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, April 28, 2017

Book Review: Celebrating Liturgical Time by J. Neil Alexander

Book Review by David Deutsch, Verger at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Washington, DC

Celebrating Liturgical Time: Days, Weeks, and Seasons
by J. Neil Alexander
New York: Church Publishing, 2014

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. —Book of Common Prayer, page 36

The Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, dean of the School of Theology at the University of the South, writes clearly and concisely about the spiritual foundation that upholds our worship throughout the church year. Alexander further gives the reader both practical and religious information about celebrating major feasts days of the Episcopal Church and the Daily Office. As a verger in the Episcopal Church since 1999 and a seminary graduate (MTS degree), I totally appreciate Alexander's book which reminded me that one should never miss the opportunity to keep learning especially when a know-it-all complacency settles over the brain like a fog.

The liturgy of the church is a living tradition and is constantly evolving. Ritual life, no matter how well informed or deeply entrenched, never fully 'settles,'1

writes Alexander in his introduction. This is good practical advice to vergers and all planners of liturgy and reminds us to continue to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the ways and the whys in which we celebrate God's word.

I appreciated being reminded—no, taught—right at the beginning of the book that the spiritual foundation that upholds our worship is prayer. Prayer acknowledges God's work in time. Alexander reminds us that

It is by prayer, both public and personal, that time is made holy, set apart for divine purposes. The effect of such prayer is not to change time, but to more clearly recognize God at work within it…Time and prayer go together. All prayer is in time.2

In the yearly liturgical cycle of the church season, we give thanksgiving and praise to God for our blessings of our life. He says that all forms of prayer—lamentation, intercession, confession, offering, pleading—spring from "the rich matrix of thanksgiving."

The principal day that shapes liturgical time is Sunday. Alexander says, "All other patterns of liturgical time are overlays of this primal shape."3 So, the importance of prayer which marks God's work in time coupled with the significance of Sunday which is the feast day that shapes the way we participate in sacred time is the major theme of the book.

In the above I have given a large amount of space to the spiritual underpinnings of our liturgical calendar. But Alexander takes us through each principal feast day giving us both its history and liturgical importance. I'll use Epiphany as an example. He reminds us that the Feast of the Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas. Epiphany dates from around the third century while Christmas seems to emerge at the beginning of the sixth century. Epiphany weaves together the baptism of Jesus, the miracle at the wedding in Cana, and the star that guided the Magi. Alexander reminds us that Epiphany is not to be thought of as the end of Christmas; Epiphany looks forward toward the beginnings of things to come.

Finally, Alexander devotes much thought to the Daily Offices. While the Sunday celebration is fundamental to Christian life, daily corporate prayer is deeply rooted in both the Jewish and Christian tradition. While praying privately is certainly permissible and upheld, it is common prayer with other believers that is the source of all other prayer. I love what Alexander writes about common prayer:

We learn to pray with the well-worn words of the church's prayer, over and over, at times almost rote. We fear the inoculation of repetition until we discover the grace of holy words being so deeply implanted in us that they cannot be taken away... We search for our own personal ways to say things better, but eventually acknowledge that the church's prayer has become our own.4 [my emphasis]

That the church's prayer has become our own is, perhaps a good way to end this review. I found Celebrating Liturgical Time informative and compelling. It is a book that should be in the church library as well as on the verger's bookshelf. It will help us avoid answering "because that's the way we've always done it" when asked why we do such and such a certain way. It will also guide us when we think about perhaps changing the way we worship on a particular church feast day by giving us a framework on which to build. Celebrating Liturgical Time manages to be both scholarly as well as accessible — a rare feat for theological writing.

I am personally excited that Bp. Alexander will be presenting a lecture on his book at the 2017 Annual Conference of the Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church in Atlanta on Saturday, October 14, 2017 at both 1pm and 2:45pm.

1 p-vii
2 p-4
3 p-10
4 p-55

The 2017 VGEC Annual Conference will take place in Atlanta, Georgia from October 12th through October 15th.  We hope you can join us!  Click the big red button to register today.  You can also read more about the conference and book your hotel.

