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.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Re-imagining "The Way of the Cross"

By The Reverend Canon Matthew Corkern, VGEC Chaplain 

John Cassian (360-435 AD) wrote in The Conferences:
To cling always to God and to the things of God –
this must be our major effort,
this must be the road that the heart follows unswervingly.

Our ministries as vergers, sacristans and priests of the Church converge each Sunday and at the great High Feasts to heighten the senses of the witnesses participating, in the walk within the footsteps of our Blessed Lord. With mutual guidance and attendance to the perpetual mysteries and endless cyclical celebrations in The Episcopal Church and across the Anglican Communion, we journey along ‘the road that the heart follows unswervingly.’ Especially in Holy Week, we seek to invite and accompany others wishing to participate in the Storied Good News highlighted by The Way of the Cross.

About a decade ago, a colleague at the cathedral in Nashville invented a ‘Sacred Space for the City’ First Friday Series. Amazingly, this series eventually fell with the First Friday on the same date of Good Friday 2006. Undaunted, Canon Anne Stevenson planned a liturgy highlighting ‘The Way of the Cross’ with stations crafted by artists from the congregation. Since this extraordinary evening, my sense of Holy Week has never been the same. Here at Calvary Church in Summit, New Jersey, where I serve as rector – of course outside of my duties as your chaplain – I worked with our Sacristan-Verger Guild to implement a yearly remembrance of the Stations by which Jesus of Nazareth traveled to the hill of Calvary almost 2000 years ago.

Historically and theologically speaking, Pilgrims to the Holy Land from the earliest times visited the sites where, as far as they could discover, the events of the Gospels had occurred, and there were devotional processions from one to another. So a route was worked out from the supposed site of Pilate’s house to Calvary (Golgotha], and pilgrims would make stations or stopping-points to pray and sing hymns at intervals on the way. The present route developed slowly, but returning pilgrims encouraged by 14th/15th century Franciscan friars, marked out incidents experienced by Jesus on the Via Dolorosa [Way of the Cross] as he made his way towards His Crucifixion. Over the centuries, the stations were exported to churches around the world with emphasis on “reliving the Passion events not merely as acts of prayer, but of identification and imagination.” And so an art-form of plain wooden crosses or painted scenes placed along the nave, or meditation sites in the church garden developed to provide both communal and individual opportunities to walk and identify with Jesus at his most vulnerable point as a human. Consequently, regardless of place and time, “worshipers can walk themselves into Jerusalem, into the central story of Christianity.”

This Lent – indeed at the heart of Holy Week – we journey back in remembrance of Good Friday to continue the tradition of witnessing Our Lord’s death by walking his path.  The Way of the Cross – sometimes called Stations-of-the-Cross – is a simple devotion whose origins can be clearly traced to the Crusades. It consists of a spiritual retracing of the journey of Jesus to the cross and is a reflection of the customs that surround the telling of the same story in Jerusalem. Traditionally, there are fourteen stops (stations); eight based on events directly recorded in the Gospels and six (#3, 4, 6, 7, 9, and 13) on related events or pious legends.

1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus receives the cross
3. Jesus falls for the first time
4. Jesus meets his Mother
5. Simon of Cyrene is made to carry the cross
6. Veronica wipes Jesus’ face
7. Jesus falls for the second time
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls for the third time
10. Jesus is stripped
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. His body is taken down from the cross
14. Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb

Retracing my communal thoughts and personal longings that rest in a simple confluence of a First Friday and Good Friday years ago, I invited Canon Stevenson to be at Calvary Church this year as our Anglican-Leader-in-residence for the week leading to Easter Sunday. Parishioners have created their own stations of art. An ensemble of cello, oboe, flute and harpsichord led by a Cantor will create an environment to subtly allow the congregation to transcend for an hour with sacred chants interspersed with holy prayers and readings. Our holy space awaits a few hours to welcome and renew.

As we follow Jesus on His Way to Calvary, we see ourselves mirrored in Him – facing life’s dark side with images of life and love to come. I invite you this Holy Week and in the years to come, to ponder anew how The Way of the Cross might yet transform and heighten your congregations’ experiences to embrace the path of Jesus and follow unswervingly.

Click the big red button to register for the 2016 Annual Conference opening on September 22nd and running through noon on the 25th, in Spokane, Washington. The conference is the most popular and anticipated activities of the VGEC every year - please join us!

Abstract: Re-imagining "The Way of the Cross" and how deep reflection on it can transform and heighten our experience in embracing the path of Jesus and how we and our congregations can, therefore, follow it unswervingly. Our VGEC Chaplain, The Reverend Matthew Corkern, Rector at Calvery Church, Summit, N.J. leads us on Christ's path.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

To Verge Maundy Thursday

Verger Robin Dake at St. Matthias with (L-R) acolytes: Wyatt Shepson, Emory Shepson, Tabbi Shepson. In the background are the Very Rev. Mary Demmler with daughter Hannah, Associate Priest, The Reverend Gwin Hanahan and choir member, Nanette Donahue.

