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.

For information about submitting news and announcements to the blog, click HERE or contact [email protected].

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Verger Checklist Manifesto

Good checklists can really help vergers and The Checklist Manifesto puts it all into perspective

By David Deutsch, Volunteer Verger at Washington National Cathedral, [email protected]

As I read Dr. Atul Gawande’s short but fascinating book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, (2009, Henry Holt and Company, New York) I knew right away why VGEC President Scott Smith asked me to write a review. This book could be extremely helpful to many vergers.

Dr. Gawande focuses on the medical profession to explain the theory behind the checklist, its application, its creation, and its difficulties in finding acceptance. But his clear intention is to raise the possibility that many people in many professions could benefit from using a checklist.

This book is an easy read and I highly recommend that all vergers, especially head vergers, read it. While I realize many of you might already be using a checklist for services, this book is particularly useful in that it explains the difference between a good checklist and a bad one. Below are a few factoids from the book.

The checklist came into use after a prototype bomber, Boeing’s Model 299, crashed during takeoff at a critical competition in front of U.S. Army Air Corps brass in 1935. The crash killed the highly experienced test pilot and wrecked not only the plane but Boeing’s chances for getting a contract. The problem: the pilot, Major Ployer P. Hill, forgot to release a new locking mechanism for the rudder and elevator controls. The checklist was born. Boeing eventually got the contract back from Douglas and built the Model 299 which became the B-17, one of the most famous planes in aviation history.

It is important to note that a checklist is not a detailed customary explaining each step of a project. A checklist sets forth the minimum steps possible in a process and makes them explicit. Dr. Gawande writes of the years of designing a checklist to be used in surgical operations around the world. The finished product had only14 steps. Put forth by the World Health Organization, it has saved many lives in both prosperous and third-world operating rooms. Checklists are not “comprehensive how-to guides... they provide protection against failures. They remind us of the minimum steps and make them explicit.”

In order to find out what makes a good checklist, Dr. Gawande visits Daniel Boorman at Boeing, a veteran pilot who has spent two decades designing checklists:
There are good checklists and bad. Bad checklists are vague and imprecise. They are too long; they are hard to use; they are impractical…They treat the people using the tools as dumb and try to spell out every single step. They turn people’s brains off rather than turn them on. Good checklists, on the other hand, are precise... They do not try to spell out everything... They provide reminders of the most critical steps... Good checklists are, above all, practical.
To summarize the book, good checklists are
  • Concise
  • Precise
  • Practical
  • Protection against forgetting procedures that are done over and over
  • A guard against the fallibility of human memory
  • A prevention against accidentally skipping steps
  • Buttress skills
  • Must be constantly reviewed and refined lest they become “ossified mandates.”
  • Allow room for judgment—judgment enhanced by procedure

Can a checklist be useful to the verger? In order to think more deeply about the use of checklists, I very much recommend that we vergers read The Checklist Manifesto. It may enhance smoother running of the liturgy during our services which, as we know, can have many moving parts.

BTW: If you use a checklist at your services, how is it working for you? Or, if you tried using one and discarded the idea, why?

Coda


I have never forgotten the installation of a new rector who I knew and very much liked. It promised to be a wonderful service which included a baptism. Installations are complicated—a one-off service, if you will—but all was humming along splendidly. Then, as the baptism began, it was discovered that no one filled the ewer with water.


Did you know that we have a huge number of shared documents in the Vergers Document Library online? See vergers.org/resources/library.

We have a whole section of Verger Checklists in the library that you might explore.

You can also submit your own checklists to Eileen Brightwell Hicks the volunteer Document Library Manager at [email protected] for possible inclusion in the library!



The 2017 VGEC Annual Conference deadline to register is Monday, October 2, 2017. We cannot accept on-site registrations! Registration is $275.00 per person.




Abstract: Do you use a checklist for regular Sunday services? Here's a book that can help you start utilizing checklists or refine the ones that you currently use. David Deutsch reviews and recommends that we vergers read The Checklist Manifesto.


Friday, September 15, 2017

A Verger without a Chimere and Virge is — a Verger!

How often do you use a virge and a chimere when you are a verger in a small parish?