Abstract: David Deutsch, Verger at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Washington, DC presents a book review of "Celebrating Liturgical Time: Days, Weeks, and Seasons" by J. Neil Alexander, Dean Sewanee School of Theology, and the retired Ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta. Deutsch states that Bp. Alexander "...writes clearly and concisely about the spiritual foundation that upholds our worship throughout the church year. He further gives the reader both practical and religious information about celebrating major feasts days of the Episcopal Church and the Daily Office." Deutsch concludes that, "Celebrating Liturgical Time manages to be both scholarly as well as accessible — a rare feat for theological writing."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday Events at the 2017 VGEC Annual Conference: Engaging Workshops and Business Meeting

The Atlanta Presentation at the 2016 VGEC Annual Business Meeting in Spokane, Washington

By Chuck Dale, Chair, VGEC 2017 Annual Conference Committee

All events for Saturday, October 14th, are scheduled at the Marriott Marquis. You will not have to go outside unless that is your desire. The VGEC will have a quiet suite of meeting rooms on the Atrium level for our meetings.

First will be Morning Prayer followed by the very important VGEC Annual Business Meeting at 8:45 am. Everyone is invited to attend the business meeting and vote for three new board members. The VGEC board and committees will report on progress made during the year and plans for the future. These reports include:
  • Annual Conference
  • Chapter Development
  • Communication and Technology
  • Episcopal Church Relations
  • Finance
  • General Convention
  • Governance
  • Guild Shop
  • Membership
  • Nomination
  • Training
Elections for three VGEC board members will also take place and requests for nominations will be coming soon in another Vergers Voice blog post. Consider becoming more active in your VGEC!

After a morning coffee break, the first two workshop sessions will be conducted. Lunch will be on your own. You may eat at any of the restaurants in the hotel or walk a few steps to the food court for a variety of food options. The afternoon will feature four workshop sessions.  After these sessions, there will be Evening Prayer. You will have ample time for rest and relaxation, meet with friends or explore Atlanta before the reception and banquet on Saturday night. Details to be provided in a future issue of the Vergers Voice blog.

10:30 am to noon

Session 1 Option 1 - Verger 101

Facilitated by Duke DuTeil, VGEC Training Advisor, this session explores the Verger Ministry for the new verger and is specifically designed to support the new verger as you embark on this ministry. This session is only for those who have been vergers three years or less or first-time conference attendees. Topics will include:
  • I thought being a verger was all about wearing robes, holding virges, and processing through the nave...
  • What is meant by "Ministry of Welcome?"
  • Soldiering On: Dealing with mistakes so no one notices.
  • Hands-On: Carrying the virge, what to wear when, serving in the background, working with your Altar Guild, volunteer coordination, being the boss/servant at the same time.
  • Is the VGEC Training Course for me?

Session 1 Option 2 - Topics for the Experienced Verger

Facilitated by Scott Smith, VGEC President, this always interesting session is for conference attendees who do not fit the qualifications for Verger 101. More information on this session is coming soon.

1:00 pm to 2:30 pm

Session 2 Option 1 - Celebrating Liturgical Time

Lecture by The Rt. Rev. Neil J. Alexander, Dean, Sewanee School of Theology, and the retired Ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, on his recent book "Celebrating Liturgical Time: Days, Weeks, and Seasons, a commentary on sacred time as expressed in the rites of the Book of Common Prayer." Bishop Alexander provides an excellent study of the fundamental shape of the liturgical year and offers the reader an insight into the spirituality of the liturgical calendar.

It is a must read for all vergers and recommended for your library of reference books. Copies of this book will be available for purchase during the Conference. Bishop Alexander has graciously agreed to be available to personally autograph copies for attendees.

The Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, Th.D, D.D., was appointed Dean of the School of Theology on June 26, 2012. He is also professor of liturgy and the Charles Todd Quintard Professor of Dogmatic Theology.  He was elected the Ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta and served from 2001 to 2012. During his time as bishop, he focused on growing new congregations and ministries and developing an efficient communication strategy for the diocese.

