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, May 29, 2015

Vergers and Clergy - Partners in Ministry

The Rev. Canon Amy Chambers Cortright, Vicar of Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis baptizing Miss Ivy

By Ken Holloway, News Manager, VGEC

When Shug Goodlow, Host Committee Chair for the 2015 VGEC Conference, asked the Rev. Canon Amy Chambers Cortright, Vicar of Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, to speak at the conference, Amy thought of so many subjects she could incorporate in the session that she almost felt she could do the presentation extemporaneously. Amy served as an acolyte at the Washington National Cathedral when she was a student at the National Cathedral School in the mid-90's. John Kraus was the Cathedral Head Verger at the time. Amy says that John's gracious presence and manner set the foundation of her liturgical journey, and probably was the reason that she went on to seminary.

The Vicar in a cathedral is the rector for the cathedral's regular congregation. So it follows that Amy is a very sensitive "people-person."

Amy and Shug confer weekly, planning for the week's liturgy and beyond. She told me that she treasures her relationship with Shug and all of the cathedral vergers. Working with the vergers, the acolytes, and other parishioners who support and work in the liturgy, she emphasizes the need to share experiences and opinions openly and to do so by carefully recognizing "...each other's communication style and message."

Apparently the old sage, "Dramatic spaces attract dramatic people," is at work in St. Louis at the cathedral. As is often the case, cathedral ministries re-define themselves. Thus it is at Christ Church Cathedral. Amy says that they are well into a pretty dramatic process of transforming themselves from a mostly downtown cathedral into a cathedral church ministering to a much larger region. In doing so, the cathedral vergers are very important "change agents" while moving from "traditional church" to the concept of "shared leadership." We will have more on these important concepts during Amy's presentation on Friday afternoon, October 3rd, at the VGEC Annual Conference.

I asked Amy what some of the most important issues were in her role as vicar. Among others, she emphasized the use of "shared language" which can be understood as,"... people developing understanding among themselves based on language (e.g. spoken, text) to help them communicate more effectively. The key to understanding language is to first notice and be mindful of your own language. Developing a shared language is an ongoing process that requires intention and time, which results in better understanding. Shared language is critical to collaboration, and collaboration is critical to business and education. With whom and how many people do you connect? Your "'shared language" makes a difference in the world. So, how do we successfully do this?"

Just how is the "shared language" concept employed to include all persons at the cathedral? How does respectful conversation lead the way to loving and caring in a time of change? These too will be skill sets which we can all hear about and take home to begin our own process of implementing them in our own ministries.

After graduating from Mount Holyoke College with an English degree, Amy attended the General Theological Seminary in New York City, graduating in 2004. After ordination, she served in posts at The Church of the Incarnation in the Murray Hill neighborhood of NYC, and Calvary Episcopal Church in Columbia, MO where she was priest-in-charge.

She met her husband, Joe Chambers, at the General Seminary. In Columbia, Joe was Campus Missioner for the University of Missouri. Today he is the Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Missouri. Amy was called to Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis where she became the Vicar in 2010.

A concluding thought is that to stay in touch with what makes a (church) place unique and live into it requires that our hearts be crucibles of reconciliation ministry. Amy will help us understand just how to do that.

Can we make loving each other a milestone in the path of our ministry? The Reverend Canon Amy Chambers Cortright plans to show us how to grow into a greater capacity for love and understanding within our ministry and be better partners with our clergy.

Register before June 1, 2015 to be entered in the drawing for a $100 gift certificate from the Guild Shop. To be eligible you must register as a verger, be present at the official Business Meeting on Saturday morning of the conference.

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

Abstract: How is your liturgical partner to work with? What does she/he think about working with you? What can we do to assure that our liturgical and communicative skills are always tuned to the right level of understanding and grace? Be in the front row on Friday October 3rd at the Christ Church Cathedral in Saint Louis to learn these skills and more from the Rev. Amy Chambers Cortright, Vicar.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Verger by any other name is still a Verger

Vergers Duke DuTeil and Kevin Thomas at the Washington National Cathedral pictured with proper hats after the 2011 earthquake

By Duke DuTeil, VGEC Training Advisor

With what job title do you serve in your parish? In your congregation, are you a Verger or perhaps a Master of Ceremonies? Might you be the Sacristan or the Acolyte Master? Worship Coordinator or perhaps Wedding Coordinator? These are just a few of the many hats that VGEC members can wear.

