A Personal History of The Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church

by William Hooper Gleason

 
 
William Hooper Gleason founded the Vergers’ Guild of the Episcopal Church while at St. George’s Episcopal Church, Nashville Tennessee in 1989. Bill was elected the Guild’s first President in 1989. He was re-elected for two additional three-year terms, serving as VGEC President for the first nine years.  Bill now serves as the President Emeritus to the VGEC; and is Head Verger at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville.
 
 
 
This is a short history of the founding of the Vergers’ Guild of the Episcopal Church.
 

 

The Beginnings (Pre-1986)

The Vergers’ Guild of the Episcopal Church celebrates its anniversary founding on 30 November each year (The Feast Day of St. Andrew). From 28-30 November 1989, 32 individuals interested in the office and ministry of the Verger in the Episcopal Church in the United States came together at St. George’s Church in Nashville Tennessee. How did this come about ? Why?
 
In the Summer 1981, I was unemployed. The Rector of St. George’s, The Reverend Canon James Lawrence Johnson, offered to me the position of Sexton. The church’s Sexton had just left, and the Parish needed someone to keep the church clean. Eagerly accepting the offer, I worked hard that summer, cleaning, polishing, setting up and taking down, running errands, etc. I opened up, cleaned up, threw out closets and spaces that had been collecting junk for years (under the eaves, under stairways, in the attic, in the Bell Tower!)! I continued volunteering on Saturdays and weekends, after I found another job in Nashville.
 
In 1986, St. George’s completed the building of a $3M addition to the facilities, adding on a new Sanctuary, refurbishing the Chapel, and making the old Sanctuary into another Parish Hall. One day, Father Johnson called me into his office, and asked if I would like to be the Verger at the Consecration Service for the new Sanctuary. I said “OK!, but what is a Verger?” He told me, “The Protector of the Procession; look it up! They have Vergers in England! Contact them!”

So I looked in up in the OED, and in Webster’s! I called the Episcopal Church’s national office in NYC, and they had no contact name in England for vergers, but told me to contact the Church of England offices. I did, and they told me of the Church of England Guild of Vergers, and the then General Secretary, John G. Campbell, then a Verger at Worcester Cathedral in Worcester, England. I contacted him, and received information about what vergers are and do in England, and how to join their Guild, which I did.

I felt alone, peculiar, out of place! I didn’t know what I was suppose to do, or why I was supposed to do it. Over time the most important details of the ministry and office of the Verger that I learned were, that I am a Lay Assistant to the Clergy, and I do what the Rector requests. Since I was still a volunteer, I basically led the Sunday morning Processions, robed in my Master’s Gown and Hood, and carrying this “Stick” that the Rector had bought and given to me.
 
I asked the CEGV if there were other members who had joined from the United States. I was sent a short list of names, including :
 
Raleigh Rollason at Trinity Cathedal in Miami, Florida
Charles Agneau at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California
Kent Wingerson at Grace Cathedral in Topeka, Kansas
Richard Perry at the Cathedral of Saint Philip in Atlanta, Georgia
 


The Founding – 1986-1988

I was delighted to find that there were others in this country doing the same thing I was. But what did they do as Vergers in their Cathedrals and Churches? Were they paid or volunteer? I had lots of questions!

I decided I would write to the names I had received from the CEGV, and see who they are, what they do, if they might give me some information and advise about this new position. So along with my letter of introduction, I included a short questionnaire / survey that I hoped would be returned. And I received replies and completed surveys back! In the survey, I had asked for additional names and/or churches that they knew of, who were or had a verger. Every time a reply came in, I would send out one or more new letters and questionnaires! I received New Items, Stories, Résumés, Job Descriptions, Brochures and Hand-outs about Churches and Cathedrals, Photos, Positions Available, etc.

I wanted to share my findings and items and knowledge with everyone who had responded. So I put together a Booklet of much of the material, made copies of it, and sent them out. I continued to receive materials, and so I did it again a few months later. Then one day, along with a letter and thanks for all the information, someone included $5.00 to help pay for postage and xeroxing. So on future mailings, a sentence was included stating donations accepted to help with costs. I point to that moment as the seed that propagated the future Vergers’ Guild of the Episcopal Church.

