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Friday, June 2, 2017

As Vergers, When do we Serve? When do we Worship?

John Whitaker, Sacristan and Verger at Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, contemplates when and how we worship as we do our work in the church

By John Whitaker, Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, Tennessee, [email protected]

Editor's Note: We posed several questions to John: How do we worship when we are vergers or servers? Do we worship while we serve? Are you able to worship at all when you are on duty? Does this make the times that you are not serving even more important? Do we have to find our own spiritual outlets? Or are we missing something? This is his response...

The Eucharistic Minister trainees' eyes glaze over after receiving my instructions on their movements for a typical service:

“Sit up straight...

"Feet on the floor...

"...modest bow to Celebrant...

"...half-waist bow to altar...

"...process in at three and a half pews distance behind the servers in front of you to prevent the procession from being an accordion."

I can tell that they were expecting this to be more of a meaningful experience — maybe even spiritual. Instead their heads are swimming with the movements, the timing and the mechanics of their roles.

At this point I say to them all, "Just remember, everything we do here is a prayer. It is all worship through our movements." Now they appear to be truly bewildered. And who can blame them?

Speaking of prayer, I have the highest respect for those who practice Contemplative Prayer. Personally, I lack their focus. The antipodes of Contemplative or Meditative Prayer is Kinetic Prayer. For those of us who can think and speak better when we are walking about will understand the benefits of kinetic prayer.

One popular version of kinetic prayer is walking the labyrinth. This discipline began in medieval times for persons too poor or infirmed to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury or to the Holy Land. Instead, they would pray and meditate on spiritual attributes as they walked a labyrinth, a discipline which symbolized their own spiritual journey. Walking a labyrinth that was located in their cathedral or abbey garden was certainly safer than a journey to the land of the Saracens, and that certainly helped keep their focus on more spiritual concerns.

The prayer practice using Anglican (or Benedictine) prayer beads is another, though a less active form of kinetic prayer. Moving through the sequence of beads, the supplicant chants a "Hail Mary," a "Gloria," an "Our Father," or the like, while simultaneously focusing on another concept such as a spiritual virtue, an act of praise, or an event in the life of our Savior. The spiritual equivalent of patting one's head while rubbing one’s tummy — difficult at first, but with practice it becomes second nature.

Sparing my trainees the historical perspective of kinetic prayer practices, I simply say at this point, “Who here has seen or heard of Liturgical Dance, and who has seen or walked the labyrinth?” Recognition returned to their eyes.

I continue, “Think of what we do, then, as choreography for worship, or praying the labyrinth. Our actions contribute to the worship and spiritual experience of the congregation, through the economy of our movement, which minimizes the attention on us, and the fluidity of our motion, which allows focus on the Eucharist. Move with thankfulness in your hearts; pray as you serve, and serve with humility as if it were to the Apostles.”

Many months later, when asked to write a blog post to address those opening questions, I began to compare everything that we do as vergers as a prayer, an offering of praise and thanksgiving to God. Our effort is to make the worship service flow beautifully so the focus will be on the Eucharist and not on the mechanics.

I was also reminded of our VGEC motto, “Servitas in cultu et cultus per servitatem” which surrounds the right side of our organization's seal. It roughly translates to, “Service through worship and worship through service.” That truly brought this topic home for me.

How appropriate then, may it be, for vergers and servers in God's church to pray this collect from the daily office (BCP pg. 100, Morning Prayer II):

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our 
being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by 
your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our 
life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are 
ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Yes. Amen, indeed.

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Abstract: We pose several questions to John Whitaker, Verger and Eucharistic Minister Coordinator, for this post. How do we worship when we are vergers or servers? Do we worship while we serve? Are you able to worship at all when you are on duty? Does this make the times that you are not serving even more important? Do we have to find our own spiritual outlets? Or are we missing something? This is his response...

1 comment:

  1. A dear friend of mine who is MC/Acolyte Director said if he gets the rare chance to pew sit, he goes to another parish otherwise he doesn't worship in the pew, he ends up critiquing to make sure everything works well. That is fine and dandy in a urban sitting, but in a rural country parish it may be 75 - 80 miles to the next parish.


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