Verging in a Small Parish


by Joseph John, St. James' Episcopal Church, Pewee Valley, Kentucky, [email protected]

Is there really a difference between verging in a large church versus a small church?

YES. NO. MAYBE.

What a cop out response.

However, let me first say “Ahh!”

Ahh, yes, the chimere, the virge, the procession down the aisle. Yes, that's just one of the enjoyable "perks" of being a verger.

However…forget the Ahh!, the vestments and the "stick" (or virge), for a moment. I believe the role of being a verger is directly related to the size of the church, plus the history of the church's liturgical processes, plus the season of the year, plus the pre-disposition of your rector towards liturgical processes and verger involvement — always keeping in mind that the verger serves at the pleasure of the Rector, Vicar, or Priest-in-Charge, or the Senior Warden.

In other words, a verger in a small parish with an average Sunday attendance of 75 or less may or may not be vesting and processing on a regular basis. So be it.

Let's begin with the baseline of responsibilities for the verger — large or small church. An excerpt from the vergers.org web site entitled "The Verger Today":
The verger's logistical and behind the scenes support allow the clergy more time for pastoral and sacramental responsibilities. We often say that every parish has a verger whether or not they are identified as such. Some typical verger duties are assigning, training and checking in lectors, chalice bearers, acolytes and prayer intercessors. The verger often coordinates with the altar guild and funeral guild. In some parishes the verger checks lighting and sound.

The precise duties of the verger will be specific to each parish church. For instance, in some parishes the verger will process at all liturgies and in others, they only process on Feast or Festival days. Especially helpful with visiting clergy or special services, the verger checks on additional seating, hospitality and welcoming newcomers. Most parishes, either small or large, and clergy who incorporate the verger position, wonder how they ever did without vergers!
Indeed, we as vergers are very busy; however, I think the small parish verger is even busier simply because there aren't a lot of people to divvy up responsibilities — there’s just ONE of me. No other bodies — no delegation of responsibilities. With the benefits of delegation being lessened dramatically, there is more "doing" and "git 'er done" required of the verger. Small church vs. large church is simply the difference of having bodies or critical mass to accomplish the many jobs a verger typically performs in any parish.

Yes, for the small parish verger, there is less pomp-and-circumstance and more behind-the-scenes work. He/she is working with the Altar Guild, the Worship Committee, the organist, the Parish Administrator, ushers, acolytes, Episcopal Church Women, and more.

Speaking of acolytes, invariably, there are fewer acolytes in the small parish, which then increases the challenges of training and scheduling around Mom and Dad's busy Sunday, weekend, and vacation schedules. Oh, my, there are countless times that I believe that it's a lot easier to herd cats or bishops.

Structure and attention to detail is Rule #1 for any verger, and Rule #1 is critical in the small parish. He/she must be organized and focused since there is always a bunch of running back-and-forth to ensure that the "show" goes on — without a hitch. Again, rarely is there anyone present to whom responsibilities can be delegated.

Rule #2 is flexibility. The verger has to be flexible for there will be changes during the liturgy that weren’t planned and so, the verger must accept the fact that every Sunday is "live theater" and thus, things change very quickly. Let's face it — the verger is a stage manager for the liturgical services.

I mentioned more personal "doing" rather than "delegating"; well, the small church many times lacks a sexton, and so the verger in the small church will often be responsible for opening the church, the parish hall, and all of the "locked doors" that need to be opened for easy access to the services.

Are there other challenges to the small parish verger? Oh, yes. A major challenge is the small parish that lacks a full-time rector. A verger in a situation like this becomes a major asset to the Vestry and the Search Committee as he/she keeps the Sunday services flowing while working with supply priests — one less thing the Senior Warden and the Vestry has to worry about.

The verger greets the supply priest, makes all the necessary introductions to those who will be involved in the liturgy that day. He/she reviews the liturgical processes for all services that should have been prepared by the verger and emailed to the priest earlier in the week.

And then the "stage manager" does a sound check, checks the lavaliere and shows the priest where to vest, the all-important location of the bathrooms and, of course, the freshly brewed coffee. And the list continues.

Well, all the responsibilities I've listed in this article come as no surprise to vergers throughout our churches. It’s really more of a "there's ONE of me" in the small church as compared to "there's more of me's" in the large church.

