Friday, March 27, 2015

how it works: The Verger's Voice Blog


By the VGEC Communications Committee

Editor's note: As we prepare to shut down publication of the Verger's Voice during Holy Week, we thought it might be interesting to let our readers know how this blog happens...

Ever since the founding of the VGEC in the late 1980's, several members have worked hard to produce a regular newsletter of the guild. Having consistent membership communications is one measure of success of a service organization like the VGEC.

Located in the archives of the VGEC, you can find wonderful examples of the evolution of the print newsletters of the guild:
We have come a long way since then! In 2015, the Verger's Voice continues to thrive as a weekly blog at vergersvoice.org. The blog takes a number of volunteers to make it work. Here is the process from those who actually work on it every week.

From Ken Holloway, News Editor

In 2010, I became the assistant verger at the Washington National Cathedral under the leadership of Duke DuTeil. Although I had to return home to Texas after just five months, I drank daily from the fire hose of history and experience available there and have missed it ever since. After returning to Texas, I noticed an invitation for help on the Communications Committee and volunteered. Scott Smith, then chair of that committee, asked me to do some writing, and, since I am old and gullible, I said that I'd give it a whirl. What began as a few tasks eventually turned into the weekly blog format that we now have in the Verger's Voice. That was almost three years ago and our little team has continued to perfect our regular process performing as your virtual weekly town crier. It is quite a productive team too. Your VGEC Communications Committee is always thinking, "Who would want to know about or read about..."

Scott, now president of the VGEC, Eileen Brightwell Hicks, chair of the committee, and I talk and email several times a week about topic, and "cc" Michael Sanchez, board liaison and social media manager, at every step. I typically have about 30 articles started at any point in time, so all manner of drafts are rolling around in my head and on my computer. Sometimes choice of subject is easy - annual conference announcements, board updates, training course changes, etc.

Often, Scott sends me an "idea-text" like this one:
"Ken, I had an interesting conversation this morning trying to explain to somebody what a verger was and what a guild is. Maybe a blog topic, how to explain exactly what we do? White robes? Who wears black? Our guild vs. the Lollipop guild! 
Sent from iPhone - please excuse brevity and typos!"
Then I start doodling. I often interview various people on the phone or by email and after that, I doodle some more. Finally, I quit doodling and start writing. I write a few more notes or sentences until a theme comes out of my pencil and lays itself right there in front of me. As soon as I really see the theme, I can start actually telling the story.

Usually I find that I've written more than needed, so I whack at the draft until it can be read aloud without taking more than 15 breaths. Then I look for a graphic or photographic illustration to place beneath the headline. That done, I'll extract the article's essence into the abstract. By Wednesday afternoon I'm done, so I pass control to Eileen for editing. Only one person at a time should be in the blog post so we try to have a definite hand off of duties.

From Eileen Brightwell Hicks, Committee Chair and Content Editor and Verger Document Library Manager

I started as a volunteer proof reader for the Guild in 2012. While we were all at the VGEC Annual Conference in Lakeland, Florida, I read some of the information the guild had handed out at the General Convention earlier that year and was appalled at the grammatical errors in the materials. I love being a verger and I love our guild, and I wanted it to be as professional as possible. So I volunteered to help proofread materials. Once I "proofed" I was up to the job, Scott kept sending me more material to proof and manage- like the entire web site and the VGEC Document Library! Many months later came the work on the vergersvoice.org blog.

With the weekly blog I try to be the guilty conscience - "It's Thursday night and I haven't seen this week's blog post yet!" Once Ken has reduced his writing to 15 breaths length, he passes it on to me and usually I reduce it more. I edit, I clip, I cut. I put in links, I edit again. I ask Scott, "What were we thinking about this? Who came up with this idea? Back to Ken, talk with Scott. I try to edit the HTML (still learning) and it was my idea to have the Big Bed Button for conference registration always available at the bottom of each post. On Thursday night I finish my initial editing hand the post over to Scott.

From Scott Smith, President and Cheerleader

When I was appointed webmaster of the VGEC at the annual conference in San Diego in 2009, I immediately started thinking about continuing the publication of the print newsletter, the Verger's Voice. With so many other things to do, that stayed on the back burner for some time.

In October 2010, we managed to produce one final print version and in July 2011, we moved the newsletter into a news section of the yearbook that we planned to print each year. That work was not only exhausting, it was also very expensive and the newsletter material was out of date before it went to the printers. We continued to struggle, thinking of ways to bring that process into the twenty-first century.

During that time, we had an email news service called V-Happenings that worked pretty well keeping members informed of news electronically. Over many months in late 2012 and early 2013, we worked to transition that work into a more regular news blog which would also serve as it's own repository of news for the archives. Finally, on July 1, 2013, the Verger's Voice bog was born with the first real post. It was short and sweet, but it was a start. The blog now has become part of our weekly routine and is a huge part of our communications strategy for the VGEC. Now, back to the process...

