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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Advent 4 and Christmas Eve, Oh My!

The Advent wreath with three lighted candles juxtaposed with the Christmas trees just does not quite look right...

By Scott Smith, VGEC President and Head Sacristan, Trinity Church Wall Street, New York, [email protected]

Editor's note: While we were working on this topic, the Episcopal New Service posted, "Churches face liturgical 'conundrum' with Christmas Eve falling on Advent IV" which is a really good post, so check it out.

2006 was the most recent year the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve fell on the same day. In 2017 we have such a year, as we will also have in 2023, 2028, and 2034. Yes, there are nerds among us who track these things.

The gang here at the Vergers Voice blog are wondering what our membership, filled with active participants in the liturgical planning of our parishes, are doing in preparation for this particularly busy Sunday and Monday. So we asked you! We sent out a Mail Chimp email to 1,995 members. We were thrilled to hear from many of you who took the time to reply. Here's a generous sample of the replies:

From Tony J. Faught, St. Edmund's Episcopal Church, San Marino, California

Christmas is always an exciting time at Church and something I always look forward to. With Advent 4 and Christmas Eve falling on the same day, it does add to my already hectic duties. I am not only Verger of my Parish I am also LEM, Lector, Usher, Hospitality and I belong to the Bell Choir. Coordinating four services for one day is exhausting but joyous work. I am finding that the most difficult duty is trying to gather my teenage Acolytes for each service. Gathering a handful for morning services has proven to be pretty easy, gathering a full Acolyte corps for each of the 2 evening services has proven much more difficult. With perseverance I managed to complete my task with 3 adult volunteers to fill in the gaps for the late service. It will be with great pride when I see the fruits of my labor come to fruition Christmas Eve as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

From Hank Williams, Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

We here in eastern Canada are doing probably what a great number of others are doing i.e. scaling back the number of services. We already have a weekly service at 8:00 a.m, 10:00 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. which would make Christmas eve extremely hectic with the yearly 4:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., and 11:00 p.m. services. We will have only a 10:00 a.m. service on Christmas eve morning and the other three that evening. This will be followed by the usual 10:00 a.m. on Christmas morning. Thank goodness that Boxing Day is a statutory holiday here!

From Geoff Brown, Trinity Lime Rock in the Diocese of Connecticut

First off, instead of having our Christmas Pageant on 4 Advent we had it on 3 Advent this year. This may upset some, but attached is a photo of our acolytes heading out in the Gospel procession. You’ll note that they are not in any usual kind of vestments – these are their costumes for the pageant which follows the Gospel. It was unintentional, but I see that we managed this year to have Advent Blue vestments without spending an extra dime! Somehow the costumes, at least for these three, were at least variants on Advent Blue. (note that the altar, however, is not). We’re handling the Advent 4 – Christmas eve conundrum this year as follows: Sunday 8 AM Holy Eucharist – straight Advent 4. Sunday 10:30 AM Holy Eucharist – begins as Advent 4 with lighting the Advent wreath, but morphs into the family Christmas eve service. Altar will be white, and acolytes will be in red cassocks (pretty much their favorites, and they wear them only 3x per year: Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Pentecost) with white cottas. None of them will fit from last year, so we will have some vesting confusion. We have a seven year old as Lector and a nine year old as Epistler that day. (actually, they are both really good and expressive readers, and recognize that this is a relatively big deal so they will be prepared. Even if I have to pull up a kneeler so they can get up to the level of the lectern). Sunday 6 PM Holy Eucharist – straight Christmas Eve. We will have a lot of photos at facebook.com/trinitylimerock.

From Shirley Pardon, St. Philips in Coral Gables, Florida.

We seem to be luckier than most at St. Philips in Coral Gables, Florida.
  • The Altar Guild functions brilliantly.
  • The flowers are delivered by the local florist - already arranged.
  • Verger's only needed for one service - the late one.
  • Everything else is organized and run by the Rector.
  • Then we stand around the fountain after the midnight service, drinking champagne in the courtyard.
So no sweat at our church!!! Merry Christmas to all Vergers. I will be thinking of you all in your churches.

From Scott Smith, Trinity Church Wall Street, New York City

Of course as VGEC president I replied! So let me say that, just like everyone else, this is definitely a crammed 30 hour period. I'm not sure if I like it better having everything at the same time or not. There is something in me that says it's better to get it all over with at once, but I really should think about that feeling before I promote it. At Trinity Church, we have long decided that it is virtually impossible to adequately communicate to everyone (parishioners, staff, and most importantly in this case, the public) changes to our normal Sunday and weekday schedule of our services. So, we never even thought about reducing the number of Advent 4 services that we were having, and that gave all of our communications a well defined clarity about them. With Advent being on then we had to decide about the Christmas Pageant. Lord have mercy, this was already complicated and now it's getting worse. So at our normal 9:15am Family Service at St. Paul's Chapel on Advent 4, we plopped the Christmas Pageant there, so in fact we decided to cheat a little right from the start. Everything else we pretty much left the same. The biggest impact this has had is that Trinity Church has to stay in Advent mode until after the 11:15am service and jump to Christmas by 6pm, and St. Paul's Chapel has 8am Advent 4 in full blown Christmas decorations and continues with the pageant and the Family Christmas Eve Eucharist at 4pm and so on. This is not that interesting, so I'll stop right here! I will add that just like everyone reading this, the biggest challenge we have faced here is scheduling the 321 people for all of the 9 services that we have in the 30 hours from Advent 4 to Christmas Day. That's a lot of people! To see our online rota for that period, click HERE.

