Along with leading the procession, vergers do behind-the-scenes preparations
For Dallas Hawkins, senior verger at the Cathedral of St. John in Spokane, liturgies and music are powerful expressions of his relationship with God.
He succeeded Dennis Murphy, who retired six years ago.
Now the cathedral has four more vergers, Dallas’ wife Kathie Hawkins, Robert Stevens, Liesel Kitlitz and Karice Thompson-Scott.
They share the work through the liturgical year of setting up services, doing much of the behind the scenes preparation, as well as vesting in robes and leading the procession in the main Sunday morning worship.
“Vergers have a lay ministry of welcome and hospitality, being sure everything is in place to avoid glitches during the service,” Dallas said.
The verger’s role includes custodial tasks of unlocking the building, turning on the lights, turning on the sound system, making sure the batteries in the microphones are fresh and moving the piano.
It also includes recording the sermons, taking out the elements for Eucharist, changing the altar frontals for the liturgical season, vesting acolytes, lighting candles, setting out alms basins, setting up the hymn board and more.
Vergers may also answer questions people have about the building or the Episcopal faith.
Dallas has a list of the duties for vergers to do before and after the services.
“The verger helps the priest get his or her job done,” he said. “We deal with all parts of the services at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., Sunday.”
Its origins of vergers in the 12th century were in the early Church of England, clearing the way of animals and people with a big stick or beadle pole. Vergers now carry a “verge,” a two-foot stick.
Dallas and other vergers took a course and studied to become fellows of the National Vergers Guild, which has grown over its 28 years.
The role of vergers varies with every church. Some also “verge” scripture readers, by escorting them to the lectern and back.
Although St. John’s is not as traditional as some cathedrals, it is among the most formal and traditional congregations of the Diocese of Spokane, he said.
Over the last two years, he has been the chair of the committee helping plan the Sept. 22 to 25 annual conference of the National Verger’s Guild at the Cathedral of St. John in Spokane.
The Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church has an education program and supports more than 1,000 members in the Anglican Communion worldwide.
Dallas helped arrange speakers, the hotel, banquet and busses. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the retired presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, who now lives in Reno, Nev., was the keynote speaker on the creative possibilities of the ministry of vergers.
Among those attending were the president of the guild who is head sacristan at New York’s Trinity Cathedral and the verger at the National Cathedral for 25 years, serving through the terms of many U.S. Presidents.
Dallas said that the conference included a procession of 100 vergers.
Dallas, 65, came to Spokane from Calgary, Alberta, to go to Gonzaga University, where he graduated in business in 1980. He had grown up in the Canadian Anglican Church and took religious studies in an Anglican school, as well as four years at Gonzaga.
At Gonzaga, he met his first wife, who was Catholic, so they raised their children Catholic.
Because Kathie, whom he married 20 years ago, grew up in a charismatic church, they attended a charismatic church. About seven years ago, he suggested that they go to a service at the Cathedral of St. John.
As they became involved in groups, he started working on the chapter governing body and the foundation.
He and Kathie, who operate an insurance agency, began verging about a year or two after they first attended.
Every other year, the cathedral hosts the Diocesan Convention and he works on logistics.
“I like the more traditional liturgy at the cathedral,” he said. “Liturgy is the way we worship God together. It expresses our relationship with God.”
Dallas said that because not all Episcopal churches have vergers, the tasks to prepare for worship are done either by the priests or other lay people.
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