Welcome to the Vergers Voice, the official news blog of the Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church. Also known as the VGEC, we are located on the web at vergers.org and facebook.com/vergerguild the #1 online resources for vergers world-wide.

For information about submitting news and announcements to the blog, click HERE or contact [email protected].

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Hope-Filled Christmas

The Epiphany Window in Bethlehem Chapel at Washington National Cathedral

By Ken Holloway, News Manager, Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church

On the morning of Christmas Eve, in the year of our Lord, two thousand fourteen, hope is in our heart.

Tonight, at the six o'clock service, I will be hoping that the thurifer does not spill hot ashes on the carpet as he did last Christmas eve. I'll be hoping that he does not, as I did two years ago, stand under the smoke detector too long and set off the fire alarm.

Later at the eleven o'clock service while sitting in the pew with others, my mind will be more open. I will be without hope that the oblationers carry the sacramental offerings safely to the altar rail. I won't be hoping that the acolytes close the altar rail gate on time. I will be much more fully engaged in hoping that my immediate family members are relieved of their various physical maladies.

When I participate as a verger, my perspective of the liturgy is a bit different from when I sit in the congregation. Often, I hope that I can just be fully aware of the presence of God in my life. You know the old adage, "Our responsibility as humans is to know when God has hold of us by the nose and pay attention."

Does not Advent offer us, vergers or not, one of the greatest opportunities in the year to look around us with open perception of God's hope in humanity? Is it the sanctity with which we hold the season that fine-tunes our senses? Is it our feeling of exhaustion of the impending end of the calendar year that brings us back to fundamentals?

There is the white-haired British couple who immigrated to live near their children and grandchildren. He was an RAF pilot and she was a nurse. They bought a tiny cowboy hat for their three-month old grandson last evening hoping that he will grow into the hat in good health.

Across the aisle sits a former US Army sergeant and his family. Their hope for his safe return from Afghanistan was fulfilled last year.

Behind me is our resident Master Gardner, who has emphatically expressed the hope that we will not uproot certain heritage trees when we begin construction of our new parish hall soon.

My ever-sweet wife, thankful that she can sit in an actual pew with her husband for an entire service, is praying for hope of our deceased son's everlasting life and for hope that our daughters and our former Marine son will find new hope for their families in 2015. I pray for the hope that she'll keep me another 36 years.

I sometimes hope that I can just be graceful at the time of my own demise. (To those younger folks reading this, that is something you think more and more about as your years thankfully increase.)

How do we Christian humans relate to the concept of "hope?" Pick up your Bible and take a look at 1 Timothy 1:1, Ephesians 4:4, or Romans 15:13, which says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."

Let us all pray, this Christmastide, that we may, as servant ministers, live our lives in a fervent and constant state of hope from this day forward.

Abstract:  This Verger's Voice was written the morning of Christmas Eve, 2014. Christmas is a very active time for vergers. We all hope that "things" will go well tonight. We hope for only small surprises, and good ones to boot! Is that all we have to hope for? How do we live "in hope?"

Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent and the Verger

By David Jette, Head Verger, Trinity Wall Street, New York City

Let me be up front at the beginning of these seasonal musings: this article is not about Advent wreaths, pink candles, Sarum blue, or the inappropriateness of singing Christmas carols before sundown on December 24th. The observance of Advent need not be burdened by worrying about these things.

Vergers are almost by definition ruled by time. It takes time to set up a Sunday service and it must be done before it’s time to begin. Preparing for Christmas doesn’t happen miraculously or under the guidance of angelic directives. For us vergers, arriving early and staying late is a guiding principal that no labor standard can override. The Parish of Trinity Church in New York City where I serve as head verger, webcasts almost all liturgies. This requires a scrupulous adherence to precise time as determined by atomic clocks placed in strategic positions throughout the church building.

Advent is a season that often focuses on time, precisely the end of time and the second coming of Christ. All of this seems remote and removed from our earthly time reality as we think of ourselves as terribly modern and sometimes blasé about the end of everything. We might even catch ourselves thinking, “I have no time for the end of time!” Though often misused as a theme by self-appointed religious prophets of doom, the notion of final judgment, seemingly unscientific, warrants our serious consideration and prayer.

In early October while recovering from surgery at home for two weeks, I had ample reason to contemplate my own mortality and end of time. Not content to recede into pointless gloom, I engaged in two fairly monumental head exercises. First, I picked up Leo Tolstoy's novel, "War and Peace," for the first time. I’m about three quarters through this odyssey of reading and I hope to have it finished by Christmas. I recommend it highly!

Second I began watching a series of lectures called “Big History: the Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity.” This got my attention initially because the lecturer, David Christian, is a professor of history and not a scientist. The very first lecture sets the stage for what is to follow. Big history is big because our universe is unimaginably immense and stupendously old - perhaps 15 billion years old. These statistics alone provide ample opportunity to engage in renewed humility about everything we do.

