Friday, March 13, 2015

The ministry of Verger: a testimony

The Vergers of St Paul's Cathedral
I think that, like submariners, our Vergers can be called the Silent Service.  They are always present, but seldom heard, unless on the very rare occasion when a lector is missing!

The Verger's Guild (VGEC) is writing a history of vergers in North America.  This builds on a wonderful document, written by David Deutsch, a verger and the retired TV director for the PBS NewsHour.  It is called,  Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick---in Love: The Emerging Ministry of the Verger in the Late 20th Century to the Present.

Our former Head Verger, the Rev. Canon Brooks Mason*, features in this document, as his ministry was celebrated by our former Dean the Very Rev Scott Richardson at the annual meeting of the Verger's Guild in 2009.  (Brooks was ordained to the diaconate in 2013).  Verger Deutsch writes,
At the annual banquet during the conference of the Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church (VGEC) in San Diego [2009], [the Very Rev] Scott Richardson, dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, spoke about the ministry of the verger and the difficulties inherent in that ministry. Dean Richardson was upholding Canon Verger  Brooks Mason as the model for verger ministry. Yet it is a message for all. 
"It is not only competency that matters in verging—it matters a lot, getting things done in good order is important—but doing it with a temperament that provides joy, peace, and power to the people you are working with. When we are vergering in a way that creates anxiety, judgment, criticism, and at the end of the day, ill-will, and people leave feeling less alive than when they got there, we really haven’t done our job. Brooks Mason does his work in a way where people really do feel loved, cared for, nurtured, and upheld. And they come away from the experience more alive...That is an important part of what it means to be a verger: When you are working with people, that they feel more alive because of the way you have treated them along the way.

Here is the other thing about vergering that I think gets missed, but it is the most important part of what it means to be a Christian. Because I am dean of this cathedral, I have the power of my office—I tell people what to do and people get nervous and anxious. So I have power. People have authority in the Body of Christ through years and years of faithful service. You can have power by virtue of your office, but you have authority in the Body of Christ from years and years of loving service. And vergers accumulate authority...So as we are all in the Body of Christ, we are more interested in authority than power. And vergers are perfectly positioned to live into that because of your service role: Show up over and over again, let people come in contact with you and come away feeling more alive, do your work with love, be of service, and at the end of your vocational career, you will be a celebrated saint for doing that. And you will have prospered the Body of Christ.

I am using Brooks as an example as he really does make a difference in our life. But I commend the practice to all of you. And that will be more important, I guarantee you, than a thousand sermons preached and forgotten.
I was in the audience that evening, and I was stunned. I felt connected to my ministry in a way I had never experienced. Verger DNA historically contained the power and authority—and weapon—of the doorkeeper, beadle, and sergeant. What Dean Richardson cautioned that this authority, if done properly in thought, word and action, makes one a powerful minister in the ministry and mission of the church. I, and perhaps many others attending from around the country, had never heard the spiritual dimension of ‘vergering’ spoken to them so sincerely and eloquently...and by a cathedral dean at that!
What a lovely tribute to a Verger's Verger (Brooks) and to the office of Verger!

Are YOU called to be a verger?  Contact Brooks or Head Verger Lisa Churchill to find out more about this truly servant ministry.

Susan Forsburg, Blogmaster

*SPC history: Did you know the Rev Canon Allisyn Thomas, former Subdean of the Cathedral and now Canon to the Ordinary,  is also a former head verger at SPC?  Hmmmm.....

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