All of these titles have one thing in common; they are all ways that we serve in our congregations in support of the clergy who lead our communities. Some of these titles are additional duties while some are primary responsibilities. As an example, when I was the Head Verger at the Washington National Cathedral, I was also the Sacristan. The Assistant Verger was also the Acolyte Master. Both of us served as Wedding Coordinators and frequently as the Master of Ceremonies at various functions or services. There was always a verger coordinating logistics at any service - me, my assistant, or one of our many volunteer vergers.

My point is that our title is not as important as the work we do and we all wear many hats. In conjunction with our Rectors, Vicars, or Priests in Charge, each of us should discern what our job responsibilities are. We need to determine how we can best serve our clergy and our congregations and then, together, write a job description. This process is thoroughly explored in the VGEC Course of Training for a Verger and developing a detailed job description is one of the requirements of the course.

Here is what I have discerned about some of these job titles and functions:

Title Function
Acolyte Master/DirectorWorks with, trains, and typically schedules acolytes.
SacristanResponsible for the Sacristy and liturgical suppliers, may often be the Chair of the Altar Guild. May serve during worship as an altar traffic coordinator.
Worship CoordinatorTypically a non-vested lay person that makes sure that everything is ready for a given service.
Wedding CoordinatorDeals with all the pre-wedding logistics for the church and makes sure that parish and Episcopal traditions are articulated. Helps at wedding ceremonies to make sure all is smooth and participants are cued.
Master of CeremoniesTypically a vested (cassock and surplice) lay person that helps with the service logistics. May or may not process in and out. May either be in the chancel area during the service to assist as needed, may be located in the Nave to solved problems as they occur.
VergerIs most often the Master of Ceremonies at a particular service. In addition to any or all of the above responsibilities, Vergers often escort processions and/or individuals during worship. Vergers typically are vested in cassock and chimere.

These are just a few of the many types of responsibilities that our members have in their congregations. Our responsibility is to work with our clergy to determine what our individual gifts and responsibilities are, write them down, and to tactfully let others know that we are serving God and his people as we have been asked to do.

When we use the term "Verger" in the "Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church," we do so including all of the people who serve in these many roles using whatever title they are accustomed to and following whatever tradition has been developed in their own parish.

If I can assist you with your verger ministry or your training please contact me at [email protected] or [email protected].

P.S. By the way, when I say we wear many hats, I am not referring to those infernal verger bonnets. I detest those things. In my opinion they are part of our past that should remain in the 16th century. They are great to wear when running vested in a pancake race on Shrove Tuesday, outside in 15 inches of snow, but that’s about it!

Register before June 1, 2015 to be entered in the drawing for a $100.00 gift certificate from the Guild Shop. To be eligible you must register as a verger, be present at the official Business Meeting on Saturday morning of the conference.

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

Abstract: What ever you are called as you perform verger tasks at your parish church, you might be a verger if you are the wedding coordinator, acolyte master, sacristan, worship coordinator, master of ceremonies, or... a verger.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Modern Vestments for Vergers in the 21st Century

Vergers at Saint John's Episcopal Cathedral, Denver in cathedral purple demonstrate simple, modern garb for the verger

By Ken Holloway, VGEC News Manager and Scott Smith, VGEC President

"In my mind, this topic uncovers an interesting paradox. While our vestments shouldn't call attention to ourselves, paradoxically they precisely should call attention to ourselves in the sense that our defined role in the service, and the attendant authority, is clearly seen by the congregation and clergy. And, by the way, I've always felt that vesting changes my attitude and sense of purpose. I am becoming a servant of the church when I button up for a service at the cathedral" states David Deutsch, verger at St. Mark's Episcopal Church Capitol Hill and at the National Cathedral. He is firmly on the side of minimal vestments like the simple appearance of the Denver vergers pictured.

Where might we seek direction in our search to narrow down what we might wear as a verger in our own parish? How have the vestment customs of vergers in the Episcopal Church evolved since the advent of the Episcopal Church of the United States? What references can be found in support of the style and makeup of the garments we wear while verging in the church? Perform a quick Google image search of Verger Vestments and you will see a vast array of choices from current day and years long ago.

We recognize our parish clergy ultimately make decisions on these matters. We are mindful that many vergers do not vest. Some vest only occasionally. But for those if us who do, and for those parishes considering verger vestments, what does the VGEC recommend with so many choices and images out there? The Guild Shop offers a chimere, now available in 2 colors, as a starting point for discussions with clergy.

Participants in liturgical services have a long tradition of wearing uniforms or costumes which uniquely designate their position or part in the ceremony. Some costumes are specified and others are suggested by various governing church bodies.