Our consideration of Advent has the potential for taking us out of self to consider a far more grand scope of the created order we are graced to inhabit. Our contemplation of big time and big history isn’t a contest between science and theology, but rather a realistic look at the immensity of creation as a manifestation of God’s power to launch and direct it all and yet still come to us in the Word made flesh. God is big history indeed but then each of us, as vergers in our sundry callings, play a part in the divine story and are capable of comprehending that still small voice of God clearly through the chaos of babble all around us.

Take time this Advent to think big, to imagine with care, and to guide and nurture those we’re called to serve. Our ministry is rooted in the God of the cosmos and the God who is born in a humble stable.

Abstract:  One of the most experienced vergers in North America answers the question, "What does Advent mean to vergers?" You may be surprised with what he has to say. We pray that you are moved to new consideration of our place in humanity. He says that it is, "as big as all outdoors." Read this week's Verger's Voice and be inspired.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Revised VGEC Training Course Ready for Prime Time

By Duke DuTeil, VGEC Training Advisor

This summer and fall, under the direction of the Training Committee and as the VGEC Training Advisor, I re-wrote the verger’s training course from top to bottom. Drawing on experience from multiple congregations in several dioceses from both the local and national level, the new course stresses the servant ministry of the verger and the relationship between the verger, their clergy, and other ministries in their congregations. Several members of the VGEC volunteered to serve as editors and proofreaders.

The new course is distributed by email as a password protected PDF file and the person taking the course is able to type directly into the course rather than maintaining a separate notebook. Once receiving the course, the simplified enrollment process is completed by filling out the form on page 10 and submitting it to the Training Advisor. Once the form is received, a password protected complimentary copy of the course will be sent to the member’s mentor. Satisfactory completion of the course is determined by the individual, their mentor, and their Rector, Vicar, or Priest-in-Charge.

When the 2015 Vergers Training Course was ready for publication, it was sent to the 296 current Fellows of the Guild and to those presently enrolled in the course (509 as of the current membership directory). It has garnered much positive acclaim!

Natalie Hala, a VGEC Fellow from the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin in San Francisco, California said, "The PDF formatting will greatly facilitate the ease of taking the course and preparing the submission.  How wonderful the expertise and resources were available to make this happen.  (I may have deforested our beloved California redwoods with my multiple page submission of last year!) I was especially impressed with the emphasis on the verger as servant ministry throughout the document, the gentle touches of humor interspersed throughout, and the addition of some very practical advice (e.g. parish dynamics, timing issues and incense, etc.). The course of study feels like it is a road map for a Christ-filled ministry.  What a terrific achievement! Again, congratulations to all involved in its production."

Cindy Ware, a VGEC Fellow from Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington, Kentucky added, "...it is much improved over the original one I had. Well done!! I love that it includes good tips and suggestions about every-Sunday sorts of tasks and checklists."

Those currently enrolled in a prior edition of the course may elect to continue with that version but they are welcome to switch over to the new edition. All prior course work can easily be incorporated into the new edition.

The other big news that accompanies the new course is the change in pricing. In an effort to make the course more accessible, the VGEC Board took a long hard look at what was included in the purchase price of the course and made a significant change. With the old $215 price tag members received the printed course, a renewal of their membership for one year, and upon completion you received a certificate and the Fellow’s Virge at the annual conference. The cost put the course out of reach for many of our members plus the guild's expense was even more than we were charging. With the $65 purchase price for the new course, you get the password protected PDF of the course and upon course completion, you receive recognition and a certificate of completion at the VGEC Annual Conference. You are then eligible to purchase the Fellow’s Virge from the Guild Shop. Anyone who purchased the course at the old pricing will still receive the Fellow’s Virge upon completion.

Information on the training course is available at vergers.org/training with a sample of the 2015 training course at the bottom of the page. You can purchase the course when you join the VGEC or renew your membership, or you can purchase it at the Guild Shop at shop.vergers.org.

For more information about the course or for questions you are welcome to contact me at [email protected]

Abstract: The Revised VGEC Training Course is now available. There are important changes incorporated in both the content and the method of course delivery. Read all the details in the Verger's Voice.

Friday, December 5, 2014

VGEC Membership Directory - You Can Use It Today

The new VGEC Membership Directory's Verger Head Shots change every day - find them on page 7

by Ken Holloway, VGEC News Manager

I've been using the online VGEC Membership Management System for a while now. Every time someone emails me about a story idea or responds to a call I've made, I dial up their photo in the membership system and have a (sort of real) face-to-face meeting.

I occasionally use the last printed directory from 2011 when I'm not logged on to the system, but we have added many new faces since that time so the best bet is the current data in the online membership system.

