Saturday, January 24, 2015

My Diocese Doesn't Have a VGEC Chapter. Help! - Part 2 or "Can we Talk About the Verger Ministry in my Small Parish?"

The Rev. Martin Wright III presiding at St. Mark's in Johnstown, PA on Easter morning 2012.
By Ken Holloway, News Manager, VGEC with Cindy Leap, verger at St. Mark's in Johnstown, PA

On October 31st last year, we observed the benefit of meaningful conversation among vergers and how Cindy Leap, after becoming a Fellow of the Guild, stepped up her journey as the current verger at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Cindy was corresponding with Nicholas Birchum, head verger at the Cathedral Church of Saint Matthew in Dallas, seeking advice, when your News Manager became aware of this great story. As can happen, the real title of this article might best be, Can we Talk About "Vergering"?

Nicholas had advised Cindy, in part, to start with the basics. He suggested categories like the church building layout and its systems, and the design of the liturgy as practiced at St. Mark's. He said, "If I were in your position, I'd consider two main categories to define the role:  (1) your verger skills and (2) building constrains at the parish. Additionally, I'd consider helping to design the liturgy for Sunday worship, preparing the nave for each service, lighting the candles or assuring that they are lit (and extinguished at the conclusion of the service), helping with altar guild duties as appropriate and tending to the sound system."

We ended our last installment as Cindy was about to meet with her new rector, the Rev. Nancy Threadgill, in an effort to define the verger's role at St. Mark's parish. Time has passed and Cindy recently commented on how she is supporting Rev. Threadgill in defining the verger ministry there.

Cindy writes, "The current building that is St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was built in 1890 following the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889 which wiped out most of the city of Johnstown along with the former Church, Rectory and the Pastor, his wife and family."

"St. Mark’s is considered a ‘downtown’ Church in a rural city.  The building seats over 300 people and used to be very robust, but over the past 15 years, we have gone from over 150 people per service to less than 40 on a really good Sunday.  The next closest Episcopal Church is over 30 miles away in any direction."

"Currently, our Choir has less than 10 members and usually one of them is either a reader or Chalice bearer during the service. The Gospel book normally sits on the Altar."

"I did look through the listing of Vergers in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh.  There are 4 listed in the membership. Two of them have memberships that have expired and I’m the only one that has completed the course. So, for now, organization of a VGEC chapter in our diocese may be problematic."

"Rev. Nancy has given me the task of organizing her installation.  That includes everything from the announcement to the Diocese, sending special invitations to local and community Churches, setting up the service bulletin as well as juggling a previously scheduled event (same day) to another time, and organizing the reception to follow.  Needless to say, I’ve been a little busy. I’m enjoying the task and am really happy I can do this for her."

"I am also working with her on keeping a schedule of upcoming events.  She has said that she struggles to look ahead, and looking ahead is one of my strengths so we are a good team. I see a lot of good things happening and am looking forward to the journey."

Additional comments about the role of a verger in a small parish have come in from other guild members. I'll be covering more adventures in "small-setting verger practices" in a few months time, and we'll hear more from Cindy later in the spring.

In this story, the theme is actually the same as it is in very large Episcopal churches, the verger is called to serve the rector and attending clergy. As such, we vergers work with the clergy leadership, doing whatever is necessary, to provide the best worship experience possible for the attending congregation.



Abstract:  Some of our older churches have been through really difficult periods. Take, for example, the events of  May 31st, 1889, when, an upstream dam near South Fork, PA, collapsed during a sustained heavy down pour.  This catastrophe, the well-known "Great Johnstown Flood", was responsible for the deaths of 2209 persons in Johnstown, including Saint Mark's rector, Alonzo Potter Diller, his wife, and two children   Approximately one-half of the entire membership of Saint Mark's Church perished in the flood. Over time, the church was re-built and has held services continually for more than a hundred years, now assisted by one of the newest Fellows of the VGEC. As a new rector settles in, how can the (only) verger at St. Mark's best assist that acclimatizing process? By starting with a conversation.

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Starting From Scratch" - New Adventures for a Long-Time Verger

Bill Gleason leads the entering procession as crucifer on Christmas Eve at St. John's Cathedral in Denver

By Ken Holloway, News Manager, VGEC, with Bill Gleason, St. John's Cathedral, Denver

When we retire from our major life's work, we expect to have a "starting attitude" in what we do next. Just how much of a starting attitude will be applied and to which endeavor often is made obvious to us by our surroundings.

