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Friday, October 31, 2014

My Diocese Doesn't Have A VGEC Chapter - Help! Part 1

Not Cindy Leap's church, but illustrative of how alone any one of us may feel from time to time...

By Ken Holloway, VGEC News Manager, with Cindy Leap and Nicholas Birchum

The power of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church lies in its distributed membership, and especially in its diocesan and local chapters. Currently we have chapters in these eight dioceses: Atlanta, Connecticut, Dallas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Southeast Florida, Tennessee, and Texas, with new chapters under development in many dioceses across the country.

"Chatter" between chapter members and their parish churches has a way of revealing new ideas or methods and thereby reinforcing communications and idea exchange among the member churches. Chapters also provide the experience and processes that support training and development of new vergers, both in established "vergerized" churches and those seeking a verger ministry of their own.

Earlier this year, Cindy Leap,a VGEC Fellow, of  St. Mark's Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, expressed interest in exploring the dynamic of "big-city" parishes as contrasted to smaller rural area parishes with regard to their need for vergers. Nicholas Birchum, head verger at the Cathedral Church of Saint Matthew in Dallas and past chair of the Dallas Chapter, answered Cindy with some keen observations.

Let's listen in on parts of their conversation.

Cindy begins, "I am one of 7 or 8 vergers in the Diocese of Pittsburgh  (over 40 parishes) and I believe the only one to have completed the VGEC training course to become a Fellow."

"While it would be a wonderful thing for us to develop a chapter, there are some obstacles that would need to be overcome, the biggest being distance.  It is over 80 miles from my church to the church that has the majority of the vergers.  They are all located in or around Pittsburgh with larger congregations (150-500 people) and I am in a small rural parish of less than 30 active members which is actively searching for a new rector."

"I would like to see something developed that addresses the different issues between big city parishes and small parishes. To be perfectly honest, at this time in our parish, it’s quite silly to have a verger in liturgical attire leading a small procession of seven people. I’m having difficulty articulating these differences, but they are substantial."

Nicholas answered, saying "Cindy, I would like to share some similarities between the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Diocese of Dallas."

"In our diocese, several parishes have their own chapters. But in addition, there is a diocesan chapter which formed at the request of our bishop in 1994. Any verger may join the diocesan chapter, but it is not required. Even paying dues is optional. It is loosely knit, but works wonderfully."

"The diocesan guild is a fraternity of vergers who choose to serve together. We have vergers who come from large and small parishes. I would share that I know of several small parishes that take the position that we're small so a verger is too much. But there are some small parishes that would never dream of a service, no matter how big or small, without a verger."

"The diocesan guild has an unusual feature. If you are a member, and have trained  properly, you can serve at any diocesan event, convention, convocation, as well as parishes that have no verger but need one for some special event of one kind or another."

"There are at least two vergers in the diocesan guild who come from parishes that have no verger. Their rectors refuse to have vergers. So these diocesan vergers only serve at the cathedral from time to time and at diocesan events. The bishop's staff and cathedral staff reach out to the diocesan guild and just announce an event and say that they need vergers. The diocesan vergers reply if they can attend. It's a strong bond, and the bishop and cathedral are very pleased. They know that any event will be handled if they hear that the vergers will attend."

Fast forward to today, Wednesday, October 29, 2014. Cindy met this afternoon with her new rector, The Rev. Nancy Threadgill, who asked Cindy to help her define the verger's role at St. Mark's over the next few months.

So the story continues. Will Cindy be able to use some of the concepts which Nicholas shared to organize a VGEC chapter in the Diocese of Pittsburgh? Will she be a force in Pennsylvania verger history? Will Nicholas, the VGEC Chapter Development Committee, or other willing VGEC member contribute concepts and processes that result in a thriving verger chapter in the Diocese? How many vergers from the Pittsburgh area will we get to meet in St. Louis next October at the 27th VGEC Annual Conference? Which dioceses will be officially recognized as new chapters of the VGEC at the next conference?

Stay tuned, intrepid vergers, as we monitor the Diocese of Pittsburgh VGEC chapter possibilities, and the exciting new era of verger ministry at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Johnstown, PA.

Abstract: Is your church located some distance from a metropolitan area? Are you seeking verger-comradeship? Are you a verger without a verger ministry? Would it help to have a conversation with other vergers around common liturgical issues, like your rector doesn't see the need for a verger or your church has less than 50 members and you are not quite "right" with escorting a procession of 7 folks on Sunday? If you qualify, listen in on a real conversation dealing with a few of these topics in this week's Verger's Voice - My Diocese Doesn't Have A VGEC Chapter - Help! Part 1, and tune in soon for Part 2, in which our heroes begin to whittle down a set of solutions for real-life verger dilemmas. 


  1. It occurred to me early in my first year as a verger (now just beginning my second year), and the first verger our smallish (70+ ASA) parish has had, that leading a procession that ranged from half a dozen to as many as 20 was a little bit over the top. What seemed reasonable is leading the procession only when it seems appropriate. Christmas eve, Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, and when we have a Bishop visiting so far are the times when I process.

    That said, the reason my Rector asked me to be the verger had little or nothing to do with adding a body to the processions. The most important part of my responsibilities -- every Sunday -- is making sure that the service goes off perfectly. This includes scheduling those who will participate, and ensuring that all of the details that make for a smooth and worshipful service are taken care of. It goes beyond checking on the Altar Guild and the others participating, and includes herding acolytes (and their moms), making sure there's a second unrelated adult who has had Safe Church training on duty in the Sunday School, and giving the Rector a few moments so she can compose herself before the service (someone once said I served as a virtual "green room" for the Rector) by answering all the questions that might be directed to her at that time. Afterward? making sure the candles have been extinguished, the PA system turned off, the collection taken by the counters, and all visitors welcomed and that sort of thing. At this point, my Sunday checklist is 22 pages long, and I have two junior vergers in training.

    Oh. And on the "big Sundays" I put on my chimere and get out the mace (we acquired it from a parish that was closing) and march in the procession.

    Really, that sort of a thing is an afterthought in my role as a verger. Given my duties, I'm clueless why a Rector would NOT want a verger!

    Yes, in the Diocese of CT we are starting a chapter.

  2. Thanks, I am really looking forward to comments from Vergers in Smaller Parishes.

    In Peace
    Cindy Leap

    1. I am1 of 2 vergers in a small parish in the Diocese of Atlanta, outside the city. We only robe and process as vergers 2 or 3 Sundays a month. Of course we are always organizing Sunday ministry folks and plugging last-minute holes. Our new priest (new to us and the priesthood) absolutely loves having us verging so that she can get reminders when needed as well as leaving all of the details to us. We recently had 3 baptisms on 1 Sunday (growth!) and these were her first "by herself" baptisms. She did a wonderful job but we were there to guide, hold her prayer book, etc. We verge funerals, assisting with all of the details so that she can focus on the family and the service. We hope to soon begin a junior verger program to guide them in our ministry of service, organization and welcoming. It doesn't matter if just a crucifer shows up to lead the 4 ladies in the choir. If we are scheduled to verge we robe and lead as if we had a cathedral procession of 50+! No, I also cannot imagine why a priest would refuse to have vergers in his/her church! We take so much of the burden off of them that we should be welcomed with open arms. Our national goal is to further educate priests and bishops across the country as to why our ministry is so important. No matter what you and your new priest decide never feel like your parish is too small to robe and verge!
      And for everyone who reads this be sure you have uploaded your headshot for our online directory at the Vergers Guild! If not you will continue to get those "reminder" e-mails from me! Regularly!
      David Neville
      Conyers, Georgia


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