a liturgical note from Brad Cathey for Bruce Knowlton and Mark Tader, your vergers
Have you ever wondered who the person is, dressed in all black, that leads our processions with a stick, swings incense, and assists at the altar? If you’ve come from non-liturgical backgrounds, and are new to All Souls, you might not know.
That’s the Verger. But just what is a Verger?
A Little History
The role is about 400 years old and goes back to the early days of the Church of England when the clergy traversed the city streets on foot, and someone needed to clear the way and keep the riff-raff from hassling the priests. In fact, that’s where the stick, or virge (also, verge), originates—sometimes the Verger needed to be a bit more convincing when taming the crowds. Vergers were also in charge of the grounds and grave-digging.
The Verger’s Duties
Obviously, and thankfully, the role has evolved. Our clergy are fully capable of defending themselves, and we have professionals taking care of cemetery duties. Nevertheless, vergers have come to play an essential role in the Anglican church. In theatrical terms, think of the Verger as a producer of the service. Duties include finding, scheduling, and reminding our readers, crucifers (who double as chalicers), and acolytes. On Sundays, the Vergers arrive early to light candles, check the readings, make sure all the “equipment” is where it should be, and finally stoke up the incense. After consulting the Celebrant for anything unusual in the liturgy, we ensure the altar party knows where to go. During the service, the Verger acts as thurifer (incense), leads processions, and assists the clergy during communion, including chalicing. After the service, it’s everything in reverse.
Bottom line, the Verger is there to take some of the pressure off the clergy.
The Guild of Vergers
In some churches, ordained deacons act as Vergers, so if you visit the Church of England Guild of Vergers website (https://cofegv.org.uk/) you might see a verger in a collar. The English take it pretty seriously (of course they would) and have all kinds of fancy vestments and verges. And I bet their Annual Conference is an absolute hoot.
Oh, and about the black cassock and satin-stripped coat? It’s all 100% legit—one of the modes of vesting designated by the Church of England. Our coats (we have two sizes) came over from the prestigious J. Wippell & Company in London. Check them out sometime.