Where did the use of acolytes originate?

Children and youth often serve as acolytes in The United Methodist Church. They may carry in the light of Christ, the processional cross, banners or Bible. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMCom.
Children and youth often serve as acolytes in The United Methodist Church. They may carry in the light of Christ, the processional cross, banners or Bible. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMCom.

Acolytes have been part of the church in one form or another from the earliest times.

The word acolyte comes from the Greek word akolouthos, meaning follower, helper, or assistant. By the middle ages, acolytes were a clerical order. Acolytes may have any number of helping functions. They may carry the light, processional cross, banners, or Bible. They may also assist the pastor or other worship leaders with communion, baptism and other duties. Children and youth often serve as acolytes, but adults may serve as well.

“Jesus said: ‘I am the light of the world’” (John 8:12 NRSV). The presence of the light reminds us of Jesus coming into our world and into our lives. The light is carried into the worship service as a symbol of Jesus coming into the presence of the worshiping community.

Many congregations use two candles on the Lord's table. While the original use of such candles was simply to provide enough light for the presider to see the communion liturgy well enough to pray it, some also came to see those two candles as a reminder of the dual nature of Jesus, both human and divine. At the end of the service, the light carried out into the world is a sign that Jesus Christ is for all people everywhere, and that Christ goes with his people into the world where serve as his living body.

Read more about the history of acolytes.

Chuck Knows Church: Acolytes

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