Bradford Cathedral volunteer verger Sam Fletcher – who has been part of the team since 2013, the first female Verger at the Cathedral – has been celebrating double success, having been appointed in March 2022 as Secretary at the York branch of the Church of England Guild of Vergers, as well as completing the four-year Diploma Course in August 2021. We caught up with Sam to find out more about both these things.
What is the Church of England Guild of Vergers?
“In short, it is a fellowship in Christ within the Anglican Communion to which all who serve in the office of Verger may belong. Members meet and share ideas and experiences about the various things that go on in their churches. We always partake in a service of worship and recite the Vergers prayer. The Guild was founded 1932 and has the moto “Serving the Church, Leading the Way”; we have a constitution we follow and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are our joint Presidents. There are different branches throughout the country. The York branch consists of members from different churches and Cathedrals across the north of England
“I was nominated for the role of Secretary as a result of my knowledge and experience in Church administration; being my local Vicars admin assistant for many years. To hold any position, you need to be a member of the Guild, which I have been since 2017.
“As secretary I’m the first point of contact for anyone seeking information about the Guild. I filter information down from the national secretary – so anything that anybody needs to know comes down to me, and I circulate to our members.
“We have a big conference each year where members from different branches spend a few days together, sharing, learning and worshipping. I attended for the day for graduation but I’ve yet to experience the full thing.
“To be asked to stand as branch secretary was a great honour and privilege. I look forward to seeing where the role takes me.”
What things are discussed at the Guild?
“All sort of things: people wanting to do the diploma; people needing pastoral support; church liturgy; safeguarding; cleaning; building maintenance and many other topics. We share ideas and discuss the differences across our different churches. The meetings are also a time when we check how we are all doing, a safe space to vent and receive support.”
What do you hope to achieve in this role?
“I hope to bring a youthful aspect to things, as well as a lifetime of experience as a deaf Christian. I am hoping to be an ambassador for the less able and to show people what we can achieve when we work together. It’s a good way of getting Bradford recognised, as we’ve not had many members of the Guild from the Bradford team, and I believe I’m the only member of the Bradford Cathedral team who has ever undertaken the diploma or held an officer role, though other vergers have been members of the Guild in the past.”
Sam – who is profoundly deaf – says they are also learning from her.
“They’re learning from me about how I manage my deafness and the tricks I’ve learnt to help me while on duty; the Guild has been a great support and has put things into place to help me, with a couple of members taking minutes on my behalf, because if I look down to write or type I might miss what people have said.”
This appointment follows on from Sam completing the Diploma Course in August 2021.
“The diploma is a four-year adventure! It is split into two sections: the first is the foundation unit which consists of 16 assignments and looks at the history of the Verger, preparing for worship, care of the buildings/ yards; records/archives and the care of Gods people. This leads to a certificate; but if you are brave enough you can choose to do the rest of it which takes it up to a four year course, which is then split again into three units: the Verger as pastor (12 assignments); the Verger as historian (18 assignments) and finally the Verger as administrator (16 assignments).
“It’s an in-depth course, on par with doing a degree.
“And it’s a distance learning course – they send each unit in turn; you complete the work and post it back; It’s then marked by internal and external assessors. There’s lots of practical work involved: lots of looking around at the building; how your team works; changes in worship; the history of the Church of England in general.
“I was quite lucky that I managed to complete it in three-years – thanks to the quieter period during lockdown I could do two units at the same time. It was quite an adventure with lots of information and a lot to digest. It was a chunk of work!”
And what does completing the Diploma mean?
“Undertaking the diploma was a very hard, but extremely rewarding, experience and to graduate with honours was an amazing surprise.
“Completing the course means that I have a much better understanding of Liturgy; worship styles; the history of not only our Cathedral but of the Church of England. I feel more confident and better prepared for my roles. I’m able to share my knowledge and play a bigger part in Church/Cathedral life. It also means I get an academic hood – which I can wear at any non-Eucharistic service – and I get some letters after my name! Dip. GV (hons).
“I believe with all my heart that God has called me to be a Verger and to be here at Bradford Cathedral.”
Sam – alongside the other graduates and Vergers from across the country – also appeared in a recent edition of ‘The Virger’ magazine, appearing in a photo on the front cover taken at the graduation event which is part of the annual conference held in West Malvern, Worcestershire.
How would you describe the course, and would you recommend it?
“It was hard work and stressful at times, but very inciteful and well worth doing. Take it on if you’re brave enough! Prepare yourself, as it’s a lot of work – far more than I expected – but my knowledge is being put to good use!”
And, for those not familiar with the role, what is it like being a verger?
“Being a Verger is challenging at times but it’s a very varied and rewarding role, it comes with great responsibility as we enable the Cathedral to function at its best; we keep the building and the people safe; we make sure the services and events run smoothly. We are always present but not always seen.
“We do so many things from cleaning the building to Verging: every day is different and never boring.
“I’m blessed to be part of a great team and part of the wider Cathedral family. For me Bradford Cathedral is home.
“Being a member of the Guild gives me an extension to that team and family, offering support, encouragement and friendship.
“Because of my Diploma status, the Cathedral has appointed me as its first Sacristan – which means I work very closely with the Head Verger to make sure that all the consumables (the wine and wafers) are fully stocked, I take care of the silver, the vestments, the lien and robes.”
“I also look after the team – I’m a bit of a mother hen!
“If anyone wants to know more about being a Verger, the Guild, the course or about being deaf, I’m always happy to chat.”