About a year after Father Johnson asked me if I would be the Verger, he came back to me and asked if I might be interested in a position as the Building Manager for the new facilities of St. George’s Episcopal Church. St. George’s had just completed its expansion, doubling the size of the building space; creating a wonderful and beautiful new sanctuary that would seat about 800+! The Rector told me that they needed someone who knew the facilities, the people, and who could oversee the Sextons and the day-to-day operations of this place. He thought that I fit that particular set of circumstances exactly! So in January 1988, I came to work Full-time as the Verger / Building Manager of St. George’s in Nashville.

I continued to correspond with Vergers from England and the United States. Then in September 1988, John Campbell, the General Secretary of the Church of England Guild of Vergers, traveled to Miami to attend the Installation of five new vergers into churches in the Diocese of Southeast Florida upon the invitation of Trinity Cathedral Head Verger, Raleigh Rollason. Raleigh invited me to come also, and have the opportunity to meet John, and the vergers in Southeastern Florida. We had a long weekend together, where we brainstormed about the US branch of the CEGV, and the possibilities of forming our own organization in the USA.

I came back to Nashville excited, invigorated, and ready to get the few known vergers in the United States I also had hopes that we might get together sometime in the near future to meet each other, swap stories, and learn that we are not alone in our respective parishes. communicating with one another.
 


The Inaugural Conference (1989)

Correspondence continued during 1989 to individuals who were responding back to my requests, letters, questionnaires. I received enough information that I wanted to share what I had received with these others. I put together a "newsletter" that included various items of interest about vergers that I had collected.
 
During these months of correspondence and telephone calls, we began discussing the possibility of getting together and meeting each other. I don't remember exactly when we first decided to plan a meeting. In conversations with David Jette, Head Verger at Trinity Church - Wall Street NYC, and with Raleigh Rollason, we decided that we should hold a meeting during the middle of the week, when most vergers are not at their busiest time of the week. We didn't know how many might come, but we chose the week after Thanksgiving, just before the start of Advent, and the busy Holiday season. Tuesday through Thursday, November 28-30 was selected, closing with a business meeting and organizational meeting on Thursday, The Feast of St Andrew.
 
The planning was to have people arrive on Tuesday; start with a Celebration of the Holy Eucharist that evening, have meetings, social time, and a lavish dinner on Wednesday, and close with the organizational part on Thursday. I had already talked to my Rector about the possibilities, and therefore made the invitation sometime in the mid-Spring / early Summer to host a first meeting of Vergers in the US, in Nashville, Tennessee at St. George's in November.

Plans now had to be made and help procured for the planning. My wife, Helen Charuhas Gleason, wanted to help, especially with the social planning and time. I asked Marc Hitchcock, newly-named Verger of the Church of the Resurrection in nearby Williamson County, if he would help and like to be involved; and he agreed. A few parishioners from St George's also offered to help in any ways needed; some were drivers for the van we had; some hosted the Overseas Vergers in their homes; some assisted with the Receptions and meals at the Church.
 
By the time November 28 rolled around, 29 individuals from the US and 3 from England arrived in Nashville for the first-ever meeting of vergers in the United States, and the Inaugural Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers’ Guild of the Episcopal Church. The English Vergers representing the Church of England Guild of Vergers were :
 
 
 
 
    David Dorey Dean's Verger, Wesminster Abbey - London
 
    Clive McCleester Head Verger, Southwark Cathedral - London

    Thomas Cameron Canons' Virger, St. Paul's Cathedral - London
 
 
 
 
Most of these people did not know anyone else. A few knew one or two others. We all came together at 7:00p on Tuesday, November 28 at St George's Church, dressed in all our robes and gowns, full of splendor and color, with The Rt Rev George L Reynolds, Bishop of the Diocese of Tennessee, as the Celebrant, and the Rev Joesph Pace, Assistant Rector at St. George's Episcopal Church as Preacher. In the congregation were about 25 others, spouses/partners and interested St. George's folk.
 
Following the Eucharist. a Group Photo (to become a yearly tradition at the annual conferences) was taken, and Reception waiting for everyone in the church's Parish Hall.
 
On Wednesday, the vergers arrived for the Daily Eucharist at St. George's followed by breakfast. Then the meetings started. The first meeting was a time where everyone attending could introduce themselves and their parishes, and explain their interest in the office and ministry of the verger. This was a very productive time, where many friendships began. Other workshops included talking about the role of the Verger in the Church today, and its visible part and behind-the-scenes duties. The day ended with a wonderful Banquet at a local Nashville restaurant, Merchants, in downtown Nashville. Another tradition was established with this annual banquet; the giving of a Old-Fashion Glass etched with VGEC, the year, and the City State.
 