Going back quite a way, the everything-vestment.com web site says that, "... the use of Liturgical Vestments in the Worship of Almighty God spans a period beginning with the Exodus from Egypt by the Israelites, circa 1210 B.C. According to the Scripture, after the Prophet Moses brought the Children of Israel to the foot of Mount Sinai, the Prophet Moses received specific instructions for Vestments (from Almighty God) to be worn by the Priestly cast of the Tribe of Aaron when they were ministering in the Tabernacle as well as the specific Vestments that were unique to the High Priest alone. (See Exodus 28; Exodus 39 and Leviticus 8)."

The most definitive statement we've ever found on verger's historical vesting customs comes from The Parson's Handbook by Percy Dearmer, 6th Edition, published in 1908. Mr. Dearmer says (on page168), "The Verger's Gown - This is a very ancient garment; and the practice of putting the Verger in parish churches into a cassock only (so often an ill-fitting one of the wrong pattern) should be discontinued. The gown can be bought an any official tailor's: it is best with velvet down the front and on the collar, and may be worn over a cassock of the English shape."

His notes reference Plate 17 (an illustration) found on page 289, which is a painting by Simon H. Vedder called A Procession Before the Eucharist which Mr. Dearmer describes as, "The verger is leading the procession down the south alley; the chanters are coming through the chancel gates and the rest of the choir are leaving their stalls..." This verger wears an academician's gown associated, in the current American style, with a Master's degree. It has the attendant velvet decor as suggested by Mr. Dearmer.

An interesting historical advertisement from Whipple's from the early 20th century illustrates a popular verger gown of that day worn over a suit with waist coat. Today we typically wear a black cassock beneath our gown which may be a chimere or other robe fashioned after the academic tradition. Vergers in cathedrals often wear purple cassocks in their own tradition.

In A Course of Training for a Verger: 2015 Edition, the VGEC advises that, "A verger’s comportment and dress should be distinctive to denote their role but not to draw attention to themselves." This notion goes along with the concept that the best verger is one who is not noticed in the conduct of liturgy. The course material covers this subject in good detail, listing most of the variations commonly encountered in verger vesting practice. VGEC Training Advisor Duke DuTeil adds, "Less is always more when it comes to vesting as a verger."

In the Verger 101 session at our recent VGEC conferences, the panel has been consistent in answering questions on verger vestments by saying, "...vesture should be simple, elegant and functional with little embroidery or advertisements."

Another precept in serving our Lord is, to do so with dignity. We teach our lectors, eucharistic ministers and acolytes never to hurry from place to place, but to proceed with purpose and dignity. Shouldn't we be dignified in our liturgical attire also?

Should we wear all the accouterments ever conceived in order to fulfill our ministry? Is there a role for archaic and elaborate accessories like the verger's bonnet in our modern ministry? Or, should we wear attire which is distinctive just enough to denote our role and not call attention to ourselves? Where do these concepts meet? Can they overlap?

We decided to ask some vergers from around the country for their views on verger vestments.

William "Bill" Gleason, former verger in the Diocese of Tennessee, reflected on what it was like choosing vestments in the 1980's when the VGEC was being formed in America. "Our ministry was really an outgrowth from the Church of England Guild of Vergers and initially we wore many of the same vestments as those used by vergers in England. My original vestments, including my oxford bonnet and white bow tie, were modeled after David Dorey, then the Dean's Verger at Westminster Abbey who attended our first annual conference in 1989. I realized pretty early that this type of dress was not very practical or necessary much of the time. Over time, most vergers changed to focus on simplicity and ease of use and wearability." About his bonnet Bill said, "I personally still like bonnets (Oxford and Canterbury), but I do not wear them very much anymore, except at festive and celebratory occasions, and when specifically asked to."

According to Margaret McLarty, verger at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Jackson, Mississippi, "I have found that the being able to identify the verger prior to the service an important part of our hospitality. The visitor will typically find a vested person and ask for assistance. This is when we may provide the welcome for which our ministry strives." Margaret maintains that the simple black cassock is the number one vestment of the modern vergers. She continued, "Being vested in a simple unadorned cassock makes a statement that the person is very approachable and humble. That cassock is my work garment. In my pockets I have the keys, lighter, penknife and flashlight and I have both hands free to work.

"Only just before the procession do I dress for the worship and add the gown and the virge. Many comments have been made to me from clergy, not familiar with our ministry, when seeing a "decked out" verger standing at attention, with multiple badges, velvet and tassels, that, "I don't need one of those in my parish." I think it is our duty to be relevant in our appearance to the tone and style of the entire liturgy. Creating an environment of support and authenticity will truly be our gift to the church."

