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The Verger’s Tale - 27th July 2011Verger-and Verge

An eager audience of 26 gathered in the ‘choir’ of the church to hear the Verger, Paul Wilson, talk about the history of the Verger’s role, his own journey and the role he currently fulfils. Throughout, humour and some visual aids kept the talk interesting and informative.

The role of the Verger appears to have had its roots in medieval times, when the Verger would carry his Verge as a means of controlling both the humans and any animals present in the church to ensure that the clergy had a clear path through which to walk!  While discussing this aspect, Paul passed the current Verge around, so we could all see the silver pomegranate (symbol of Chesterfield) on its tip and the silver ornamentation on its head. 

The GownPaul also took the opportunity to demonstrate the versatility of his gown-designed to accommodate his 6ft 6in height, but also wearable (just)  by someone considerably smaller-Joan Parker acting as model for the occasion.

Over the years the Verger’s role has had different titles and different job descriptions in different churches; although depictions of the Verger in Dad’s Army and The Vicar of Dibley had not enhanced the popular view of the role. The former seemed to just walk around waving his hanky whilst the latter listened endlessly to the vicar’s jokes and always missed the point! Tongue in cheek, Paul suggested that the role was “having the jobs no one else wanted”.

The road to being a Verger had started for Paul Wilson as a choir boy at Bolsover Parish Church where he had quickly moved from the choir stalls to the sanctuary as a server. In his mid teens the then rector gave him the responsibility for being the sacristan, including having a full set of keys to the church and its safe. This taste of authority led Paul, on leaving school, to apply for a position with the Verger’s team at Norwich Cathedral, joining a team of 8 and living and working in close proximity to the cathedral. Much laughter ensued, as Paul described how a school party’s tour had been interrupted by a mouse, its tail caught in a mouse trap, scurrying up and down the aisle. When the children wrote to say thank you, most addressed not the aspects of the great cathedral, but the plight of the mouse.

In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Cathedral Paul then moved to become Verger at a church in Mansfield.   This church had very few visitors and he could go for days on end and see no one.

In 2001 Paul arrived at Chesterfield Parish Church.  He paid tribute to his predecessor John Arkwell’s very helpful hand-over and continued support and to the band of volunteers who supported his role in many different ways. He spoke of the thousands of visitors the church receives every year, many of whom come to Chesterfield just to visit the church, and of the groups of school children, brownies and cubs who visit in an evening. Stewards in the church leave Paul free to spend time taking groups up the tower, the highlight for many visitors, and a valuable source of revenue.Vestments-the Cope

The current verger role includes the duties of the clerk, ensuring the everyday cleanliness of the building and the preparation for and clearing away after services, as well as the very public role of preceding the choir and/or the clergy at the start and finish of services.  Paul then demonstrated how the vestments were laid out prior to the mass.                     

The changes Paul has seen in the last ten years include the reduction in the number of volunteers, the dropping of the terms “bachelor” and “spinster of this parish” in favour of “single” in the reading of the Banns of marriage-and the increase in his  journey to work time on some days from 10 minutes to 45 minutes!

The evening was completed in The Saints with a delicious finger buffet and drinks provided by the Friends Committee and votes of thanks were given to both the speaker and those who had catered. We all left with warm applause ringing in our ears.  

Angela Wear


 

 

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