On Thursday, 30 November 1989, the vergers arrived at St. George's for a day of organizational planning and meeting. This meeting became the founding of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church with a simple unanimous vote by the group present. A constitution and by-laws were approved; a document that David Jette had been working on prior to this meeting, and that would be discussed line-by-line by everyone. A membership fee ($30.00) was established; and officers were elected. A staggered term of offices was decided on, so that at each annual business meeting at least one officer would be elected or re-elected. The first officers of the VGEC were :
 
 
    William H. Gleason, President 
    Verger, St. George's Episcopal Church
    Nashville Tennessee
 
    David R. Jette. Vice President
    Head Verger, Trinity Parish - Wall Street
    NewYork City  New York
 
    Andrew J. Morgret, Secretary 
    Verger, Calvary Episcopal Church 
    Memphis Tennessee
 
    Mark E Graham Treasurer 
    Head Verger, All Saints' Episcopal Church 
    Atlanta Georgia
 
 


Organizing and Beginning

After the Inaugural VGEC Conference in Nashville, my immediate goals and priorities were to communicate to the "church" the development and existence of the new Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church. One way to do this was to include all the Bishops, and Deans in a mailing list, along with all the Editors of Diocesan and National publications of the Church. All mailings (announcements, press releases, newsletters) that then went out were sent to all of these people, along with the names that I had been collecting and adding to a Master List. So now, the "List" had about 600-700 names included. This is how the word of the VGEC got out.
 
One of the most important publications that really contributed to the growth of the VGEC was our inclusion in the Episcopal Church Annual, (the Red Book), published annually by Morehouse Publishing. Being included in this Annual gave the VGEC a sense of officiallity, even though there is no such recognition given by the Episcopal Church, USA. Many times, I have had people ask me how we became officially recognized by the ECUSA. I tell them that there is no official way of an episcopal-related organization being recognized by the church that
 

I know of. We got into the Annual by sending information about the Guild to Morehouse. They send a reminder out every year, asking for changes and up-dates in the listing.
 
The ways that we are official are :
 
    the VGEC has received its letter from the IRS stating that we are a Not-For-Profit under the guidelines of IRS 501(c)(3)

    the VGEC has received its Sales Tax Exemption Letter for the State of Tennessee

    the VGEC has approval for Non-Profit Postage Rates under the guidelines of the USPS

    the VGEC applied and received Association status as an organization within the State of Tennessee.
 
Other priorities were to have another conference; a seal that would quickly and visibly tell people who the Guild is; and send out some more newsletters.

The seal of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church came about by a combination of the Episcopal Church seal and the Church of England Guild of Vergers seal, along with the motto, "Servitas in cultus et cultus per servitatem" ("Service in Worship and Worship through Service") thought up by Scott Weir, a verger at Grace Cathedral, Topeka, Kansas, who designed the final version of the seal.


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Lori Lamma, the Head Verger of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California, invited the Guild to hold its second meeting jointly at Grace Cathedral and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) across the Bay in Berkeley.
 
The meetings and workshops and housing for the conference were set for the CDSP and the Worship and Liturgies were scheduled for the Cathedral. The Second National Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church was in August. Twenty-eight vergers attended. A Verger from Canada and England were also in attendance making this a truly International meeting.
 
Andy Morgert and Mark Graham were both re-elected to serve as Secretary and Treasurer, respectively, for a regular 3-year Term.
 
I also started getting calls, requests, and inquiries about how one becomes a verger, and how do I get a verger started in my parish. My newsletters and various notices started having results. Both Laity and Clergy would call requesting information, to which I would send out a packet of collected materials and information. The Guild was growing.


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The Third National Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church occurred in October 1991 host by Karl Johnstone, Head Verger of All Saints' Episcopal Church, in Phoenix, Arizona.
 
This conference was especially memorable because of the hospitality of the parish and its parishioners. The Guild members were hosted at numerous meals, and social gatherings during their three-days in the Phoenix area.
 
David Jette was re-elected as Vice-President during the Annual Business Meeting of the Guild.
 
Raleigh Rollason, Head Verger at Trinity Cathedral, Miami, died on March 9th. I flew down to Miami, participated in and spoke a few words at his funeral. At the annual conference, the newly formed SE Florida Chapter of the VGEC announced that it would name its chapter, the Raleigh Rollason Chapter of the VGEC in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. The Guild was invited to hold the next available conference date (1993) at Trinity Cathedral in Miami, in honor of Raleigh, and his efforts in helping to form the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church.


