In a few weeks cathedral verger Hank Williams will fly to Atlanta to join the largest gathering ever assembled of vergers from the United States, Canada and throughout the world.
“People think vergers wear robes and process slowly around the nave, and that’s the extent of it,” Hank says with a smile.
As a verger for many years, he knows better. The position of verger goes back to at least the 1600s in the Church of England.
“Historically, vergers were responsible for the order and upkeep of the house of worship, including preparations for the liturgy, the conduct of the laity, and grave-digging,” he explains, adding the latter activity is, thankfully, not part of his role. “Today it’s a ministry of service and welcome.”
For example, the verger’s organizational, logistical and behind-the-scenes support allow the clergy more time for pastoral and sacramental responsibilities. He or she also help with special services, including seating arrangements, welcoming newcomers and visiting clergy, answering questions about the facilities, services and programs.
“At the Atlanta conference Oct. 12-15, some vergers will be new to the job and others much more experienced,” Hank notes. “Many work in smaller parishes, not only in cathedrals. Most co-ordinate with the altar guild. I know I couldn’t do my job without them!”
It will be a good chance to compare notes and share advice
Some vergers train chalice bearers, prayer intercessors and/or tour guides. Some check lighting and sound when setting up for the service, and some have taken first-aid training or made emergency measures preparations.
“It will be a good chance to compare notes and share advice,” Hank said, noting he is grateful to Bishop and Chapter and the Anglican Church Women’s Group at the cathedral for helping fund his trip to Atlanta.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to learn more about a ministry I find meaningful and spiritual,” he said. “I am looking forward to a keynote address by the presiding primate of the U.S. Episcopal Church who will highlight the ministry of the verger and its part to lead the church in the Jesus Movement.”
Hank, who enjoys singing, will also attend a festive choral eucharist and a choral evensong as well as other worship services and workshops.
The 29th annual conference of vergers, whose theme is Draw the circle wider, features exhibits, a shop, and fellowship including a recognition dinner. It also has an unusual aspect. Registrants have been asked to bring basic supplies, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and socks to Atlanta. These items will be presented at the altar and donated to homeless people.
“Vergers will also get involved in a service project during the conference,” Hank said. “It could involve cleaning, painting, making sandwiches or other tasks to help Crossroads Community Ministries which assists homeless men, women and children in Atlanta. The ministry of hospitality we provide at our home churches will take on a special meaning there.”
The verger would be pleased to share highlights upon his return from the conference. Hank added he welcomes questions from congregation members any time, especially from anyone interested especially from anyone interested in helping occasionally with verger duties.