Bishop Alexander has served in a variety of parish settings and has taught at The General Theological Seminary, Yale University, Drew University, and Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. He has been a board member of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation and a faculty member and chaplain of the Preaching Excellence Conference of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation. President of the Board of Directors of the College for Bishops, he also serves as the chair of the board of the Archives of the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Alexander is a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Moravian College, and the University of South Carolina. He earned a master of divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and a doctor of theology in liturgics from The General Theological Seminary.  He is the recipient of two honorary doctorates.

The author of numerous publications in the fields of liturgics, homiletics, sacramental theology, and pastoral practice, his most recent publication is "Celebrating Liturgical Time: Days, Weeks, and Seasons", the focus of this workshop.

Session 2: Option 2 - Revising the BCP and Hymnal

Discussion led by the Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip, The Very Rev. Samuel G, Candler, Member of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church. Vergers will be able to join the Episcopal Church’s discussions on possible revisions to the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal. Dean Candler will offer both historic and contemporary perspectives.

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) has proposed offering the 2018 General Convention with four options regarding the possible revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

The options are:
  • Revision of the prayer book beginning after the 2018 General Convention;
  • Creation of a book or books of alternative services beginning after the 2018 General Convention, with no accompanying revision of the prayer book
  • A postponement of the decision on the prayer book and supplemental resources until the completion of a church-wide conversation on liturgical theology and practice during the 2018-2021 triennium
  • A step back from liturgical revision and a commitment to exploring the theology of the current prayer book in greater depth.
However, even these proposals are not at all certain. This forum will certainly add to the discussion.

In October 1998, Sam became Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip, the second largest Episcopal congregation and the largest cathedral congregation in the United States, with a membership of approximately 7,000. After receiving his B.A. degree, cum laude, from Occidental College, in Los Angeles, California, he graduated magna cum laude from Yale University Divinity School (and Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, its Episcopal component). In addition to his liturgical interests, he writes poetry and plays jazz piano. He is a frequent teacher and preacher in both the United States and in the wider Anglican Communion, speaking regularly on Anglican identity, faith and reason, and the role of religion in matters of science and environmental sustainability.

2:45 pm to 4:15 pm

Session 3 is a repeat of the two options from Session 2, enabling conference attendees to attend both options in whichever sequence they prefer

Session 3: Option 1 - Celebrating Liturgical Time

Session 3: Option 2 - Revising the BCP and Hymnal

More Top 10 Reasons to attend the Atlanta Conference
  1. Discover the essence of Southern Hospitality.
  2. Walk down the world-famous Peachtree Street.
  3. 57 streets called "Peachtree.”
  4. Run through Centennial Park’s Fountain of Rings.
  5. Home of Gone with the Wind – but we’re still here.
  6. It’s smarta to use MARTA.
  7. Coca Cola is the elixir of life.
  8. A midnight snack in Atlanta in the nearest Waffle House (and there's one not far from the hotel)
  9. Witness Atlanta’s horrific traffic from the comfort of your hotel.
  10. A snow flurry in Atlanta is the literal end of the world – an imminent Snowpocalypse.

The 2017 VGEC Annual Conference will take place in Atlanta, Georgia from October 12th through October 15th.  We hope you can join us!  Click the big red button to register today.  You can also read more about the conference and book your hotel.

Abstract: October 14, 2017, Saturday, will be a busy and fun day in Atlanta at the 2017 Annual Conference with the Annual Business Meeting, four different educational sessions, and lunch on your own. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Time "Meet and Right" for Prayer and a Vergers Prayer List

By The Rev. Canon Matthew TL Corkern, Chaplain to The Vergers Guild of The Episcopal Church

This Good Friday as we look toward the dawn of The Resurrection, it is a time "meet and right" to go forth from the last forty days of our wilderness journey wherein we prayed often and engaged in self-examination.  But just perhaps, it is a holy time to consider how prayer may play a role in our everyday lives as those living within an intentional community set systematically in support to the Church.