So is there really a difference between verging in a large church versus a small church?

YES. NO. MAYBE.


Did you know that you can submit your own story about the verger ministry for possible inclusion in the Vergers Voice blog?

We are always looking for interesting topics, ideas, and creative ways of demonstrating the power and enjoyment of being part of the fellowship of the VGEC and our ministry of service.

If you have any ideas, or if you would like to take your turn at writing a post and sharing ideas, send them to [email protected]!



The 2017 VGEC Annual Conference in Atlanta is coming very soon on October 12th to October 15th. Registration is $275.00 per person. The deadline to register is Monday, October 2, 2017. We cannot accept on-site registrations!




Abstract: Recently, vergersvoice.org asked the members of the Vergers Guild to consider submitting ideas and manuscripts for the blog. This post was submitted by Joseph John, a verger in a small church, average Sunday attendance of 73, in Kentucky. See if you agree with his summation of the difference between verging in small and large churches.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Tales from the Slype, Part 4: There will be Earthquakes...

Fallen angel on the roof of Washington National Cathedral (photo by John Stuhldreher)

By David Deutsch, Volunteer Verger at Washington National Cathedral, [email protected]

I began as a volunteer verger at Washington National Cathedral in July of 2003. Over the course of my time, I had certain epiphanies that, among other results, told me that this great stone edifice which can look cold and imposing on the outside, actually has a warm heart and vibrant spirit. When I am at the cathedral, I hang out in the slype. Now a slype in medieval times was a covered passageway between the dean’s office and the nave, giving the head of the cathedral easy access to the services. At Washington National Cathedral the slype is comfortably furnished, has storage for vestments, the service books, etc. The slype is both a control tower and hanger for worship. This is part 4 in the "Tales from the Slype Series:"

…there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. – Mark 13:8

What the hell is that banging noise? On August 23, 2011 at 1:50pm1, I am sitting in the slype, drowsy from lunch. The crashing sound immediately jolts me fully awake. I hurry to the door to see what is going on in the nave. But arriving at the slype door, I realize that sound is actually the door itself. Although closed with the latch, the large wooden door is bouncing around on its hinges, pounding back and forth creating a huge racket. I am beginning to feel a bit unsteady on my feet.

I open the door and immediately notice the nave looks eerie. Dust is swirling around blocking the light. The floor feels unsteady. I cannot process what is happening. I want to move more into the nave, but I cannot. Then I hear security—

"Earthquake! Everyone leave the cathedral!" That jolts my neurons and synapses. I am fully awake. My brain is racing. I know what I have to do.

I reenter the slype. Sitting at the computer, I log on and go to my Facebook page. I post an update:

I am at the Washington National Cathedral in the middle of an earthquake.

["YOU! GO NOW!" A security officer has poked his head into the slype.]

I have to leave. More later.

I log off, gather my stuff, exit through the North Entrance, and gather on the grass with other evacuees. On my way out, not far from where I exited, I saw a huge finial sticking into the ground like a guided missile. It had fallen off from the roof of the cathedral. Hmmm, I wonder if outdoors is the safest place to be. Soon we are told to go home.

"Home" lasted nearly two months. The magnitude 5.8 earthquake shut down the House of Prayer for all people causing 34 million dollars worth of damage. But, in some ways, the Cathedral came through quite well. Here is an excerpt from The Day the Earth Shook: Washington National Cathedral Earthquake Restoration by James W. Shepherd, AIA, LEED.
In some ways, it is amazing that the Cathedral performed as well as it did in a magnitude 5.8 earthquake. To truly understand the extent of the damage, however, one needs to look closely at the structural flying buttresses and the decorative architectural elements that extend above the roofline.

As the seismic energy worked its way through the ground and traveled upward, it was released through the displacement of the highest and most slender components of the Cathedral—and also, one of the highest geographical point in the city. Delicate pinnacles on the Cathedral's towers, each weighing thousands of pounds, spun and burst apart from the seismic force unleashed in less than a minute. One gargoyle was decapitated...