When asked about the role of bonnets in a verger's attire, David Jette, Head Verger at Trinity Wall Street said, "In my time I have NEVER seen a verger's appearance improved by wearing a bonnet. It strikes me as an unnecessary addition that often sends a negative message to those who aren't sure about vergers in the first place. We are not about dressing up, but about and committed to service."

Scott Smith, verger at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, adds, "I have to admit that when I first became involved in the verger ministry, I was as excited as a kid in a candy store about all of the vestments, badges, caps, and crosses. It was all so new and different from anything that I had ever seen that I tried almost all of them at first." He recalls at the 2007 conference one verger commented to him that he looked like an overgrown Boy Scout with all of the badges on his robe. There was no room for expansion!

"After I completed the VGEC Training Course and after conversation with other more experienced vergers, I began to realize that more elaborate vestments have a place and a time, but those are very rare occasions for me now. In 2009 I did, however, wear a Canterbury cap for our Dean's installation liturgy. But I love nothing more than when I now arrive at the church, quietly slip into the sacristy, and put on my simple cassock and get to start doing what I love to do. People don't really ask what I'm doing, they seem to know that I'm just getting us and the space ready for worship and welcoming folks to the space. That is the joy of being a verger for me."

Our current verger ministries often take us to the Rector's, or administrative offices, the sacristy, the great choir, the parking lot, the pre-school building or the audio-video booth. Maybe the most common verger attire today is the polo shirt or sweater worn while working in the sacristy.

Can we accept that our ministry is not about us, but about our Lord, and dress and conduct ourselves accordingly?

Please join in the discussion at the bottom of this post and post a comment on verger vestments. We would love to hear from YOU on this topic!

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

Abstract: Can a verger dress to look the part but avoid undue attention? Does a verger have to be noticeable to accomplish what vergers do to support our liturgy? What guidance can we find to aid our selection of vestments to denote what we do, but appear unremarkable otherwise?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Calling All Vergers

Brendan O'Conner made this video for VergerTV exploring the locations for the 2015 VGEC Conference in St. Louis

By Ken Holloway, News Manager, VGEC

Brendan O'Conner, Digital Missioner at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, and I recently talked about his upcoming 2015 VGEC Annual Conference presentation entitled, "Using Social Media to Spread the Word." I asked Brendan how he came to be a Digital Missioner and what advice he will have for us in St. Louis. He answered my questions with this very enlightening email.

"My pleasure. The most succinct description of what I will be speaking about is how to think of social media as more than just advertising, but as a way to make church a lived, week-long community.

"I am a member of the Episcopal Service Corps in the Diocese of Missouri, living in the Deaconess Anne House (which I do much of the social media for, at esc-stl.org). Prior to taking this position, I worked as a lay youth minister for St. Bartholomew's Episcopal in Pewaukee, WI, and served in an Episcopal Service Corps program in Syracuse, NY.

"I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a BA in History, where I focused on the History of Ideas, especially religion and philosophy. Additionally, I have a bit of a creative background in film, digital media, music, theater, and other formats, which has helped me approach my work at Christ Church Cathedral with a spirit of excitement.

"Christ Church Cathedral of St. Louis created the position of Digital Missioner after seeing the great work that Key Hall Online, a resource of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary, had been doing.

"Digital Missioners Rev. Kyle Oliver of Key Hall Online, and Ed Watson of St. Hilda's House, have taken innovative approaches to utilize social media for the expansion and transmission of their ministries.

"Learning from their success, it is my objective to take the ministries of the Cathedral, and turn the church building inside out. Rather than having weekly church services be the center of the participation, I work to utilize the participatory and communal aspects of social media to carry the church's mission throughout the week.

"Good church social media isn't about technological wizardry, or being "hip and with it," it's about creating a safe, well-maintained space. There is social media material that is meant to attract new people to a church, and while that is very important, I find that approach arising by treating the resources as a way to further the community that is already present.

"Have no fear! My discussion will not be a heavily technical one. Instead, I want to focus on this new way of thinking about social media usage in churches, examples how this has worked for different ministries, and leave everybody with a list of specific, practical advice for a more engaged online presence.

"I highly recommend that churches who wish to learn more about quality online engagement check out http://www.keyhallonline.org/, http://www.sainthildashouse.org/, and the provocatively-titled http://www.churchmarketingsucks.com/!

