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Friday, November 6, 2015

He Was a Verger All Along

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Rector, The Rev. Marnie Keator, The Right Rev. Dr. Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and Bill Hattendorf, VGEC

By Ken Holloway, News Manager, VGEC

Bill Hattendorf, the first verger at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, wrote to me recently, offering to write a Vergers Voice blog article about his lifetime of growth in personal ministry and commissioning as verger. He skillfully tells us about the many roles at St. Andrew's he has filled, and how he discovered, although not overtly, that he had been a verger for a long time before his rector suggested they make it official.

"I’m not a cradle Episcopalian. I was baptized a Lutheran, and confirmed a Methodist - with my Sunday school and confirmation classmate Hillary Rodham. The church where I grew up, in suburban Chicago, was “high Methodist,” with lots of ritual and pageantry, but when we moved south before high school, the style there was decidedly “low Methodist.” In college, I found the Episcopal church was more like what I grew up with. But I didn’t formally join until my formerly Catholic wife and I went church-shopping and fell in love with a small Episcopal church nearby, St. Andrew’s in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. I may or may not have been elected to the vestry slightly before I was “received,” and it wasn’t long before I was trained as Lay Eucharistic Minister and Acolyte and then Lay Worship Leader.

"Somewhat concurrently, I joined a few others from my congregation and from the Episcopal church across the river for Education for Ministry (EfM). It was an important piece in my spiritual journey and eventually I became a mentor for the group. I was particularly fascinated by the church history sections of years three and four and how it all came together.

"And at some point, not long after becoming senior warden, the senior LEM that had been doing the rotation lists moved away and I inherited that function. I found myself training new folks for the Sunday job functions, and I was always making sure the right folks had shown up on Sunday morning to read or serve. When I read about the Vergers Guild and the VGEC Training Course, my rector, The Rev. Marnie Keator, and I decided it was a no-brainer that I should join the guild and take the course. I’m not sure how the verger duties fit into my personal Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but but they sure help fill my need for liturgy and pageantry!

"I wondered if getting so involved in the mechanics of the liturgy would detract from my spiritual journey and my ability to worship every Sunday. But I’ve found that for me, verging is a big piece of my journey puzzle – just like EfM and our post-EfM book group, the International Order of St. Vincent, and being a licensed Lay Worship Leader. Happily, I find that my verger involvement not only doesn’t detract from my spiritual journey but rather heightens the experience for me.

"During the VGEC training course, I was asked, "What keeps you in your church?" As I looked inside, I realized there were several things:

  1. No matter how crazy my week has been, I know I can get centered again in church on Sunday.
  2. I feel I can be as close to God in a whole bunch of situations other than church, but I feel a much stronger connection to God and Jesus than I did years ago because of the experiences I’ve had at St. Andrew’s.
  3. The church community has become family over the years. Sure a couple of people drive me nuts from time to time, but what family is exempt from that?
  4. I love ritual and nobody does it better than the Episcopalians.
  5. I love playing a role in the ritual and I can do it almost every week at St. Andrew’s.
  6. We’ve gone through some trials and tribulations as a parish (moving from mission to parish status almost a decade ago) and I think we all have an elevated sense of loyalty to the church and to each other having survived the process.

"The training course also asked, "What do you see as your unique ministry in you parish?" Certainly my personal ministry is ever-evolving. From my early days at St. Andrew’s, my ministry has included:

  • just fitting in
  • singing in the choir
  • being a source of calmness
  • being a peacemaker
  • dealing with finances and budget
  • running meetings (I was a long-term senior warden)
  • scheduling the lay minister rotation
  • contributing through the Sunday offering
  • recording our vestry minutes as Clerk
  • praying for people on our prayer lists as part of our prayer ministry
  • attending budget and worship committees
  • baking for the Christmas bazaar and special Sunday events
  • checking to see that we have who we need to play their parts in the Sunday services
  • just being a dependable member of the community.

"There are not many vergers here in Western Massachusetts, and our Bishop, The Right Rev. Douglas Fisher, said that I was the first verger he had commissioned anywhere. I am paving the way as the first verger in our church, and it was great to be honored by the bishop’s participation, as we also received four new members into the congregation. Some months earlier I had begun creating my own virge, but when the Fellow’s Virge arrived in the mail a couple of weeks before the commissioning liturgy, I put the project aside for another time. (We’ve talked about turning it into a beadle pole to use for “state occasions” but we’ll see...)

"Away from church, I’ve spent most of my career in alumni/advancement field for schools and other educational institutions. My wife and I take after our parents and volunteer for lots of good causes, and I’ve been especially involved in veteran groups of late, including the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Warrior Connection, and Ruck-Up Veterans Outpost. I’ve been a trustee for Habitat for Humanity, the Chi Psi Executive Council, Music in Deerfield, YMCA, Wilson Pond Association; advisor to WNMH-FM Radio, a Cubmaster, youth soccer coach, and trombonist in local symphony orchestra and musical theater pit band.

"I do follow a spiritual discipline, in that I do pray daily. I have at least one conversation with God just about every day. While I don’t necessarily open a Bible daily, I do read spiritual and religious-related material almost every day. Yes, I contribute monetarily to the life and mission of my church.

"The VGEC Training course was wonderful. My rector, the Rev. Marnie Keator, encouraged me in my studies, answered lots of questions, and we learned some things together. When the course wanted a history of the church included, I wasn’t satisfied with the standard three paragraphs that were usually hauled out when such a thing was needed. I spent several months going through all the files I could find in the office and in old boxes on top of closets in the sacristy. Old newspaper clippings, unlabeled ancient negatives, town histories, and a series of hand-written notes all came together to form a new 20-page history of the church, which I distributed to our congregation at our annual meeting.

"Rev. Keator appointed me verger several years ago, but it seemed appropriate to both of us to wait for formal commissioning until I had finished the training course. It took me longer to complete than I expected due to open heart surgery, but I’m back at full strength now. We had a bishop visitation coming up, and our rector thought it would be cool to have him participate in the process. My chimere and Fellow’s virge arrived in plenty of time. There were no baptisms that morning, but there were four receptions after the sermon. And then, between the receptions and the peace, the bishop, rector, senior warden, and our congregation commissioned me to serve as the first verger of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Turners Falls, Mass."

How many of you reading this article realize that you have been "verging" long before being designated and commissioned as the parish verger? If you, like Bill Hattendorf, were very involved in your parish church life before you became a verger, then took the initiative or were invited by your clergy to formalize your role, write to me and let us tell your story.

Abstract: Were you a verger for a long time and didn't realize it? Many of us can answer "yes" to that question. Bill Hattenfield, of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, belongs to the "I-finally-discovered-that-I-have-been-a -verger-for-years-club." When you read what he has done and still does at church and in the community, you'll either identify with him or feel very tired indeed.

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