Bill and Helen Gleason, long-time residents of Nashville, both planned to retire last year. Bill retired from UPS and from managing the VGEC Guild Shop, and Helen retired from Vanderbilt University. They spent most of the summer in Denver to enjoy a long visit with their family. While there, they leased a condo and, among other activities, began attending St. John's Cathedral, the see for the Diocese of Colorado. They found a congregation so alive with its various ministries that they were instantly captured. Bill spent the summer actively observing the liturgical practices from various vantage points in the congregation. David Barr, the Dean's Verger, later said that he noticed Bill in full information-gathering mode during that time.

As the summer progressed, Bill and Helen began to seriously evaluate the prospect of living in Denver permanently. By September they had volunteered for several ministries and soon Helen was asked to join the Cathedral Choir. Bill began by serving as a torch bearer. He also participated as a crucifer and a gospel book bearer as well as a Eucharistic minister. One of his favorite assignments was to ring the bell in the Cathedral tower during the Great Thanksgiving - now that's a SANCTUS bell!

Their involvement grew, and by December, they decided to make the summer visit really long-term and to move to Denver. Bill, with many decades of service in parish churches and at the Cathedral in Nashville, literally started over as a student of how church is conducted at a major metropolitan Cathedral. He participated in training sessions and learned a great deal about St. John's liturgical customs. Since most of the acolyte duties there are performed by adults, he had plenty of opportunity to learn the various responsibilities of all of the non-ordained liturgical participants. He said that the very first time he served as a torch bearer he felt completely at home.

His comments about learning his new responsibilities are prudent and practical saying, "I just kept reminding myself that I was starting from scratch and did my very best to blend into the fabric of the church." He emphasized several times in our recent conversation that it was important to, "...continue being a student of the customs and processes of the new church versus telling them how I did it in the past."

On Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, Bill served in all six liturgies. The photograph headlining this article shows Bill as the crucifer at the 5 pm Eucharist on Christmas Eve. If you visit St. John's you might see Bill volunteering. He says that, on a typical Sunday morning, about fifty people are involved in conducting the three services, excluding the Cathedral choir and the parish choir.

So Bill and Helen are settling in to their new home town and are fully acclimated to the sizable ministries of St. John's Cathedral. But he told me, more than once in our hour-long chat, he remains a student, even after 25+ years as a verger and his experience as a founding leader of the VGEC.

The Kung Fu television series of the early 1970's featured the young student named Caine and his mentor, Master Po who is blind. In the first episode they discuss awareness.

Master Po: [after easily defeating the boy in combat] Ha, ha, never assume because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Young Caine: No.
Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
Young Caine: [looking down and seeing the insect] Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Here's to the student in all of us as we proceed forward in our service to the church. May we maintain our bearings and concentrate on continuing to learn more every day about what fuels our communal celebration of Christ.

In my observation, Bill Gleason's new ministry proves that we are never too old (or too young) to pay attention and hear the grasshopper at our feet.



Abstract:  Retirement has its surprises, most of them pleasant. They can kick-start our changing gears and accelerating life's experiences with as much zeal as when we first were interested in the verger ministry. Learn how a broadly experienced, now-retired verger is starting from scratch in a different and much larger church as a student participant in our liturgy. He "sat-out" at first, to observe the customs, then volunteered for every liturgical assignment available in his new parish - the Cathedral of St. John in Denver.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Virge Holder at Christ Church in Greenville, S.C.

Virge Holder at Christ Church Episcopal in Greenville, S.C. designed and made by parishioner Jack McKay
Photo by Gayle Saylors, Verger

By Ken Holloway, News Manager, VGEC

Take fifteen years of woodworking experience mixed with a lifetime of love for the church and the result is a beautifully functional virge holder made by Jack McKay of Christ Church Episcopal in Greenville, S.C.

Our story begins with Jack's query to Barry Norris, of the VGEC Guild Shop, about the availability of a VGEC shield finial. Barry and Jack corresponded on the matter and determined that Jack had seen the VGEC guild shield finial on the virges of the church's vergers who had graduated from the VGEC Training Course. This finial was made available to Jack, and can be seen, in the photograph above, at the crest of the upper fixture of the rack.