Inside the Cathedral, the "debris fields" held clues to where the stone vaulted ceiling overhead experienced the most movement. The seismic waves shifted stones, causing mortar to loosen, crack and fall. In some cases, the ceiling stones cracked and spalled2.
An earthquake not only shakes the earth but shakes up the mind as well. What we take as solid can crumble. What we perceive as secure can become dangerous. In the midst of such chaos, what astounds me is the amazing spirit that humankind has to rebuild, to move forward, and to look through the debris to the future. We can see that spirit on the news when reporters interview residents of small towns who have been hit by a tornado. And I can feel that spirit beginning November 12, 2011 when I returned to the slype ten weeks after the earthquake. Fundraising has begun. The building is stabilized. Joe Alonso and his two stone carvers are hard at work. The Eucharist—a service of thanksgiving—has returned. Hope and faith abound.

More later.

1 For those of you who like accuracy–and I know that vergers do like accuracy–the time was 1:51:04.
2 Spall: To break up or reduce by or as if by chipping with a hammer (Merriam Webster)


Did you know that you can submit your own story about the verger ministry for possible inclusion in the Vergers Voice blog?

We are always looking for interesting topics, ideas, and creative ways of demonstrating the power and enjoyment of being part of the fellowship of the VGEC and our ministry of service.

If you have any ideas, or if you would like to take your turn at writing a post and sharing ideas, send them to [email protected]!



The 2017 VGEC Annual Conference in Atlanta is coming very soon on October 12th to October 15th. Registration is $275.00 per person. The deadline to register is Monday, October 2, 2017. We cannot accept on-site registrations!




Abstract: The photo for this blog post tells an incredible story. One of calm, surprise, shock, movement, shaking, falling, danger, fear, and the slow path to recovery. David Deutsch, a volunteer verger, tells about the 2011 earthquake at Washington National Cathedral from his own experience of being there: before, during, and after. More later.

Friday, September 1, 2017

My First 100 Days: Reflections of a new Verger

Godfrey tries out the Verger's Stall at St. Luke's Montclair with friends onlooking

By Godfrey Gregg FVGEC, St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Montclair, NJ - [email protected]

Easter Sunday, 2017 was a glorious day here in northern New Jersey. I awoke early, prayed, and prepared for my first verger experience. Prior to the start of the Great Vigil the night before, the rector had asked if I would like to verge tomorrow. Easter Sunday! My internal dialogue was, "Excuse me, what did you just ask me?" Following the Vigil, I grabbed a glass of champagne, approached the rector, and gave my reply, "Sure."

I am a life-long Episcopalian. At the age of ten I became a choirboy. Because choirboys received a monthly stipend, the parish (i.e. The Episcopal Church) was my first employer. I attended Episcopal Church schools, and like many of my generation I walked away from the church as I got older. Fortuitously, a couple of decades later, like the prodigal, I was welcomed home with open arms. I found a church that was inclusive and for twelve years I thrived in an Anglo Catholic experience. Following a move to New Jersey I was drawn to St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Montclair, New Jersey in August 2010. After a year I joined the Healing Ministry.

The thought of becoming a verger occurred to me after two life altering events. First, in January, 2015, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and required surgery. I took a sabbatical from teaching, reflected on my new identity, and recommitted myself to living. In the fall of 2015, I returned to the Healing Ministry and celebrated my deliverance from illness. The second event, in April 2016, occurred while I sat vigil on Maundy Thursday into Good Friday. St. Luke's was completely dark except for one candle. Suddenly I became aware of not being alone. The eyes of the faithful departed were upon me. I had not experienced such an intense examination since defending my dissertation. I am not psychotic! To self soothe myself I recited Robert Herrick's Litany to the Holy Spirit, "In the hour of my distress, When temptations me oppress. And when I my sins confess. Sweet Spirit Comfort Me!" As I sat my thoughts were often on the vergers. Indeed I was seated near the verger's stall.

St. Luke's was established in 1860 and the present edifice consecrated in December 1892. The parish had its first verger in 1917, J. G. Chesterman, who was also sexton and carpenter. There is a virge handmade in 1918 by Mr. Chesterman. The most recent verger died in October 2013 and his death created a huge void and sorrow, and the verger's stall remained vacant until Easter 2017.