From Annette Baker, St. Gregory's Episcopal Church, Boca Raton, Florida

When sending out our schedule to everyone, I sent the following note and had a few people respond and try to help with the load:
Hello everyone, ​Below and attached is the schedule for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (Farther below, I've also attached December 24th 8am and 10am services that are Advent 4 services and were sent out previously). With so many services and so many of us traveling for the holiday, you may see on the schedule that many people are doing double, triple, or even quadruple duty. We truly appreciate your time and willingness to serve! If by chance, you aren't on the schedule and would like to serve, can you please let me know?
Also thinking about sending a note out enticing volunteers with Christmas cookies in the acolyte room between services - food seems to always attract! Another thing I asked is that the altar guild (who is also running thin) make sure and rinse all of our vessels that are used on the credence table in the piscina because with so few of us on the altar, the vergers will also have to be lay Eucharistic ministers and will be unable to clean the vessels right after the Eucharist as is normal in our service. Just a few thoughts....

From Jim Parks, St. James Marietta, Georgia

With Advent 4 and the Christmas Eve services together we will be having a total of 7 services at St.James Marietta as well as a 10:00 on Christmas morning. We always use two Vergers for our major services and usually only one during the regular services. That means on Christmas Eve I will have used a total of 11 vergers on that day plus one Christmas Day... No doubt we will all be worn out when it's over but that just comes with the territory. Just glad we are all able to serve.

From David Phillips, Christ and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Norfolk, Virginia

We are preparing for 4th Advent for the 10:15AM service, the annual children’s pageant at 4PM, and the Christmas Eve Festal Eucharist with Beginning at 9:30 PM with the Women of the Choir singing A CEREMONY OF CAROLS, OP. 28 by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976); Barbara Chapman, harp. We have a cadre of 5 Volunteer Vergers, 4 of whom will serve in these services: 1 at 4th Advent, 2 at each of the Festal Eucharists. Brass was polished by a team of volunteers last Saturday, the Altar and Flower Guilds will be in high gear with all teams collaborating to do the changeover from 4th Advent to Christmas Eve on Sunday afternoon. College students returning for the holidays will also participate as Acolytes and Servers. We are particularly fortunate to have as our guest Presider and Preacher, The Right Reverend Doctor James B. Magness. These services will also mark the end of 50 years of service for our organ, which will be packed up and sent away for repair and rebuilding during the coming year. It is anticipated to return for Christmas Eve 2018.

From Ernie Mainland, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Petoskey, Michigan

Ours is a small parish in northern Michigan. If we all showed up at the same time, we might have 300 souls. But it is likely that we will have no more than 150 at the largest of four services on Advent IV and Christmas Eve. A our priest is also going to a neighboring parish that has no priest, he will no doubt be totally exhausted. I am doing the Christmas Day service, ten in the morning, where we will be lucky to have a dozen folks. The liturgy is based on my great grandfather’s BCP of 1874. There will be no communion since we will be celebrating the birth of Jesus, not remembering the Last Supper. We will follow that BCP right up to the consecration paragraphs using the lectionary from the same book. The readings are appropriate for the birth, including Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 2:1 and finally John 1:1. The “sermon” will be Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Christmas Message of 2016. We will follow the service with birthday cake and a suitable beverage. The three gifts will also be on display: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

From Donald Wertz, All Saints' Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas

We persuaded the Rector to celebrate only the first Service on Sunday to observe Advent IV so the Altar guild will have time to change hangings, arrange poinsettias, etc.

From John Whitaker, Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, Tennessee

Our Dean has come up with a brilliant solution! The Advent IV service will be held at a special Saturday evening service, to fulfil that obligation. Sunday, the 24th will proceed as a usual Christmas Eve; that is, we will not have any of the regular Sunday morning services, but will have our customary Christmas Eve Services at 12:15 p.m., 4:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Christmas will see our usual 10 a.m. service (very low key). This will allow the Altar Guild and Flower Guild perform their usual magic, Saturday morning. So minimum stress and change, this year! Merry Christmas!