By Robin Dake, Verger, St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Toccoa, Georgia

As we continue our journey through Lent, I already know there will be a moment when I will find myself standing, literally, in front of God and everyone, with tears streaming down my face.
It is a moment that is far and near, painful and beautiful, humiliating and humbling.

Serving as a verger in my church is one of my favorite ways of giving back. I love quietly observing, checking the nuances in the room, assessing what needs to be done to make sure everything goes smoothly, subtly flowing with the service. I love that my instinctive, sometimes annoying, often useful habit of always carrying a mental check list in my head gives me a way to serve, to use what comes naturally to be helpful in a community that means so much.

And I take seriously the training we have had to do this service with stoicism and invisibility. Most Sundays, I pull this off pretty well, staying focused and getting things done as a quiet figure in black.

Maundy Thursday is different.

For me, Maundy Thursday is the hardest, most beautiful, most searing evening we have. Over the years, I have gradually allowed myself to reach deeper and deeper into the darkness that is Holy Week. I attend the services, say the prayers and really feel the pain of walking with Jesus as he goes from joy to betrayal to death. I find that Easter is that much more joyful and shimmering after plumbing the depths of Holy Week.

For the last several years, I have volunteered to verge Maundy Thursday, even though I know I will end up in tears. It is not the story of Jesus having a final meal with his best friends that rips through me. It is not that he knows he has already been betrayed once and will be betrayed a second time by Peter that starts the waterworks, though those stories rend my heart.

Nope, it is the foot washing.

I get to this portion of the service already fragile. Those familiar stories never fail to make me think of my own family of friends and the love we share, the times we have broken bread together and the losses and heartaches we have walked together.

As the verger, it is my job to help keep things flowing, to refill the water in the basins, to collect the damp towels and replace them with fresh ones. It is my job to be stoic and unemotional during this soft time.

But the sheer beauty of my church family washing each other’s feet moves me deeply. Two by two they come forward, a little awkward, a little unsure, but determined to this thing we do as a church. And the pairings themselves are part of the loveliness.

There is the older couple, married for decades, helping one another to the chairs, and then delicately washing wrinkled feet. There are the youngsters, who just find this fun and want to do it again and again, with barely suppressed giggles and innocence. There’s the teenager who rises above her awkward adolescence to gently wash the feet of a near-stranger.

Each moment, each pairing is exquisite. And so, the tears come.

While I am not a fan of showing too much emotion in public, I suspect this is a needed part of my Lenten journey as much as the prayers and the quiet. It make me vulnerable. It makes me broken and open, able to receive the gifts I didn’t even know I needed. And I think it makes me a better person.

So, come Maundy Thursday, I will don the black cassock and walk with the wooden verge. I will check to make sure the candles are lit and the readers are ready. I will fill the basins and collect the towels. And I will cry, in front of God and everyone.

We asked Robin about her ministry and her daily life:

I have a been a verger for 5 years. I am part of the original group that started the ministry here, led by our rector, the Very Rev. Mary Demmler. There are 4 of us and we work closely as a team to define the ministry and figure out the best ways to handle various issues and needs. It is a great relationship, serving 75 or so parishioners on a regular Sunday at St. Matthias.

As for me, I am a mother, daughter, friend, runner, writer, photographer who believes in fighting for social justice and that everything gets better with a long run, good chocolate and an afternoon nap. I work as a marketing adviser, running my own small business helping other small businesses and nonprofits with their marketing and project needs. And, I have the best dog in the world.

Click the big red button to register for the 2016 Annual Conference opening on September 22nd and running through noon on the 25th, in Spokane, Washington. The conference is the most popular and anticipated activities of the VGEC every year - please join us!

Abstract: It is known, variously as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries. What does Maundy Thursday mean to you? Are you escorting the procession? Are you helping to wash feet? Will you have your feet washed by your spouse or companion? How do you feel about our celebration of the Last Supper before His crucifixion? Guest author Robin Dake comments on her emotions while verging at Maundy Thursday services, past, present and future.

Friday, March 11, 2016

2016 VGEC Annual Conference Sept. 22-25 in Spokane - Registration begins NOW

The Right Reverend James Waggoner, Bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, celebrating the Eucharist at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
By Ken Holloway, News Manager, VGEC, with Dallas Hawkins, VGEC 2016 Annual Conference Chair

Vergers, clergy, and all who are interested in the verger ministry are cordially invited to experience worship in the American Pacific Northwest this September by attending the 28th VGEC Annual Conference. Dallas Hawkins, his committee and the clergy and staff of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist are looking forward to welcoming us to Spokane, Washington, September 22-25, 2016There will be a drawing for a $200 Apple gift card for eligible vergers who register and pay before May 1, 2016 so do not delay in registering.

