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Saturday, August 8, 2015

So what exactly is a verger anyway?

A fairly typical verger checklist

By Ken Holloway, VGEC News Manager

How do you answer the question, "So what exactly is a verger anyway?"

I often develop my answer using information from David Deutsch's masters thesis on the verger ministry plus what I've learned over the years of actually serving as a verger in various parishes and being an active member of the Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church.

My common attempt to explain a verger's role goes something like this.

"In the 15th and 16th centuries, when a circuit-riding priest would go from town to town to hold services, the priest would take a layperson with him called a, "verger."  They would go to the church, get vested, and then the verger would lead a procession through town to tell everyone it is time for church. The verger carried a mace (or a virge) with him to knock dogs, cats, drunks, etc out of the way so the procession could make it through town. So the historical ceremonial function of the verger was leader (escort) or protector of processions. Nowadays the ministry has evolved into much more of a lay liturgical assistant to the clergy - someone to make sure all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed."

I have trouble condensing the historical overview and our modern practices into "sound bite" format and length allowing no more than about four breaths when spoken aloud - and one that really deals with what we do today instead of 500 years ago.

Sound Bite Length Algorithm: (average volume of expelled air necessary to produce a five letter word plus a one second pause X the number of words in your speech) /  average adult lung capacity in cubic centimeters = number of breaths required to deliver said speech. I couldn't resist a bit of engineering nonsense, but think about it: applying this process can help us condense our story into more meaningful and efficient phrases.

Another approach is to ask what they have observed that the verger does, then comment on the reply, tailoring your comments to what was observed and how those actions relate to historical perspective, somehow tied in with the tasks that the congregation doesn't see us perform.

You know, there are so many things we do behind the scenes that I sometimes feel that we are selling ourselves short if we just talk about escorting processions, wearing robes, and carrying virges. If you take a look at the snapshot of the verger checklist above, you'll see much of what we all do every week. Another thought is that many parishes have a person who does all of the supporting tasks but rarely wears a verger robe or escorts processions.

The verger's checklist tells the "rest of the story" in many ways (see the VGEC Document Library for a complete set of sample verger checklists). Tending the candle wicks is pretty important, but not something we seem to talk about much. How about helping the altar guild maintain the thurible? Who repairs the torches when the candles flop sideways? There's always the entry in the service register to record the time, place, type of service and number attending and receiving communion. What about training acolytes, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, sacristans, and new vergers? Composing and updating "customaries" for routine or feast day services is an activity which vergers or sacristans most often lead.

One of the first assignments in A Course of Training as a Verger has the verger work with their clergy-mentor to develop and refine a personal job description as a verger. According to Duke DuTeil, the VGEC Training Advisor, "As of today, we have 341 Fellows of the VGEC who have completed the training course and each has prepared a thorough job description of their role as a verger in their parish. There are a few common themes in the job descriptions, and I would characterize them as:
  • Assisting clergy and volunteers to make the liturgy work
  • Organizing everything, paying close attention to all details
  • Training and encouraging volunteers
  • Welcoming and assisting all
"Condensing this to a sound bite is hard, but here's my attempt," continued Duke. "As a butler is to his master's house, so is the verger to The Master's House."

What is your verger sound bite?

Send me your sound bite on how you tell our story to [email protected]. We're planning a follow-up article which will cover the larger view of being a verger, including many of the duties and tasks listed above. Your input would make this article a real winner. We might have so much response that we'll make it a series of articles, or maybe a theme that we visit once a quarter.

Let me know what you think!

It's not too late to register: Click the big red button to register for the 2015 Annual Conference being held October 1-4, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri:

Abstract: "What is a verger?" That is a question many have heard. So how do you answer it?

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