The poet George Herbert pondered this same question of praying in everyday life and exercised exquisite prose:  "Prayer, the Church's banquet, angel’s age, God's breath in man returning to his birth, The soul in paraphrase, the heart on pilgrimage, The Christian plummet sounding heaven and earth... something understood."  More simply stated, our contemporary psalmist Mary Oliver has written, "Praying is not a context but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak."

At the heart of one particular illuminated manuscript, an artisan monk devoted to the daily offices of prayer and reasoned matters of the creative world, pondered:

A hedge of trees surround me,
A blackbird’s lay sings to me,
Above my lined booklet
The thrilling birds chant to me.
In a grey mantle from the top of the bushes
The cuckoo sings;
Verily – may the Lord shield me!

From the Celtic Age, this liturgist evokes our place of ministry suspended between our Creator and His created world.  As the Children of God and People of the Resurrection, we live into our very ethos through prayer and service – we marvel at the essential nature of Hope made real in acts of offered thanksgiving, mourning, and healing.

Therefore, I invite all vergers and servers in God's church into a time of new life in prayer.  Our work is to uphold one another and to set our own examples for others in need of companionship and solace as well as measured wisdom.  Working with the VGEC Board and the Communications Committee, we are launching a "Vergers Prayer List" through the Vergers Guild of The Episcopal Church website at vergers.org/prayer. As your chaplain, this will allow me to help us all reengage each other and to advance our developing relationships as vergers and servers.

Instructions about the Vergers Prayer List is available at vergers.org/prayer as well. We have built a small form that you can fill out for prayer requests and I get a confidential email with that request. I will contact every person who submits a request and if we determine together that it is appropriate, we will add your request to the public prayers list. From time to time we will place prayers in the list anonymously when appropriate and please know that I will add all requests to my own personal prayer list as well.

In a bidding prayer context, the renowned preacher and prayer-warrior Henry Sloane Coffin, echoes this sentiment to engage, bear with, and encourage each other in daily prayers: 

Almighty and ever-living God, you are beyond the grasp of our highest thought, but within the reach of our frailest trust:  Come in the beauty of the morning’s light and reveal yourself to us.  Enrich us out of the heritage of seers and scholars and saints into whose faith and labors we have entered, and quicken us to new insights for our time; that we may be possessors of the truth of many yesterdays, partakers of your thoughts for today, and creators with you of a better tomorrow; through Jesus Christ, the Lord of the ages.  Amen.

Abstract:The Rev. Canon Matthew TL Corkern, Chaplain to The Vergers Guild of The Episcopal Church introduces the new Vergers Prayer List now found online at vergers.org/prayer.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

2017 VGEC Annual Conference Profile: The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry

Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry will join the VGEC on Friday, October 13th, 2017 at the VGEC Annual Conference 

By R. Michael Sanchez, Acting News Manager, and Chuck Dale, Chair, VGEC 2017 Annual Conference

We are very excited to announce that The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church, will join us at the 2017 VGEC Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday, October 13th in service, in worship, and in conversation. He will celebrate and preach at the Holy Eucharist and his keynote address will highlight how vergers and all Christians might be led to take part in the Jesus Movement within the Episcopal Church.

On Friday, October 13, 2017, the day will begin with Bp. Curry as we assemble in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis Hotel. At 9:30am he will walk with us as a group to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church - a walk of about one-third of a mile. Transportation will be provided for those who prefer not to walk. When we arrive at St. Luke’s, we will work in service project teams benefiting the Crossroads Community Ministries. This organization serves over 4,000 men, women and children each year who experience homelessness in Atlanta.

One of the projects will be a “sandwich build” producing approximately three-thousand sandwiches to be distributed to the homeless. We will also work on other projects ranging from from cleaning to painting to whatever is needed. At noon, the Presiding Bishop will celebrate and preach at the Holy Eucharist in the nave of St. Luke's. Following the liturgy, he will join us for a fantastic late lunch provided and served by Crossroads. After lunch, he will give the conference Keynote Address and then lead the Bishop’s Forum, an informal question and answer session. After the forum, he will be available to autograph books and continue to visit with everyone. We will all then be free for the remainder of Friday afternoon and evening to explore downtown Atlanta.