Located on the Spokane River west of the Rocky Mountain foothills in eastern Washington, Spokane is 92 miles (148 km) south of the Canadian border, approximately 20 miles (30 km) from the Washington–Idaho border, and 280 miles (450 km) east of Seattle along Interstate 90. The city and wider Inland Northwest region is served by Spokane International Airport, 5 miles (8 km) west of downtown Spokane. According to the 2010 Census, Spokane had a population of 208,916, making it the second largest city in the state of Washington.

One of the few things out of Dallas’ control is the weather. Thankfully, Spokane weather in September is generally very pleasant and moderate with low rain fall and sunny warm days and cool evenings. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? Plan on visiting Seattle, Portland or Vancouver BC, Canada, while you are out in Spokane. Bring your family and friends and make it an extended stay of it in the area and enjoy the beautiful and scenic Pacific Northwest. Visit the Spokane Visitors Center for more exciting vacation ideas.

Dallas reports that the conference hotel is the historic Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane which consists of three properties. Most of our block of rooms are in the brand new Davenport Tower.  It is across the street from the main historic hotel, and available at the same reduced rate of $139.00 (before taxes) per night. Call the specific hotel 800 number for your reservations citing the "2016 Verger Guild of the Episcopal Church Conference" to assure that you get our special room rate. Phone numbers can be found on the 2016 Spokane page on vergers.org or you can click here to book your room directly.

The main historic Davenport Hotel is located at 10 South Post Street, Spokane, WA 99201. It is called "Washington’s grandest hotel". Whether it’s the soaring architecture, award-winning amenities, rich history, or simply its proximity to nearby Spokane attractions, this distinguished hotel has welcomed film stars, explorers, writers, politicians and other luminaries for more than 100 years.

Many attendees will be delighted to hear that delicious breakfasts, snacks and beverages will be provided for us every day, either at the Cathedral or at the hotel.

We'll have a welcome dinner on Thursday evening hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane and Bishop James Waggoner at the Cathedral. An Italian themed home-cooked meal will be provided by St Monica’s Guild. We'll also enjoy a solemn evensong with St.John’s Choir.

Friday morning's Session 1 features the Verger 101 Training session or the Verger 307 discussion session. Session 2 will be a guided tour of the Cathedral by exemplary Master Tour Guild, John Creed.

Immediately after lunch on Friday, Dallas is excited to announce our Keynote Speaker, The Rev.Dr. Louis Weil. Rev. Dr. Weil is the James F. Hodges and Harold and Rita Haynes Professor Emeritus of Liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. He will be speaking on The Importance of Liturgical Ritual.

The afternoon will be rounded out with two more concurrent sessions including Verging in Depth: Mastering the Daily Office led by Scott Smith, Head Sacristan at Trinity Wall Street and President of the VGEC and the Rev. Matthew T. L. Corkern, Rector at Calvary Episcopal Church in Summit, NJ and Chaplain of the VGEC. Option 2 will be a presentation by Cathedral Dean, the Very Rev. Bill Ellis, Dean of the Cathedral.

Your evening will be free for exploring Spokane with your new verger friends.

You'll undoubtedly look forward to an outing on Saturday afternoon to Lake Coeur d’Alene Idaho, with a 90 minute private cruise on the lake plus some time to explore the town of Coeur d’Alene and the wonderful Coeur d’Alene Resort Hotel. Before we go on this fun trip we will have the annual Business Meeting and elect three new board members.

The semi formal awards and Fellows recognition banquet will be at the historic Davenport Hotel on Saturday evening. Jacket and tie is requested for the gentlemen, dresses or semi-formal attire for the ladies. Black tie is optional and tuxes or dinner jackets will be available in advance from Mr. Tux at a reduced rate for those who wish to reserve one. More details will be put on the 2016 Spokane web page as they become available.

Review the agenda, travel and hotel details and conference registration details on vergers.org. This page will be updated regularly as more details become available.

Dallas Hawkins and his committee hope you will mark your calendar, call one of the the Davenport Hotels, and start researching travel plans to Spokane. Make your travel reservations soon and press the red button below to register for the conference today.

Don't forget about the early registration drawing for the $200 Apple gift card. Your registration must be complete by May 1 at 11:59 PT to qualify for the drawing. Board and host committee members are not eligible.

Click the big red button to register for the 2016 Annual Conference opening on September 22nd and running through noon on the 25th, in Spokane, Washington.

Abstract:  Our September 22-25 VGEC Annual Conference count-down clock is ticking. Several highlights and links about the conference, plus our big red "Register Online" button are available now.