During the summer of 2016, I approached the rector regarding the verger position and over the next few months we discussed the role. My oldest friend, from choirboy days, is a verger in Atlanta. His advice was, "Don't do it alone. It's a lot of work and if not careful you can/will get burned out. Think a team of vergers..." My rector also had a verger team concept but life circumstances and waning interests reduced the team to just me. The rector continued to encourage me. I read everything available, researched YouTube, and found services from Westminster Abbey. The vergers.org website was a treasure trove.

I joined VGEC in the fall of 2016 and started the training course. Additionally, in February and May of 2017, the Diocese of Newark conducted training for vergers. I started to wonder when I would have my first verger experience...

April 16, 2017, I arrived at St. Luke's with a checklist in hand. Being a former flight attendant, I was accustomed to having a checklist and/or preflight and I suspect most vergers have something similar. Neither the rector nor I had informed anyone about the new verger. Consequently, when I arrived in the vesting room and began to vest - there was silence. And that's when it hit me: I was wearing the cassock and chimere of my predecessors (ironically we were all about the same size and build) and I was holding the virge made by Mr. Chesterman in 1918. Plus it was the 100th anniversary of the verger position at St. Luke's: 1917-2017.

At 9:50 am I took my place and prepared for the procession. Easter Sunday - standing room only - dear Lord deliver me. Although everything went well, I recall the sense of relief at the conclusion of the service. I could breathe once again.

As the 100th day of my being verger approaches, I have served on thirteen Sundays and for one funeral. There is so much to learn! I have made mistakes. There are always comments regarding the role: you've got big shoes to fill; are your comfortable in the role; why don't you smile, Godfrey; good to see the verger's robes being used again - you wear them with dignity. I have questioned my decision to accept the verger's mantle but I always arrive at the same conclusion: you are in the right place and you are fine.

I confess there are occasions on Sundays when my eyes swell with tears. To be in service to Spirit is indeed a calling - Grace. This Grace is most deeply felt as I spend time alone in the church. I go to the church and polish items: the font, the crosses, collection plates, and other jewels that have gone unnoticed. I have discovered inscriptions on crosses and pews in memory of the departed. As I polish these inscriptions I sense a connection to those who have come before me - the linage - and who have made contributions. The polishing is as a prayer - an Intercession. St. Luke's is a living museum and I have been chosen as curator. As verger I have the honor to serve both the living and the departed.

I enjoy research. Therefore I have spent numerous hours probing through the church archives. I have found cancelled checks from the late 19th century, photos of choirs, rectors, and vergers. And now I too am a part of this history.

Soon after Easter I asked the rector about ordering new verger robes. I have reverence and love for my predecessors as I occupy their stall and carry their virge. However, I did not wish to wear their robes. Although I will wear their black chimere and black cassock during Lent and for funerals, I chose a blue cassock and grey chimere with blue piping for regular use. I felt the need to make my own mark. Thus far the congregation has given approval. And yet, there are moments when I wonder if I have moved too fast? Did the desire for individuality inappropriately replace tradition?

Each new verger must find her or his own way. We must stumble and question. We must turn to more experienced vergers for guidance and comfort. We must maintain faith that the Lord will illuminate our paths. I am hungry to learn more. I am excited to meet others at the Atlanta conference. With faith I enter my next 100 days...


Did you know that you can submit your own story about the verger ministry for possible inclusion in the Vergers Voice blog?

We are always looking for interesting topics, ideas, and creative ways of demonstrating the power and enjoyment of being part of the fellowship of the VGEC and our ministry of service.

If you have any ideas, or if you would like to take your turn at writing a post and sharing ideas, send them to [email protected]!



The 2017 VGEC Annual Conference in Atlanta is coming very soon on October 12th to October 15th. Registration is $275.00 per person. The deadline to register is Monday, October 2, 2017. We cannot accept on-site registrations!




Abstract: Recently, vergersvoice.org asked the members of the Vergers Guild to consider submitting ideas and manuscripts for the blog. This post was submitted by Godfrey Gregg, a new verger at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Montclair, New Jersey. A busy man, he also recently completed the VGEC Training Course and is a Fellow of the Guild and will be recognized as a new Fellow of the Guild at the Annual Conference in Atlanta on October 14th. Read more about his journey to the verger ministry.