The point is that timely publishing on paper, for a smallish organization like VGEC, is a thing of the past. Technology has generally advanced everyone’s ability to get to the exact piece of data we want, right now. So we followed the trend and the VGEC Membership Directory is now available for your use at any time.

The new online Directory is available, current as of today, at our secure membership.vergers.org site. Go ahead and use the link and look around in this 146 page interactive book. You'll see the following sections on the table of contents page with direct links to each section:
  • Introduction and Table of Contents
  • Welcome from the Vergers Guild Board President and Board of Directors
  • Committees
  • Get Connected with the VGEC
  • Verger Headshots are Everywhere
  • Membership Summary Report
  • Introduction to the Membership Listings Membership Listing by Last Name
  • Membership Listing by Diocese, and Parish Dioceses with the Most Vergers
  • Lifetime Members of the Vergers Guild
  • Fellows of the Vergers Guild
  • In Memoriam

We say "current" because the entire Directory gets automatically generated every morning at 01:30. All of the data is drawn from the membership system as modified by the transactions for that day. So our Membership Directory is always up-to-date each and every morning. How about that!

In a conversation a few days ago, Scott Smith, who monitored and guided most of the work of creating and automating the directory told me, "We really started talking about this in 2011 when we printed the first (and the last!) VGEC Yearbook which turned out to be a real chore to get it assembled and printed.

"Our plan was that we could use the VGEC Yearbook as a combination of the printed and mailed Membership Directory and the Verger's Voice newsletter which had been essentially defunct since 2004. The yearbook was super expensive but it was also hugely effective as a public relations tool. It debuted at the 2011 VGEC Annual Conference and played a significant roll in the 2012 General Convention where the delegates were blown away by size of it.

"In addition to the huge costs, another problem with the yearbook was the work involved in graphic design, layout and editing of the first 10 pages which contained the yearly news. Likewise, publishing a separate paper version of The Verger's Voice was always an expensive and manpower-intensive exercise, and its "news" was usually history as soon as it was printed.

"In late 2012, we started working on another edition of the printed directory which had updated news and was just about ready to publish. But the board talked at length about the cost and effort associated with doing this. Graphic design takes time and money, and news is always a moving target, so this plan was finally deemed too complex, not timely enough, and too expensive.

"The multi-purpose directory had a place in its time, but it was maybe not the optimum way to make news items and directory contents easy for our members to access.

"Here's how we defined these two pressing communications issues: 1. How do we best make VGEC member contact data securely available to our membership? 2. How can we publish informational articles and current events more frequently than annually or quarterly?

"After making this distinction we decided to produce our membership directory online. That was in 2013. At the same time, we implemented the new Verger's Voice blog. This simplified our providing news and member database information access by separating the two functions so that each could be perfected individually.

"As soon as the yearbook was deemed not to be the vehicle for printed and mailed news, we were relieved of having to layout and print another one. So in mid 2013, we changed the terminology from, 'Yearbook' back to, 'Membership Directory' and we decided that with more people logging into our secure membership system, we could make the directory available online as an interactive document in PDF form.

"We had already built the technology to fill the membership section into the yearbook, so we had a leg up on producing a new membership directory at that point.

"We also asked ourselves, 'Who is the audience?' and 'What is the purpose?' Early versions of the new directory had evolved from the yearbook and had a lot of introduction to the VGEC and organizational information – so it was trying to be informative and attract new members. This was not what a membership directory was designed to do.

"We concluded that the sole purpose of the membership directory would be simply to give our VGEC members access to contact information of other members. Sounds simple, right? But that change in our communication plan made all the difference in getting the job done. Now that it’s all functional, it is finally relatively easy to maintain.

"One funny thing that happened about a week ago was that somehow board member Duke DuTeil's photograph was deleted from the membership system’s head shot collection. And since the board pages are built all expecting there to be head shots for board members, the lack of Duke’s photo caused the 01:30 update process to fail on several occasions. Darin Herndon, our Technology Manager, noticed this and reported the failure to me and Mike Malone. When we figured out the cause, we put Duke’s head back on and the system magically worked again. Just goes to show that the system can go crazy if it loses someone’s head.

"It took from 2012 to 2014 to get a good product completed. I wish it could have been faster, but we had to grow into today's efficient solutions for getting the word out and for making our member data available to the membership. Your Communications Committee is truly working for our membership every day. This is just one story of on-going collaborative data system evolution and optimization to serve the membership."

So jump on our bandwagon. We are hoping to find someone who would like to maintain the membership directory as a living document for us as part of the Communications Committee. If you are interested please contact Eileen Hicks or Michael Sanchez!

Abstract: You can find telephone numbers, email addresses and diocese and parish associations for everyone in the VGEC Membership Directory. Wow! How can I do that? Tune in to The Verger's Voice and see how and why we left the printed news and directory content era to bring you on-line versions of the VGEC Membership Directory and The Verger's Voice.