The Office of Verger (Virger, Custos, Sub-Sacrist, Serjeant of the Vestry, or even ‘Church Mouse’) is an ancient one and means ‘He who carries the Virge before the procession’.
The ‘Verge’ is the rod of office (Latin – Virga; Old French-Vergier), and was used to ensure that the many processions were not impeded during worship. This was an important duty in the Middle Ages, and on important festivals two Vergers were on duty. However, the Verger’s duties have developed over the centuries, and now combine tasks which were often carried out by other individuals.
Today, Vergers continue to have an important ceremonial role, but add management responsibilities, with the care of people and a variety of other duties, including the behind-the-scenes management of worship and the care of vestments, plate and other valuable objects.
Vergers are committed Christians dedicated to serving Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. Their work brings them into contact with a whole spectrum of people who visit our churches and cathedrals, and they must be sensitive to the widely varying needs of these visitors. Many will be seeking historical information or just the time of the services, but others may be in emotional or spiritual distress, and to these the verger must offer a sympathetic ear, guiding them towards appropriate counselling if required.
At a practical level vergers will often bear the immediate responsibility for the care and security of the building and – particularly in many Parish Churches – the presence of the verger guarantees that the building can remain open outside service times as a place of prayer and of Christian witness to the local or wider community.
Generally speaking the Verger will ensure the church is clean and tidy before a wedding or funeral and that everything is ready for the service.
For people not used to church, a Verger can be a reassuring presence and they will do all they can to make people feel welcome and comfortable as they arrive.
They can also assist if there are guests who require special needs, such as wheelchair access or large print service sheets.
A Verger is there to help and guide, so do look out for them at weddings and funerals; and feel free to ask for anything if you need it.