From Bill Cox, St. John's Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas

We typically have three services on Sundays - two services in English in the morning and one in Spanish in the early afternoon. On Christmas Eve, we typically have two services - a bilingual family-oriented Eucharist in the early evening that includes a children’s pageant and a late “midnight mass” service where we pull out all the stops - full choir, additional brass and woodwind instrumentalists, congregational candles, and so forth. This upcoming Sunday, we will merge the two liturgical days by having a single service for Advent IV in the morning. After the service, we will have a simple lunch that we are using as a bribe to get people to help us decorate the church for Christmas. We switch from Sarum Blue for Advent to Celebration White for Christmas, and we break out all the poinsettias, wreaths, and other finery that have been quietly waiting in the sacristy. The evening services are as usual for Christmas Eve—a bilingual children’s pageant at 5:00 PM, Choral presentation at 10:30 PM, and the Celebration Eucharist at 11:00 PM. We then have another Eucharist on Christmas Morning; sadly this service is sparsely attended. After that, there is a slight bit of rest for the weary - at least until we prepare for the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, our namesake Saint, a few days later.

From Charles Miller, The Church of the Resurrection, Vineland, New Jersey

Being that there is no Trinity Episcopal or Saint Andrews here in Cumberland County, New Jersey, and being that the two parishes are worshiping as The Church of the Resurrection (Episcopal), the Christmas services are going to be a bit different this year. We are starting Sunday morning service as usual at 10:00 AM at our rented site in Millville, New Jersey. After that service we will set the Church up for the 10:00 PM service, then as soon as that service is over we load up and move everything to Saint Andrews in Bridgeton for the 10:00 service Christmas day. Then we load everything up and take it back to our rented Church in Millville.

From Andrew Eastman, Church of the Holy Comforter, Vienna, Virginia

At our parish (~1,800 members) we are fortunate to have six vergers, which allows us to spread the load. Our interim rector made the decision to observe Advent 4 at our Saturday 5:00 pm service this year. That allows us to focus our attention fully on the Christmas Eve liturgy on Sunday. Our vergers have been in place for a minimum of three years, with some in their position for over a decade so it is not our first Christmastide. While we can’t eliminate the stress of the season completely, we reduce it as much as possible by planning, reflecting on how we have conducted the services in previous years, and meeting as a team with the clergy, minister of music, altar guild and lay liturgist coordinator to review the liturgies in the week prior. Planning is the key. We begin in August by coordinating verger and lay liturgist schedules, then in early November we solicit acolyte volunteers from our 60+ member acolyte team. Where training is needed, we conduct it a few weeks in advance. Assignments for the service are communicated and confirmed five days in advance. Vergers and clergy meet three days in advance to review the service in detail and review assignments. Service bulletins are distributed electronically. Acolytes, lay liturgists and verger arrive 30-60 minutes in advance of the service to review what will occur. All these steps help to ensure we are prepared and hopefully have a low stress Christmas.

From Gary Mason, St. Paul's Church Englewood, New Jersey

Yes it is a busy time for all of us. We at St. Paul's Englewood NJ are having a Greening of the Church on Saturday morning. On Advent 4 we are having Morning Payer at our 8:00am and 10:30am services. At 5:00pm we are having a Jazz Mass and at 10:30 pm we will have Carols followed by a Choral Candle Lit Mass at 11:00pm.

From Corrine Hilton Hofstetter, St, Aiden's Episcopal Church, Alpharetta, Georgia

First of all, Happy Holidays to all ! May you be blessed this season! The four vergers at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church are rejoicing with our parish the installation of The Rev. Reginald Simmons as our new Rector on December 17! Due to the recent power outage at the Altanta airport, our guest preacher could not be with us so Bp. Wright stepped up to fill in with an inspirational presentation. A great day for all involved! On behalf of Cozy Ledford, Becky Sullivan, Bob Stetcher, and myself, we hope that you will have the pleasure of meeting Fr. Reggie soon! God Bless!

From David Nolan, Christ Episcopal Church, Deposit, New York

With the season being very busy unable to get to my inbox until today. The Flower Guild has completed their work. The list is provided by the Treasurer and purchase is done thru the Lions Club which provides poinsettias. I will be assisting Altar Guild tomorrow. No Service Sunday a.m. Two services in the evening. One at 7:00 p.m. and one at 11:00 p.m. I will be multitasking at these. Verger, reader, Lay Eucharistic Minister, and thurifer. Merry Christmas and May God Bless all.

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]!

Abstract: Take notes on Sunday, December 24, 2017, because we get to celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve together again in 2023, a mere six years away. Here are how some of our fellow vergers are hoping to celebrate. Merry Christmas from the Vergers Voice!


  1. The most wonderful part of this for me, at little Trinity Lime Rock, is seeing that the rota at Trinity Wall Street still has TBDs on it. It gives me hope!! I am not the only one!!

    1. Geoff - Yes!! Even with 321 roles to fill, there are always TBDs out there. For our clergy, many will be there due to being at other services and since we know they will come, we don't get overly concerned about having each one of their paten or chalice roles filled. There are also parishioners who will just show up at the time of the event to volunteer. So just like any other parish, Trinity Wall Street will leave some TBDs around and not lose too much sleep about it. Speaking of sleep, we had better get some tonight before we report to church in the morning!! Best wishes to your and yours! And thanks for your input into this post - Scott.


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