Friday, July 25, 2014

Beg, Borrow & Steal

This page is from the Annotated Order of Worship for the Great Vigil of Easter as celebrated at Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, TN. (Annotated Orders of Worship contain the entire service just as is provided to parishioners with additional directions for movements, timings, and other (stage) directions for the clergy, LEMs and acolytes.)

By Eileen Brightwell Hicks with Bill Cox

Have you ever been asked to provide a ritual fire of a certain color for an Easter Vigil? Did you know that your VGEC Document Library has a customary that details how to start and color a ritual fire? Thanks to Dick Johnson, Head Verger, Trinity Episcopal Church, The Woodlands TX you will be prepared next time without having to do much research. Using the library, you can beg, borrow, and steal from other vergers.

Dick and Bill Cox of St. John's Episcopal Church in Austin, TX both are masters of the tool we all should be using to document how we conduct the liturgy in our own parish church (or cathedral) - the "Customary".

As vergers, we are familiar with the rubrics that are inserted throughout the Book of Common Prayer. These rubrics, in small italic type and, and, in some versions, printed in red, inform us of the requirements and boundaries for our worship services---what we can or cannot do in the course of public worship.

The rubrics do offer a bit of leeway---they contain quite a few “if”s and “may”s in their statements. This leeway is resolved by local “customaries” – details on how a specific church or parish does specific things. Every church has customaries---unfortunately, they are often known only by a few and are not written down. Liturgical customaries can and do cover topics as diverse as “How do we organize a procession for a bishop’s visitation?” or “When and how do we light/extinguish the candles?” or “How is the Easter Vigil celebrated?” Furthermore, customaries (they may also be called “workflows”, “procedures”, or "SOPs") may cover things far beyond our worship services. “How do we compile and publish the weekly bulletin?” or “How is the plate offering counted and prepared for bank deposit?” might be typical topics for non-liturgical customaries.

Customaries are helpful in many ways in your church. Customaries will provide consistency in the worship services and document the routines that are familiar to a congregation. This can be particularly important if a parish does not have full-time clergy support and must rely instead on supply priests. They also serve as a training tool when new members join groups such as the Lay Servers, Acolytes, or Altar Guild.

Unfortunately, relatively few churches have properly documented their customaries or their customaries may not be complete. We vergers have this great resources available to help us: the Document Library. The library includes many customaries that have been contributed by VGEC members over the years. Visit the library and review the customaries that are available. You will find something that can help you and your church! So beg, borrow, and steal from the best-your fellow vergers! Even better, if your church has documented customaries, please consider sharing them so we can all beg, borrow, and steal from you.


Two additional references for writing a customary are A Priest's Handbook and The Book of Occasional Services. These books provide specifics which are not covered in the rubrics within the Book of Common Prayer.

If you have questions about uploading customaries to or downloading from the VGEC Document Library, contact Eileen Brightwell Hicks, your VGEC Document Library Manager, at [email protected].






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Register online today and call 905.681.5400 for hotel reservations with VERG as the discount code!

Abstract: Just what is a "customary" anyway, and what use would a customary be at our church? How do I start writing a customary for  Holy Week, a Bishop's visitation or Christmas Eve? Your questions answered this week in "Beg, Borrow & Steal".

Recently, we've published stories about vergers from Sweden and Italy. What's happening back at home in your verger ministry? We'd like to publish your verger story, history, observations & experiences. 
Please send your article ideas, or fully developed stories or news items about your own verger ministry or one nearby to [email protected]

Read more blog posts at vergersvoice.org.


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