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Sacristans are the unsung heroes of most churches: They are usually the little old ladies who clean and press the church's linens, clean the altar vessels and make sure the votive candles have fresh inserts. However, some larger churches employ professionals as sacristans--and the role takes on a leadership position in a church's worship program. Sacristans are most frequently found in Catholic churches.
Although a sacristan's job duties vary by church, in general, this role serves as a coordinator for worship services, ensuring that linens are pressed and clean, that altar vessels are kept safe, that consumables like altar wine and altar bread are in adequate supply, and that the church as a whole is kept secure and in good repair. The sacristan works with the pastor or senior minister to attend to the environment of worship. In addition, a sacristan may oversee or even direct the service of various lay ministers including ushers, greeters and money counters.
There are very few sacristans who do the work full time; most churches have volunteer sacristans or they get paid a small stipend. For that reason, education requirements are not uniform. Many volunteers have no educational requirement whatsoever, while employed sacristans at a major cathedral may have a master's degree in pastoral ministry, theology or music.
Skills and Experience
A sacristan should have a solid understanding of how liturgies flow--the order of service, the preparations and the tear-down. Additionally, he should be skilled at cleaning and organizing, and trustworthy enough to have keys to the church and access to its safes and precious objects. Sacristans with responsibilities over lay liturgical volunteers should have good delegation and people skills. Many sacristans learn through on-the-job training, although a professional sacristan will generally have experience coordinating liturgies at a larger church or even a major church like a cathedral.
A sacristan's schedule is heavily dependent on the church's worship schedule. In general, the sacristan is the first person to arrive and the last person to leave--she will unlock the church, turn on the lights, set out the appropriate linens and decorations, put out the sacred vessels and fill them with an appropriate volume of bread and wine. After the worship service, the sacristan cleans up, locks the doors, extinguishes the lights and makes sure the collection is properly locked away.
Salary and Outlook
There are too few full-time employed sacristans to extrapolate meaningful salary data. Most sacristans are either volunteers, or perform the duties of a sacristan in addition to some other office (like pastoral minister or music director). Because these positions are offered in churches, the outlook varies depending on a particular church's financial performance.
Jason Gillikin is a copy editor and writer who specializes in health care, finance and consumer technology. His various degrees in the liberal arts have helped him craft narratives within corporate white papers, novellas and even encyclopedias.