Wilderness takes issue not just with the execution of your worship, but with your entire congregational culture. She is confident that the other 157 members of the congregation will come around if only, like Isaiah, she can help them see the error of their ways, and the particular style of your church is not nearly as important as her compulsion to resist it. The Voice in the Wilderness is the woman behind you standing rigid and tight-lipped while everyone else has their hands in the air, or perhaps she is clapping along to the plainsong chant. If she finds herself in a church where people like to shout “Amen!” during the sermon, she will ostentatiously genuflect.
Try not to have a Voice in the Wilderness on your church board, especially if your resident Denominational Polity Fiend has just found a new cause to support.
The Person Who Would Just Love to See His or Her Niece or Nephew Get to Know a Nice Christian Like You
If you are under fifty and single, you have met this person.
The Person Who Is Certain You Will Hit It Off With Another Church Member Who Is in Some Way Demographically Similar to You
Because this person is very community-oriented and just wants everyone at church to be friends, he is always on the hunt for clues that might connect you to someone in the neighboring pew. For example, if you are in your mid-twenties and attended a small liberal-arts college in a leafy suburb of Philadelphia, this character might introduce you to Karl, who is in his mid-seventies, wears an NRA hat, and grew up in a steel town outside Pittsburgh. Because, hey, you’re both from Pennsylvania!
He will be crushed if you and Karl do not go out for coffee immediately following the worship service, and is undeterred by the knowledge that
(1) Philly and Pittsburgh are three hundred miles apart;
(2) you are frightened of people in NRA hats; and
(3) Karl is older than your grandfather.
Karl can’t stand the guy either. He means well. Be kind.
The Ragged, Ornery Slob Who Is Always Late to Church
Be careful. I hear she keeps a blog.