Friday, October 9, 2015

VGEC 27th Annual Conference in St. Louis

The attendees of the 27th Annual VGEC Conference following Sunday Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis

By Ken Holloway, News Manager

Over one hundred and sixty of us arrived in St. Louis expecting big things at our 27th VGEC Annual Conference. Boy oh boy, the talented Christ Church Cathedral host team led by Shug Goodlow fulfilled our expectations and then some!

First, the settings at Christ Church Cathedral and the Union Station Hotel were stunning. Our agenda was well timed and populated with maybe the best lineup of verger learning experiences ever. Evensong on Thursday night was a treat for our eyes and ears. Later, the wonderful Christ Church Cathedral host team served a delicious fried chicken dinner (with all trimmings). As we shared supper, the New Life Gospel Choir, led by Jermaine Manor shook our souls with a selection of songs punctuated by Mr. Manor's exultation of accentuated lyric. Plus there was a visit from Fredbird, the St Louis Cardinal's mascot who kinda shook up the gospel choir as he joined them in praise. In another area fantastical balloon animals, some with LED lights inside the balloons were fabricated to the delight of young and old.

We returned to the hotel for compline, a weary good night and 40 quick winks.

After Morning Prayer, James Armstrong, head verger at Carlisle Cathedral in Cumbria, England and president of the Church of England Guild of Vergers presented a fascinating historical perspective of the verger ministry, showing photographs of many vestments and instruments dating back many years. No keynote speech has been more directly related to the story of how vergers evolved to our current practice of a ministry of assistance and hospitality.

Next, the Verger 101 and Verger 307 sessions spent an amazing three hours on principles and practices of small churches and large. Thanks to Duke DuTeil, Bob Mikrut and Cindy Ware, with many comments from those gathered, relating personal experiences, sources of materials and humor of the ministry experience.

We learned so much about the Theology and Practical Use of Incense at the Verging-in-Depth session. Scott Smith, Head Sacristan at Trinity Church, Wall Street, NYC led the session. John Whitaker presented, "Heavenly Fragrance and Transfigured Light - Swinging Incense through the Ages" which was written by VGEC Chaplain, the Rev. Matthew Corkern. John stepped in for Matthew who had to cancel his trip to the conference due to illness. Margaret McLarty displayed her collection of 40 or more lighters used to call acolyte's attention to proper care of the incense coals. We went outside on the hotel steps and fired up 3 versions of incense so that all could sample the difference in aroma.

Other Friday sessions included presentations by representatives of Christ Church Cathedral, starting with The Role of Cathedrals by the Very Reverend Mike Kinnman, Dean, The Partnership between Vergers and Clergy, led by the Rev. Amy Chambers Cortright, Vicar, Using Social Media to Spread the Word, led by Bren O'Conner, and Including Youth in Worship: Moving from Tokenism to Partnership, led by Elle Dowd, Diocesan Youth Missioner for Teens.

Friday night, we were dazzled by the light show projected on the ceiling of the palatial lounge of the Union Station Hotel.  A live dance band accompanied a very well prepared dinner. The evening was topped off with a series of presentations of achievement, especially noting those awarded status as Fellows of the Guild, having completed the Guild Training Course. Then a swing dance lesson led to more music and dancing to complete the evening.

"Fellow of the Guild" awardees present at the conference celebrating completion of the VGEC training course

Morning Prayer started Saturday morning. Next was the annual business meeting. Three board members were elected: Cheryl Cantrall, Duke du Teil, and Vyonne Carter-Johnson. Spokane was announed as the site for the 2016 Annual Conference and Atlanta as the site for 2017.  The morning educational sessions included Young Adults in Liturgical Service and Beyond, led by The Rev. Mike Angell, Rector of Church of the Holy Communion, University City, MO, and the excellent Philip Quaqe and the Early History of Black Anglicanism, led by Dr. Sylvester Johnson, Professor of African American Studies and Religious Studies, Northwestern University.

Saturday afternoon, a wonderful set of optional activities and time for sightseeing gave us a welcome opportunity to hold a variety of conversations and learn a great deal more about St. Louis in person.

Sunday morning we began the ten o'clock Eucharist by vesting and processing before the choir to our seats, comforted by the hospitality of the entire Cathedral staff.  The Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith, Bishop of the Diocese of Missouri presided and preached, officiating over two baptisms and very graciously citing the verger ministry in his sermon which, of course, was centered on new life in Christ as witnessed by the Sacrament of Baptism.

After the departing procession, as we assembled for the group photograph, we began to realize that three and one half days had raced by while we greeted old friends, made new ones and learned from each other. Thousands and thousands of photographs were taken and will eventually be posted in the VGEC Flickr account. Use #VGEC27 in your FaceBook search bar to see several hundred photos posted during the actual conference. Make sure you like, comment, and share while looking at the photos on Facebook or in Flickr!

We'll meet in Spokane, Washington September 22-25, 2016, to learn, to celebrate, and to re-dedicate ourselves to our diligent practice of the ministry of the verger in the Episcopal Church. Dallas Hawkins, our Spokane host treated us with a welcome video including comments from the current mayor of Spokane and the bishop of the Diocese of Washington. Registration will open January 2016 for the 28th Annual Conference.



Abstract:  The 27th VGEC Annual Conference was simply grand! It's hard to cover all that we experienced in even a longish blog, so read this account and click on the links for pictures and video.

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