Our verger retires: after eighteen years of faithful service



Hank Williams

Hank Williams dressed in a cassock, verger's (grey) chimere and verge

In June of 2001, I was approached by Dean Keith Joyce at Christ Church Cathedral to take over the post of verger. I have been in the job now for 18 years. Let me tell you a bit about it.

I chose Christ Church Cathedral as my spiritual home in 1979. In 1980, I became a member of the choir. For the next 21 years, that was my role in worship. It was a wonderful experience as it deepened, even more, my love of church music and the role it plays in worship.

The Dean said that due to my having been in the choir, I was familiar with what to do in procession, so he asked me if i’d like to take the job. I hesitated a bit as it required my operating the sound system, among other duties.

I had already accepted to train and supervise the summer tour guides the year before, after having retired from teaching, so I dove into the deep end of the pool and have never looked back.

It has been a job full of satisfaction and more than a few amusing incidents. The duty of the verger at the Cathedral has consisted of three main duties: setting up for all services, preceding the Dean in procession, and training and supervising the guides.

The bulk of the work is in the preparation of the building for services. These include eucharists, prayer services, weddings, funerals, and opening, closing and supervision of the space for concerts, and so on.

I chose the job as verger to be able to serve God through serving my fellow Christians

Over the years, tasks have been added, but usually by my own choice, as it is a joy to serve the members of the groups as well as the congregation in whatever way I can. I might also have been the first man on the altar guild!

Just what is the origin of the word “verger?” It comes from the word “verge,” from the Old French "verge" which derives from the latin "virga" or “twig.” The "verge" is a rod I carry in procession to protect the Dean from, God forbid, being killed by anyone (Anglicans love tradition!). I have yet to have to per-form that duty!

I believe the French word is "bedeau," a word similar to the Middle English “beadle,” which was a nightwatchman in mediaeval England.

The term "sacristan" is usually used by Roman Catholics and the Hebrew word "shamas" in Judaism in the synagogue.

I chose the job as verger, as mentioned, to be able to serve God through serving my fellow Christians. It has proven the best thing I could ever have done. The motto of the North American Vergers’ Guild, of which I am a member, is “service in worship and worship through service,” a perfect expression of what vergers do. I turned 70 in December and while 70 isn’t that old nowadays, I find the job is catching up with me physically. For that reason, I am retiring as of June 30, while it is a job I dearly love and hate leaving. I have asked for assistance but no one has yet to come forth, either for the job or to join any sort of guild which we could set up and which I would train.

I was once told by a licensed layreader that my job description sounds very much like what they do in parishes so it is possibly no wonder why there seems to be no other vergers in the diocese.

Our first Cathedral verger was Thomas Wandless (a somewhat curious name for one who carries a wand?) in the mid-1800s, and I hope not to be the last and, that the post will be carried on. I personally know that God indeed does hear prayer, so I will retire in the sure knowledge that the tradition of Cathedral verger will surely continue.

Hank Williams

A version of this article appeared in the New Brunswick Anglican, June 2019

Dean's note:

Hank has provided faithful service as our Verger. He will be difficult to replace. One of our challenges, is to determine the difference between what are "verger duties" and all of the other tasks Hank picked up to make things run smoothly. That "running smoothly," of course, is also a duty of the verger. Godspeed, Hank.

The verge is similar to the object in parish churches known as a "warden's wand." Many Cathedral verger duties (including maintaining order in worship) involves that for which churchwardens, in our diocese, are responsible. Christ Church Cathedral, by way of By-Law, does not utilize the office of rector or churchwarden, which may well contribute to the need for the office of Verger  GMH

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