Mike McConnell was Alaska's first verger and Ginny Wood the second, now retired. They are shown here in the photo to the right at St. Peter's. Sitka's third verger was Jamie Elstad.
The verges (the sticks they are holding) were made by Mike McConnell.
Most of the following information is from the Episcopal Vergers Guild.
So What Is a Verger Anyway?
A verger is a committed lay minister within the Church who assists the clergy in the conduct of public worship, especially in the marshalling of processions. Vergers can be full-time or part-time, paid or volunteer. Their duties can be purely ceremonial or include other responsibilities, such as preparing the Sanctuary for services, opening and closing graves, and other duties as assigned by the Rector.
A brief history of Vergers
The office of verger has its roots in the earliest days of the Church’s history. It shares certain similarities with the former minor orders of porter and acolyte. Generally speaking, 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. Although there is no definitive historical survey of the office of verger, evidence from Rochester, Lincoln, Exeter, and Salisbury Cathedrals indicates the existence of vergers as far back as the 16th century. A familiar sight in English cathedrals, vergers have maintained the buildings and furnishings of the Church for many centuries.
Concerning Vestments and Virges
Verger paraphernalia can be as varied as the duties of the incumbent. The basic vestment of a verger is a black cassock. Over the cassock, when performing a ceremonial function, the verger wears a gown, which resembles a bishop’s chimere. 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. Originally a weapon used to clear the way for processions (and control unruly choristers!); its use is now principally honorific.
The contemporary office of verger is experiencing a rapid expansion within the Episcopal Church. Differing from the Church of England, where vergers are often full-time paid employees of the Church, American vergers are more often than not volunteers with a special calling to the ordering and conduct of the Church’s liturgy. Clergy throughout the Church have come to appreciate the ministry of vergers within their congregations. Vergers can relieve the clergy of the burden of liturgical detail so that they can concentrate on their priestly duties to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. No longer found primarily in cathedrals and large parishes, vergers are an asset to any worshiping community. It is said there is a verger in every congregation — whether one has been identified as such or not.
Besides helping out at services, verger duties include opening and closing graves in the memorial garden, and assisting the clergy in organizing, and assembling processions on special occasions such as ordinations, the Bishops visits, Easter and Advent events, weddings, funerals and others at the pleasure of the Rector.
Here are some helpful links:
If you would like to visit with one of our Vergers, you can contact Mike McConnell who is the head of our Vergers Guild: email@example.com