Verger

St. Andrew’s

 Episcopal Church

Clear Spring, Maryland

What is a Verger?

The office of Verger has its roots in the earliest days of the Church’s history (see History, below). Today’s Vergers are laypersons who serve the church in a ministry of liturgical coordination and welcome. It is an appointed volunteer position, serving at the discretion of the rector. Father Steve has appointed parishioner, Mack Hager, as St. Andrew’s first verger. Mack will begin his duties in early 2019. 

The Verger’s logistical support allows the priest more time for pastoral and sacramental responsibilities. Some typical Verger duties are assigning, training, and checking in lectors, chalice bearers, acolytes, and prayer intercessors. Th Verger sets up the hymn board. The Verger coordinates with the clergy, acolyte master, music director and choir, altar guild, ushers and greeters, and checks lighting and sound. The Verger works with the rector to ensure that any special service needs are met and that the service flow is seamless and grace-filled. Often the visitor will see the Verger in a simple black cassock moving about the church preparing for worship, and responding to questions from parishioners old and new.

The Verger must be trained and able to fill any lay position if needed, from usher to lector to acolyte to chalice bearer.

 

What’s a Virge?

The virge is the staff that a Verger carries in procession. The name comes from the Latin “virga” which simply means a rod or staff; hence, a “Verger” is one who carries a staff. The virge can trace its history back to the ceremonial maces carried before civic and ecclesiastical dignitaries. The Maces of State used in the House of Lords and the House of Commons of the British Parliament are examples of another modern use of the medieval symbols. Originally a weapon used to clear the way for processions (and control lunging dogs and unruly choristers!), its use is now principally honorific. The size, style, and shape of a virge varies from parish to parish; but one end typically has a cross or other Christian symbol mounted on it. A longer variation of the virge is called the “beadle”, and was originally used to lead academic processions.

History: Over 800 years of service.

Evidence from Rochester, Lincoln, Exeter, and Salisbury Cathedrals indicates the existence of Vergers as far back as the 12th century. A familiar sight in English cathedrals and on television broadcasts of Royal weddings, funerals, and the Vicar of Dibley, Vergers have maintained the buildings and furnishings of the Church, led the liturgy, and served God in the church for many centuries.

The office shares certain similarities with the former minor orders of “porter” and “acolyte.” Generally speaking, Vergers are responsible for the order and upkeep of the house of worship, including preparations for the liturgy, the conduct of the laity, and in times past even grave-digging among many other duties in the church.

In medieval times, the Verger (spelled “virger” in England and older texts) was the Protector of the Procession. The Verger led the way for the procession as it moved from the vestry around the church or cathedral and into the front doors. The procession often moved through crowds of people and animals, and the Verger was there to clear a pathway with his virge (mace or “Staff of Office”). The Verger had to be the first person in the procession as he cleared the way for the thurifer, crucifer, acolytes, choir, and sacred ministers by swinging the Virge in front of them.

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