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By 1992, the conferences were definitely a yearly event, membership in the guild and attendance at the conferences continued to grow, and the talk was about developing a training course to help those who want to be vergers. The Church of England Guild has a 4-year Training Course, but that is not what we need, …yet! Mark Graham from All Saints' Church in Atlanta, offered to put together his ideas for what an American VGEC Training Course might be. He would bring it to the next Conference.
 
The Fourth National Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church met at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and St. George, in Clayton, Missouri, (a suburb of St. Louis), hosted by John Williams, the Head Verger.

I was re-elected at this conference to another three-year term as President.

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The Fifth National Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church convened at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami, Florida in the Fall of 1993. This conference was dedicated to the memory of Raleigh Rollason, Head Verger of Trinity, who helped in the founding of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church in the United States. The Vergers of the Rollason Chapter and their Chairman, Roy Harvey, Verger at the Episcopal Church of St. Luke the Physician was our Hosts.

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The Sixth National Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church met in conjunction with the Triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis, Indiana during July / August 1994. The Guild held its meetings at Christ Church Cathedral with The Verger, William Stone, and A Verger, Wynne Porter, serving as Hosts for the attending Vergers.
 
The vergers enjoyed being able to attend parts of the Church's General Convention and visiting its Exhibits and Exhibitors, but having the VGEC Conference in conjunction with the Church's General Convention cause attendance to be divided and spotty. We do not recommend that it be done at the same time again.
 

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The Seventh National Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church met in the beautiful northwest city of Spokane, Washington at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, with their Head Verger Dennis Murphy as Host.


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The Eighth National Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church in Atlanta Georgia at the Episcopal Cathdral of St. Philips and All Saints' Episcopal Church, with the Vergers of the new Mark Emory Graham Chapter of the VGEC hosting. The Chapter is named in honor and memory of Mark Emory Graham, the Head Verger of All Saints' who died on Maundy Thursday 1995.


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The Ninth National Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church met at the Mother Parish of New York City, Trinity Parish - Wall Street, and with VGEC Vice President, and Trinity Head Verger, David Jette serving as Host to the visiting Vergers. One of the treats of this Conference was to visit numerous churches in the New York City area, including St. Paul's Chapel (part of Trinity campus); St. Thomas - Fifth Avenue ; The Cathedral of St. John the Divine (where the vergers attended and processed in for the Sunday morning Eucharist Service); and ??.

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The Tenth National Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church convened at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, hosted by Head Verger, Rob Rynearson, and the Vergers of the Walter L.G. Mace Chapter of the VGEC. This Chapter is named in honor and memory of Walter Lewis Goodall Mace ("WACCO") the Head Verger of St Dunstan's Episcopal Church in Houston for many years. Wacco was a Charter Member of the Vergers' Guild, and strong supporter and promoter of this ministry within the church.
 
This was the final year of William Hooper Gleason's three three-year terms as President of the Guild. In recognition and honor of his service, and the Boards desire that he stay active in Board activities, new VGEC President, David Jette, with the advice of the Board, appointed Bill the Privy Councillor of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church.

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The Eleventh National Eucharist and Conference of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church merged on Jackson, Mississippi and Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral, with Host, Margaret McLarty, Head Verger and the Vergers of the Diocese of Mississippi Chapter of the VGEC . This was the largest gathering of Vergers in this country to date with over seventy-five (75) members of the Guild in attendance.
 
The Diocese of Mississippi Chapter of the Vergers’ Guild of the Episcopal Church is the largest and most active of the various Chapters of the Guild. The Chapter is well represented by members from the the Northeast corner of Mississippi in Tupelo and Corinth, to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Ocean Springs. The Vergers of the Mississippi VGEC Chapter were all involved in the planning and coordination of this Eleventh VGEC Conference.

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The Twelfth National Eucharist, Conference and International Gathering of the Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church was held for the first time outside the United States during its 2000 conference. The Guild met in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada at St. Mary’s Anglican Church – Kerrisdale, hosted by its Verger, John Taylor.
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Vergers
Father / Son
Lloyd Graham - St Marks Tampa
Mark Graham - All Saints Atlanta
 
Twin Brothers
Peter Albertis - Trinity Church Wall St NYC
?? Albertis -
 
Oldest
Hobart Theophilus Mitchell - St Thomas Minneapolis - 98
 
Youngest
Richmond Jones - St Gregory's Miami - 14
 
 
 
 

Honors
Life Memberships
Distinguished Service
Fellows of the Guild