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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.

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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.

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