Once Eileen passes the blog to me for the week, usually very late in the evening on Thursday, it's already about 99% complete and we have all been talking about it via email and text. I read it mainly for fact checking and I sometimes add a few more links into the piece. Sometimes I forward to the board for review and comment depending on the topic or other needs. I am the main HTML guru, so I try to make sure that the inner markup for the blog text is clean (for non-tech folks, that's geek-talk for cleaning up the formatting so it will load on most devices and in most browsers). Then I send it back to Eileen around midnight for final publication.

From Eileen (again!)

I'm a morning person. So early Friday morning, I'm online with the blog for my final proofing of what Scott did (or messed up) Thursday night. As a proofreader I read it at least 5 times-forward, backwards, out loud, walk away and come back for 2 more readings. Then I get the huge responsibility of pushing the "Publish" button by 9 am CST and it's done. Except that nobody really sees it until Michael does his magic.

From Michael Sanchez, Committee Board Liaison, Social Media Manager, and Webmaster

I got involved with the Communications Committee around 2010 when Scott sent out an email asking for help with Facebook and the Guild's social media presence. I figured there'd be scores of people willing to help out, but as it turns out, I was the only one, so I've been helping out with social media ever since!

As for my part of the creative process for our weekly blog, I usually keep myself out of the way and let the grown-ups do their work! On occasion, I'll chime in, but largely my work doesn't happen until Friday morning. Then, it's time to rock and roll!

Friday morning, I'll make sure that the article has been published by Eileen. I'll head on over to the VGEC Membership Management System control center, log in, and export our email list. We always have new members or address changes during the week, so I make sure and get up-to-the-second addresses for our email blast.

After I download the file containing all the email addresses, I'll go into our mailing service, MailChimp, and put together the email blast. I have a template that I work from so that you can receive a consistent, polished look every week. I import the article graphic, title, link, and abstract into the email template. Now the mailing starts to take shape.

When you receive a mailing, you'll notice that at the very top of the email message, there are a few short words that give a sneak peek as to what the article is about. I try to make it funny, but I'm probably not as successful as I'd like to think!

After I've checked to make sure that all the links work, I click the E-Mail-Go button, and it reaches your inbox a few minutes later.

The Blog is Published!

So there you have it - the rather well-defined and choreographed yet oddly chaotic routine that volunteers in the VGEC go through each week to keep the verger-related content flowing from the Verger's Voice blog.

It's a fun process, and if you are interested in getting involved, please contact [email protected] and we'll put you to work! If you have story ideas or suggestions, please send those to us as well.

Editor's note: This was an all-time record when Scott sent the final draft to Eileen at 5:52am CDT Friday morning.


Click the big red button to register for the 2015 Annual Conference being held October 1-4, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri:



Abstract: As we prepare to shut down publication of the Verger's Voice during Holy Week, we thought it might be interesting to let our readers know how this blog happens...


Friday, March 20, 2015

Security Planning and the Verger

Eliean Donan Castle in the Highlands, Scotland. Can you spot evidence of security planning?

By Ken Holloway, News Manager, VGEC

Around 2 o'clock in the afternoon on January 5th, at Blackburn Cathedral in the northwest county of Lancashire in England, Mark Pickering, the Dean's Verger for many years, was attacked by an assailant and injured so badly that he required surgery that night. The Lancashire Telegraph reported that, "...he suffered head injuries, two broken ribs and a fractured elbow in a frenzied unprovoked attack."

Click the link and read the details. As you read, think about your parish church or cathedral's vulnerability to assaults like this one. Now, think, in general, about what plans your congregation has in place to deal with all sorts of unexpected events.

When I read the article, I flashed back to some military situations I faced, then to wondering how prepared our Episcopal churches are for all sorts of contingencies like these. In my military experience, we prepared in detail for as many contingencies as could be imagined. Shouldn't we pay the same level of attention to our churches? The Blackburn Cathedral incident catalyzed this week's Vergers Voice post and those that will follow in the next several months.

I asked David Jette, Head Verger at Trinity Wall Street to comment on contingency planning. He replied, in part, "Although security concerns in church may seem to be exclusively part of the urban scene, I am convinced that procedures need to be in place for every church and understood and practiced by everyone who comes into contact with those who enter the church building. I am not advocating an NRA approach to security but a common sense and pastoral set of practices that support what we believe an appropriate Christian response to real needs and concerns."

Fire, bombing, assault, flood, tornado, hurricane, heart attack, seizure and other less sensational, but serious events occur in our churches every year. Is your church prepared for any of these situations? Has your congregation ever rehearsed what to do if faced with an emergency?