As is often the case, there's more to this story than meets the eye. After completing his Navy service in 1963, Jack joined AT&T's technical staff. In December of 1989, he retired. He had spent 26 years engineering and fixing things electrically communicative, so it was only logical that, when he learned about the Greenville Wood Workers Guild, he joined. (You do follow the connection don't you?)

You see he had, at his mother's request, built a coffee table for her using an illustration she found in "Woman's Day" magazine. That was a very long time ago, using tools that his family bought for him just for the coffee table project. After that project, life intervened and he had not worked with wood until fifteen years ago, when he joined the five hundred member Greenville Wood Workers Guild . Since that time, he has honed his wood working skills to the point that he is now a shift supervisor for the guild's 20,000 square foot wood shop operation.

A while back, the members of the wood workers guild joined together in building the altar, altar rail, pulpit, lectern, font and paschal candle stand for St. Phillip's Episcopal Church locally. Jack drew the assignment of the paschal candle stand.

Recently, Jack was asked to think about how he would build a rack for the virges now used by his own church. He did just that by finding a connection with the St. Phillip's project. Now look at the picture again and envision the upper shelf turned to the vertical. You see, Jack used the pattern of the St. Phillip's paschal candle holder for the top of the virge holder by turning it on its side. His splendid design and workmanship fine-tunes the harmony of form and function with a small dose of flair (which is clear now that you are privy to the inside story).

As can be seen, the church has three "Fellows of the VGEC" (a Fellow is someone who has successfully completed the VGEC Training Course.) The longer virge in the center of the rack was commissioned by Jack Grady, the first verger at Christ Church more than forty years ago. When Jack died, his son made sure that the church had access to the treasured and historical virge.

In interviewing Jack McKay and Gayle Saylors, I found my own connection to Christ Church. One of their former priests, Rev. Keith Turbeville, had performed his field work here in Round Rock, TX at St. Richard's Episcopal Church during his student days at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin.

Our connections to each other are often more than just a voice on the telephone or fingers on a keyboard far away. They begin and end within our hearts, as we strive to work in God's ministries day by day. Would I have learned that Fr. Turbeville is now rector of Holy Trinity by the Lake in Rockwall, TX had I not pursued this very interesting story of talented hearts dedicated to serving Christ?

By the way, Jack says that any competent wood worker could duplicate his design by using the photograph as a guide. Who will do so, and send us photographs of their work?



Abstract:  A virge storage device for your parish church can be modeled after the design used at Christ Church Episcopal in Greenville, S.C. Jack McKay, a Christ Church parishioner,  joined the Greenville Wood Working Guild fifteen years ago. As a guild project, he worked on restoring St. Phillip's Episcopal church in Greenville, then used his experience and talent to craft a beautifully functional rack for the virges at  his home parish.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Milestones As Viewed in The Verger's Voice


By Ken Holloway, News Manager, VGEC

The Verger's Voice published 51 articles in 2014. We tried to cover as many facets of the verger ministry as possible. Hoping to include something for every member's interest, we featured several contributing authors, including:
We featured international stories, including:
We told the story of how the Guild positioned itself for the future by updating its Facebook presence, auditing, augmenting and updating virtually all details in our membership database, changing the look and business processes for the Guild Shop, opening a new VGEC chapter in Connecticut, and completely re-writing the Training Course content while updating and streamlining its operational structure.

Five articles celebrated the fantastic 26th Annual VGEC Conference in Burlington, Ontario, Canada.

In a recent article, we explored how to access and use the recently completed, very capable on-line VGEC Membership Directory.

We saluted Bill Gleason's 25+ years of VGEC leadership with a story detailing the stellar history and sky-high future of the VGEC Guild shop.

Along the way in our news line-up, we saluted new vergers, we celebrated junior vergers and we were introspective about our servant ministry.

We pray that there indeed is something to spur your interest and pride in the VGEC in our Verger's Voice posts, past and future. What are your interests? What haven't we covered that should be written? What new authors will surface during 2015 to bring fresh outlooks to new subjects representing the members and ministries of the VGEC?


Abstract:  The Verger's Voice had its most productive year so far in 2014. We try to publish information that you can use every day in your ministry. Here's praying that today's post will prompt pleasant memories of subjects we wrote about last year and interest you in subjects that you have yet to read.