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Friday, April 1, 2016

Ordaining a Priest from a Verger Point of View

The Right Rev. Andrew (Andy) C. Doyle, Bishop of the Diocese of Texas, ordaining the Rev. Gena Davis in 2010 as fellow clergy support her at Trinity Episcopal Church in Baytown, TX

By Eileen Brightwell Hicks, FVGEC, Trinity Episcopal Church, Baytown, Texas

I have been fortunate to serve in various capacities at three ordinations of priests during the past ten years at Trinity Episcopal Church, Baytown Texas. These are huge transitional moments in the life of priests and I felt very privileged to have been asked to use my verger skills to help facilitate the seminal services.

Previously I had attended a couple of bishop consecrations here in the Diocese of Texas but was never involved in the liturgy except to once carry our church banner in procession. There were not vested vergers at either of the liturgies that I attended but I was determined and hopeful to be a vested verger at the priest ordinations to be held back home in my parish. All three ordination services were richly rewarding in their own ways for my growth as a verger.

Trinity currently averages less than 200 worshipers attending our two Sunday services: one traditional and one with more contemporary music. As a parish we’ve been around more than 80 years. Eventually we could no longer afford a full time assistant rector so, The Reverend Nick Novak, our rector for 15 years, applied to the Diocese of Texas to join the "mentoring program," now known as the "curate program," in which the diocese pays half of the compensation package for the curate while the mentoring parish picks up the other half, with the understanding the curate will serve two years at that church.

Our three curates came to us, over time, with very different approaches for planning and executing worship. They arrived as transitional deacons from two different seminaries. Thankfully the first curate planned everything including a detailed rehearsal the day before the ordination in 2010. The Very Rev. Russ Oechsel, Archdeacon in the Diocese of Texas, ran the rehearsal and was kind enough to include me in planning the processions, seating arrangements, and many other details. I took notes, listened, and learned. The service was beautiful and seamless. The archdeacon was on top of every detail as the service unfolded. The Rev. Gena Davis spent three months that summer trying out every possible Eucharistic service. Our congregation and vergers learned much about incense, sanctus bells, and our Book of Common Prayer. It was fun for the vergers trying to keep up with her!

About two years later we welcomed our next curate, the Rev. John Soard. The Master of Ceremonies for his ordination in 2012 was a seminary friend who had his own plan for the liturgy. In fact he told me, “Once the service starts, you can’t do anything about something that goes wrong.” There was no rehearsal. I had not worked with an MC and was a bit shocked with his comment and the fact that once the entering procession started the MC nonchalantly took his place with the other presbyters. Several times things almost ground to a halt but with my previous experience I was able to anticipate those moments and help minimize the damage.

In 2014, as the ordination date was announced for curate Beccy Smith Booth, now our Assistant Priest, I offered help in planning and executing her ordination and she graciously accepted. Among other things, I created the seating chart and organized the processions for her to review. Because of all the out of town participants, we had a rehearsal two hours before the service. This ordination allowed me to take on a major role confidently and I was grateful for my previous experiences.

As stipulated by Article VIII of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, each candidate is required to sign The  Declaration (of Conformity). The Right Rev. Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, always has a bit of fun with this, especially the "...obey your bishop" line. The Bishop says to the ordinand "Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?" Answer, "I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church." The rubrics state, The Ordinand then signs the above Declaration in the sight of all present. (BCP  pp 526-527)

In 2010, as we prepared for the first ordination, there was much discussion how and where the ordinand would sign the declaration. Look around your altar area. How much horizontal space do you have? Our altar rail is about 6"wide but this declaration is a large document. The second ordinand and his MC did not believe me when I tried to coach to him about the need for a pen and a flat surface on which to sign his declaration. Just before the service started the Canon to the Ordinary provided clear guidance on the matter, and I produced the same small table we used at the first ordination and a pen from my purse. For the third ordination I told the ordinand exactly where the Bishop wanted the table and gave her a pen. She did try to re-position the table but Bishop Doyle had me move it back to the original location. This signed declaration is a very important part of any ordination and our bishop keeps his eyes on it!

Our time with the curate program is coming to a close as our rector is retiring in April. If you are lucky enough to be part of a program mentoring new priests, look forward to wonderful opportunities to explain and show them what vergers can do to help them be free to preach and teach and attend to pastoral care of the parish. I do not know what the future holds for vergers at Trinity, Baytown, but many in the congregation are looking to the vergers to keep the Sunday services “normal” as we start the process of calling a new priest. I look forward with eager anticipation to this new phase in my verger ministry. And, in a couple of years, I hope to be able to help verge at a service celebrating a new ministry.

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: Many of us have served at an ordination. Some have taken part in a consecration service for a new Bishop. What if ordinations occurred in your parish church on a fairly frequent interval? Where would you find guidance on assisting the ordinand and attending clergy plan for the event? Eileen Brightwell Hicks, verger at Trinity Episcopal Church, Baytown, TX, became a seasoned verger/planner for ordination services in a relatively short period of time. See if what she learned may come in handy in your ministry in the future.


  1. I found FVGEC Hicks' experiences quite informative and am going to place the blog in my training course notebook.


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