Others contributing to this week's post are Scott Smith and Duke DuTeil, who, with broad experience strongly urge that, in addition to the material contained in the VGEC Course of Training for a Verger, we all seek and include advice and help from our local fire and police departments, nearby medical facilities and public works agencies/companies (electric power, water/waste water and natural gas providers) in completing our plan. Our insurance companies have consultants available for such planning efforts also. Some insurers will even conduct vulnerability inspections and analysis to help with your plan development.

Here are some questions to ponder:

The verger generally has a better view of the congregation and the nave than anyone else. The verger can maintain awareness of possible threats as each service unfolds. But awareness is only useful to initiate action. Before one acts, planning is the golden ingredient.

Have you talked about tactics and strategies with purposefully selected members of your congregation on the "what-ifs"? That would range from gentle ushering to Dial 911 and/or get the congregation the hell out.

Who makes the (play) call? If necessary during the course of a service, how is the play call announced? What happens next? What timing constraints should be expected?

Can we arrange to have members representing the various "survival" skills (medical, communications, (strong) ushering, etc.) in church at all services? If not, is municipal responsive help available quickly? What help is it? How is notification made or an alarm sounded?

Are there established escape routes? Who will lead members to which exits? Is there a way to shelter or harbor members out of harm's way in the case of a property invasion?

Where are your fire extinguishers? Have they been inspected? (Generally a municipality responsibility.) Does anyone know how to use a fire extinguisher? Who should receive Fire Department training on extinguishing a controllable fire? How will that training be passed along to others in the congregation?

Who will attend to injuries until EMS arrives? Do we have defibrillators? Where are they located? Have we tested their batteries lately? Do we have an established triage site? Can we provide first-aid training to other than our credentialed medical parishioners? How can we provide breathing assistance (for smoke inhalation) until EMS arrives?

How will EMS calls be effectively made? (physical address, which entrance, number of injuries, nature of injuries, where EMS will find the injured)

How and what is to be communicated to the police department? Will the EMS caller also call the police? In your city or county, is there a central 911 number dispatcher able to access all public services needed?

What role in all of these plans does the verger play? How can the verger help develop the plan?

Has your parish considered any/all of these questions? If not, should the verger suggest that such considerations be evaluated and plans developed by the parish administration/vestry? How will you know that your plan is adequate? Who can you contact to review your planning effort?

Does your diocese have outlines, drafts or suggested plans available as starting points for your parish planning process? Does your liability insurance company have planning help available?

This is a dead serious subject. Folks generally don't like to talk about these sort of plans, but when a situation arises, it is a responsible parish body which is prepared and well rehearsed. More about that in Part 2.

All responses, accounts of events you've encountered, outlines, drafts and mature emergency plans and comments on emergency planning for churches are welcome. We want our follow-up articles to be responsive to your needs and as comprehensive as our publication space can contain, so send your comments and suggestions to [email protected] as soon as you can.



Click the big red button to register for the 2015 Annual Conference being held October 1-4, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri:


Abstract: We are all involved in dealing with whatever happens in and around the practice of our liturgy. Let's talk about what we as vergers should do, what we have done and what remains to be done to be prepared for human, medical, infrastructure, or weather emergencies, indeed, for any crises. Share your stories and information at [email protected]

Friday, March 13, 2015

The History of the Verger in North America

"Procession before the Eucharist," painting by Simon Vedder (1906) from "The Parson’s Handbook" by Percy Dearmer

By Ken Holloway, News Manager of the VGEC with Bill Gleason and David Deutsch

VGEC Lifetime Member Bill Gleason recently noticed a plaque on the west aisle wall at St. John's Cathedral in Denver. It commemorates the life of William Yardley, sexton and verger, for his 29 years of service. Mr Yardley died in 1918. Bill mentioned his discovery and a conversation ensued on the order of,
"There must be other evidence of verger history around the country. How can we discover and document it?"

Then last week, Lifetime Member David Seaman, verger at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Bedford, NY, wrote to us about having found reference to a Mr. Hicks-Beach as “The Church Sexton and Verger of the 1920s." He wondered if Mr. Hicks-Beach might have been the first verger in America? We suggested that Bill Gleason and David Duetsch respond to him. They did so and then continued talking about the concept of finding and documenting verger history in America. This summary of quite an involved multi-party conversation is inadequate, but wait, there's more! When one of the pivotal founders of the VGEC, Bill Gleason, teams up with David Deutsch, a verger and the retired TV director for the PBS NewsHour and author of, Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick---in Love: The Emerging Ministry of the Verger in the Late 20th Century to the Present, we listen.

Bill and David intend to develop a new VGEC-sponsored video and book, "The History of the Verger in North America." Their initial plan for this effort is the following letter to anyone, anywhere who has experience with, or knowledge of, vergers in their churches, cathedrals and dioceses.