"There are plenty of great resources out there for almost every function. The most important move is to recognize that a church's online space is just as much of its ministry as its physical building.

"I am also looking forward to helping spread the word about the conference and I look forward to being in one place with so many vergers!"

Brendan didn't stop with this invigorating message about spreading the message. He made this video for VergerTV which introduces the VGEC Conference. You can sample more of his work at this link to the Lenten Series 40 Essential Bible Passages. Take a look, and join us for Brendan's presentation on Friday afternoon. See you in St. Louis!

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

Abstract: 2015 VGEC Conference Preview - "Using Social Media to Spread the Word", scheduled for Session 3: Friday, October 2, 2015 at 2:30 pm. Brendan O'Conner has some great guidance for us on new and innovative ways to spread Christ's word using social media like YouTube and Facebook.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Country Verger

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher dedicating the new cremorial in the church garden at Trinity Church, Russellville, Ky, assisted by verger Tom Luckett (in the background), who oversaw the construction and installation of the distinctive repository

By the Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge, Trinity Church, Russellville, Kentucky

It might seem unlikely to find a verger in a small congregation in a small town in southern Kentucky. Vergers are routinely found in large churches and cathedrals. But Trinity Episcopal Church, founded in 1836, has a splendid verger who carries the keys as well as the verge. His name is Tom Luckett, retired Network Operations Resource Manager from Bell South. Tom has been living in Russellville for the past 42 years.

My experience with vergers was primarily in cathedral churches where I served in the ministry for 41 years. The first verger for the Cathedral Church of St. John, Albuquerque, NM, was appointed in the 1970’s during my tenure. He was Jon Simms Receconi who later became a priest. I was also on the staff of Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, when the first verger, Randy Parsons, was named in the 1990’s. I didn't anticipate having the privilege to sponsor the first verger in a small church in rural Kentucky. But Scott Smith, one of the vergers from Nashville, realized that Trinity already had a verger. He just didn't have the title.

Together we noted that Tom was serving in the tradition of vergers in small English parish churches who spend more time opening and locking doors than seating prelates. Tom serves in ceremonial roles, especially at Easter and Christmas, but most weeks he is checking the heat and air, tending to the fabric of the buildings, supervising restoration projects for our lovely 1883 church building, setting up chairs for the adult class, making coffee, listening to and counseling parishioners needing help with their issues, and perpetually giving enumerable courtesies to the Priest-in-Charge. Tom performs multiple roles and is the key lay person overseeing the welfare of the congregation. His official installation as verger was on April 16, 2012, with assistance from Bill Gleason and Scott Smith.

Tom and his wife are the primary couple in charge of hospitality, welcoming visitors and newcomers to the congregation. Tom also serves as “clerk” by notifying the congregation of special events by email, and phones the “grande dame” of the congregation to let her know what is going on, knowing full well that she is probably already involved in the event he is announcing. Lucille is the only person in the congregation who doesn't have a computer. Such a machine seems too complicated for her, which is the same reason she refuses to buy a new Cadillac with touch screen and Bluetooth streaming audio.

One of the virtues that vergers aspire to is living their ministry of service with grace and modesty. Tom is a model of humility. He seeks no praise and does most of his good works behind the scenes. In addition to being Verger, he is a member of the Bishop’s Committee and with his beloved wife, Pat, who serves as a leader of the ECW, worships faithfully throughout the year.

Vergers are sometimes known as the “minister with the stick.” This is Tom, but he might be holding a shovel instead of a verge. He hasn't been assigned the role of “grave digger,” which some vergers have had, but he oversaw the building of a cremorial in the church garden for the below-ground placement of cremains. He continues to manage that ministry.

Most of the responsibilities vergers have held through the years have been assigned to Tom who performs these duties with impeccable integrity. His worship of God and love for others is a daily activity carried out in his ministry as verger. May Tom and all vergers continue to serve our Lord and the people of God with such exemplary dedication.

Editor's Note: For reference to the variety of verger roles, see: Walk Softly and carry a Big Stick – with Love: The Emerging Ministry of the Verger in the Late 20th Century to the Present. Masters Thesis by David Deutsch located in the VGEC Document Library. As a result of his research, Geoffrey said, "This should be required reading for every verger!"

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

Abstract: Russellville, Kentucky is filled with historical stories. One of those stories is all about Trinity Church. The Rev. Geoff  Butcher, Priest in Charge, talks about his congregation and particularly how his "Country Verger," Tom Luckett, was destined to be the verger there.