According to Scott Smith, President of the VGEC, "It is a true honor for the Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church to welcome Bp. Curry to our 29th Annual Conference. He has been a strong supporter of the verger ministry for many years and it is so appropriate that he will be joining us for our day of service during the conference this year."

In 2015, the Vergers Voice reported that when Michael was Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, his office produced a video called, "Please Note" with vergers Richard Parker, from Burlington and Mick Capon, from Durham at St. Philip's Durham. In that video, Bp. Curry made the observation that, "The verger is like a liturgical coordinator or conductor, sometimes visible and sometimes behind the scenes! This is sort of a liturgical concierge, a way of graciousness. I know when I'm traveling, it's so important for me to have someone to ask questions about a new place. That is a gracious and welcoming thing and it is at the heart of this ministry isn't it?" He closed the video by looking into the camera and saying, "Really, the ministry of the verger is the ministry of a concierge in the church."

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry was installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church on November 1, 2015. He was elected and confirmed at the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, UT, on June 27, 2015. He is the Chief Pastor and serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and chair of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church.

Born in Chicago, IL, on March 13, 1953, he attended public schools in Buffalo, NY, and graduated with high honors from Hobart College in Geneva, NY, in 1975. He received a Master of Divinity degree in 1978 from Yale Divinity School in New Haven, CT. He has furthered his education with continued study at The College of Preachers, Princeton Theological Seminary, Wake Forest University, the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary, and the Institute of Christian Jewish Studies.  He has received honorary degrees from Episcopal Divinity School, Sewanee, Virginia Theological Seminary, and Yale Divinity School.

Throughout his ministry, Bp. Curry has been active in issues of social justice, speaking out on immigration policy and marriage equality. He has a national preaching and teaching ministry, having been featured on The Protestant Hour and as a frequent speaker at conferences around the country.  He is married to the former Sharon Clement, and they have two daughters, Rachel and Elizabeth.

He has authored numerous publications including columns for the Huffington Post and the Baltimore Times. His most recent book, Songs My Grandma Sang, was published in June 2015; Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus was his first book, in August 2013. Both books will be available for purchase during the Atlanta Conference.

Register now to join us for the 2017 VGEC Annual Conference on Thursday, October 12, 2017 through Sunday October 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Top 10 Reasons to attend the Atlanta Conference
  1. You'll be spending a day with the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, in service, worship and in grand conversation as our keynote speaker.
  2. You'll be worshiping, in community, at churches throughout the city of Atlanta.
  3. You'll meet the Bishops of Atlanta.
  4. You will be part of a service project in support of Crossroads Community Ministries for the unhoused.
  5. Unbelievably low conference hotel rate - if you act soon.
  6. We're expecting a record turnout of vergers from around the world.
  7. Did we mention that flying to Atlanta is EASY? Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International is generally known as the world's busiest airport, serving more than 260,000 passengers daily and 950,119 flights each year. Delta Air Lines flew 75.4% of the airport's passengers in February 2016, Southwest flew 9.2%, and American Airlines flew 2.5%.
  8. You will really like what is planned for the official Reception and Banquet events.
  9. The VGEC store, along with a stellar group of vendors/sources, will be open for your dedicated browsing.
  10. Nearby attractions include the Centennial Olympic Park, College Football Hall of Fame, Georgia Aquarium, MLK National Historic Site, National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the World of Coca-Cola.

The 2017 VGEC Annual Conference will take place in Atlanta, Georgia from October 12th through October 15th.  We hope you can join us!  Click the big red button to register today.  You can also read more about the conference and book your hotel.

Abstract: The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church, will join us at the 2017 VGEC Annual Conference on Friday, October 13th in service, in worship, and in conversation. We hope you will join us, too!