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From Bill and David:

The VGEC plans to produce a video and book tentatively titled, "The History of the Verger in North America." This project will document the history of the ministry of the verger in churches and cathedrals located in the United States and Canada from the earliest dates which can be discovered to the modern day.

This is large undertaking and the Guild needs your input.

Utilizing the questionnaire below, please send any pertinent information to [email protected]. Kindly note that the use of the term “verger” as we understand it today can be a bit different as understood in the past. The verger might have been called a “sacristan” or the corruption of that word which is “sexton.” This means that the questionnaire not only pertains to vergers but to all who had a role in caring for the fabric of the church/cathedral and/or participated in strong lay leadership in organizing and stage managing worship. For the purpose of simplifying the questions, the term “verger” will be used, but do not let that hold you back! When in doubt, send us the information and please dig as deep as you can.

The Guild thanks you in advance. Without your help, this research would be an impossible task.

This is a summary of the types of questions that we are seeking to answer:


Thank you,

William Gleason and David Deutsch

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This project is supported by the Communication Committee of the VGEC through archives.vergers.org. The VGEC will be providing document storage and database support for the project. This is, first and foremost, a web-based archival project complemented with assembly of imagery of all of the resulting artifacts, documents, graphics, photographs and stories associated with the topic. As currently scoped, the products of this project will be:

  1. A video production entitled, “The History of the Verger in North America."
  2. A companion book.
  3. A perpetual repository of historical data on the topic which will remain open for continuing data collection for the project for years to come.

We will of course be following their progress right here at the Verger's Voice so look forward to many interesting discoveries that they find along the way.

Our plan will be limited only by the research result. Why don't you look into verger history in your parish church, city and diocese and contact us at [email protected] with your findings?



By clicking on the big red button register for the 2015 Annual Conference being held October 1 to October 4, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri :


Abstract: Who was the first verger in America? Which church or cathedral has had vergers for the longest continuous period? The VGEC is beginning an exciting investigation into the origins and histories of vergers in North America. We are counting on your stories, information, documents and photos of the people and accouterments to unwrap and document the story of America's vergers.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The VGEC Experience - Live Into It!

Members of the VGEC board and committees pull varying experience sets together - now we need you!

By Ken Holloway, VGEC News Manager

We, the VGEC, are 1,668 life stories of experience more varied than we can imagine. All of us have long and strong experience sets outside of our verger persona. It's a good bet that some of you may have two or three journeyman or master craftsman or certified professional experience histories. I'm betting that our collective VGEC "Real Life" experience and skill sets are amazing. The VGEC runs on experience and volunteers.

We have a young music educator in Oregon, who is extremely computer-literate as our social media manager. We have entrepreneurs who are our organizers and communicators. I'm an engineer who writes for us. How about a Houston dentist who is our editor and web page administrator? A nuclear consultant from Pennsylvania runs the Guild Shop. Some of our, current and retired, salaried vergers teach for us. We have a tenured higher education professional who is one of our planners and visionaries. Another from Oklahoma maintains our technology infrastructure and our servers. One of our senior financial advisers from Mississippi negotiates and executes contracts on our behalf. A retired international business consultant (and retired professional verger) in Texas is our treasurer. Some of our overseas members in England and Italy inject a keen portion of historical perspective to our programs and communication efforts.

It would be truly fantastic if our board members knew who to ask among our membership for advice or action in almost any category of issue that our organization might face. And wouldn't it be heartening to be able to trust not only the answer or advice, but also that the task or project or guidance would be completed professionally? I mean, we are all vergers - we take care of what needs to be done.

In the coming weeks, you will receive a special email inviting you to specify your experience and skills by clicking on a link in the message. Indicating one or more categories of experience that you have in your personal toolbox will illustrate how you might help the VGEC. There will also be an opportunity to add a qualification not already on the list (by completing the "other" entry box). You also will be able to indicate your participation level of effort by checking "Call Me" or "Contact me for advice" or "I want to help in any way I can."

This functionality in the membership system is still under construction by our technology volunteers. If you have any questions, please contact [email protected].

The VGEC has issues, many of which can be addressed by someone or a committee of experienced and interested members. We'd like to depend on the wisdom and cunning you may harbor and haven't had the opportunity to share with all of us. We could multiply our service to church and community by utilizing more of us in operating the guild on all levels.

Be sure to act when you receive your email to update your experience inventory in the Membership Management System. Let's discover our organizational powers together!



Register for the 2015 Annual Conference being held October 1 to October 4, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri by clicking on the big red button:


Abstract: The VGEC's most valuable resource is YOU. Your experience can be directly applied to any number of projects, studies, tasks and roles for the good of the guild as a whole. Let's all get behind our first-ever effort to find out the width and depth of our collective experience resources. To hitchhike on a famous phrase, "Think not what your guild can do for you. Think what you can do for your guild."