Boys' involvement in Mass increases 500%
St. Louis Park
For more information, email Bob Spinharney.
By returning to more demanding altar server practices, two men were able to increase participation at their parish from 10 to 60.
"Altar serving at Holy Family allows boys to be more fully integrated into the Mass and gives them a chance to experience Christ's sacrifice up close. Holy Family provides an environment that makes them feel welcome and necessary and is an excellent experience". Carson Lind, 19 year old, 7 year veteran
The need it meets
Bob and Mark, members of Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, wanted to see more boys actively involved in the Mass. They felt that being an altar server could help boys participate more fully and possibly discern a priestly vocation. Bob and Mark approached their pastor, Father Dufner, and shared with him their vision.
Where it came from
Both men had served in all-boy altar server groups as boys and remembered the experience with fondness. They wanted to share this experience with the boys in their parish.
How it works
First, the men proposed making the program only for boys. They believed this would increase the boys' desire to participate in the program. Father Dufner agreed. Next, the men worked on creating a more reverent atmosphere by using cassocks and surplices and by buying uniform footwear. Finally, the men trained the boys in the traditional roles of altar servers, but instituting cool nicknames and a system of ranks, which made them more accessible and attractive to the young boys. With these stricter guidelines, the program has seen great growth.
In the last seven years, it has grown from 10 participants to 60. There is a wide range of ages involved, giving older boys the chance to mentor younger ones.
The men believe that several key elements have helped the program grow. The boys at the parish have responded well to the all-boy atmosphere, especially the extra time it has allowed them to spend with Father Dufner, both during training and outside of Mass at numerous program activities such as bowling and fishing. The boys have also been motivated by the hierarchy of ranks, along with the program's high standards of order and discipline.
How to implement it
A good way to implement this program is to find male adult leaders who have a desire to see greater participation by boys in the Mass and encourage them to begin an altar boy program. Help these leaders to create a fun, competitive environment by instituting a system of ranks with nicknames, enforcing a strict dress code, and organizing complementary sports activities just for the altar servers. This will help motivate the boys to serve God and their church.
Submitted by Bob Spinharney on December 11, 2006.
Fr. Thomas Dufner is pastor of Holy Family.