Mentors and Observers
Fr. Peter Daly
July 12, 2001
Mentors and Observers
If you look up “perky” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of Carolyn Greenan. Carolyn is one of the nicest little girls I know. She is also one of our best altar servers.
She has been serving for about a year. Each time she serves, she pays careful attention to detail. She tries to get everything right. She still has a little trouble with the processional cross. It is too heavy. She can carry it down the aisle just fine, but she has a struggle getting it up high on its stand. Sometimes I have to go over and give it a boost.
Her enthusiasm is infectious. Now that she has been serving for a year or so, she can be a “mentor” of the newer servers. She seems to enjoy that role.
Like most suburban and rural parishes we have a problem training the servers. It is hard getting them to practices. Our kids are not in a parish school on site all day. It is hard for them to get rides in the evening. Parents, who have just gotten home are tired and don’t want to sit around church waiting. Practices are infrequent and too short. With twenty or thirty young people present, it is hard to instruct each one. Yet, teaching the servers is important. Servers can add a lot to the dignity of the liturgy.
The lady who coordinates our serving program came up with a good solution. She suggested that we have the new servers vest and sit on the altar as “observers”. By watching the older kids, they gradually learn by observing and doing.
Not long ago Carolyn got a chance to be a “mentor” to an equally enthusiastic “observer” named is Olivia.
It was a daily mass. Not a big crowd. But it was a big event for them both.
Carolyn’s careful instructions to Olivia in the sacristy made me smile. She gave more detailed instructions that I would have dared to give; pointing out how to tie the cincture, how to walk, and where to sit.
Olivia listened attentively. She was very willing to accept instruction from a peer. It was much less intimidating than getting it from me. (One of the mothers told me that I tend to scare the little ones when I give them instructions.)
Carolyn was also much more precise with Olivia watching. She bowed just “so” at the lavabo. She held the book just right for my bifocals at the opening and closing prayer.
At the sign of peace Olivia’s younger brother, Billy, came up and congratulated her on serving for the first time.
Afterwards Olivia was full of questions for Carolyn.
Watching these two devout little girls serve, I marveled at how things had changed since I learned. Not just the fact that it is no longer all boys. (Today the girls are not even aware that there was a time when girls did not serve.) But the way the craft is taught. It is more cooperative.
When I was a boy, we had regular, mandatory drills for an hour or so after school. We stood at one end of the gym, saying the prayers in Latin. The curate in charge of servers stood at the other end of the gym correcting our pronunciation and enunciation. He gave us marks, like the Olympics.
I didn’t mind the old way, but I think the mentor-observer system has something to contribute. It is a better reflection of the way the church works today. Everyone has some responsibility to learn and teach.
Not everybody is as good a teacher as Carolyn or as good a pupil as Olivia, but it is nice to see them all trying. Passing the tradition on to the next generation.