It was a full house on Christmas Eve 2014, the first time I walked in a Cathedral procession. In that moment, joining with other volunteers and clergy to bring the Cathedral to life for a joyful night of celebration, I was hooked.
A nudge from Jan Cope had planted the seed to begin volunteering with the Worship Department, something I would not have considered before our conversation. As a new and recently confirmed member of the congregation, I was looking for ways to get more involved and meet more of my fellow congregants. With that first service, I knew I had found a place within the Cathedral community where my faith could deepen and my friendships grow.
I served as a volunteer verger for three years before becoming a staff verger earlier this year. The transition from volunteer to staff has meant some changes in my Cathedral life, but the heart of the work remains the same.
One surprise is the amount of time I spend with The Book of Common Prayer, and, in turn, how much I have come to appreciate its richness. My deepening connection with the BCP seems fitting––it was an experience reading it in War Memorial Chapel on the anniversary of my mother’s death that launched my journey with the Episcopal faith and the Cathedral. That afternoon I found great comfort in the prayers for those who have died. Now, as I spend time many days in one section or another of the BCP, I continue to find beauty and comfort in its language, its orderliness, and the reminders that God’s peace and love are always on offer to us.
Most notable about the transition is the chance to experience and participate in the daily rhythms of the Cathedral––the quiet moments before the doors open, the sight of the Great Choir filled with awestruck tourists, and the cycle of daily prayers that fills the chapels. There is a special joy in meeting and welcoming tourists who come to sightsee only to stumble upon and then be deeply moved by the noon Eucharist. One can see in their faces the realization that the Cathedral is not only the beautiful landmark they came to see, but a living, breathing holy place.
I am most struck by those whose worry and pain bring them in search of healing and consolation. Most are known only through the prayer requests they leave, but I also come across others praying in Holy Spirit or Saint Mary’s Chapel, or speak with them after the Eucharist about what brought them to the Cathedral. It is humbling to realize how many people come here seeking healing of heart, body, and soul, and a gift to be a part what we can offer to them as a faith community.
Our volunteer nave chaplains respond to every prayer request with a name and address and I have heard from those on the receiving end of those cards how much it means to know that their prayers were lifted up at the Cathedral. A woman from Texas who visited recently was so moved that she wrote to inquire about the details of this practice, including our daily service of intercessions, so that she could start something similar in her own church.
Our daily cycle ends with evensong or evening prayer, and I enjoy those days when I lead evening prayer. On some days, it’s a rather small group that attends, but even when it’s larger, evening prayer is a quiet, intimate experience. What a privilege to hold in prayer those who come through the doors that day and those unknown to us, but in need of prayer.
I was especially moved one day to see a friend and colleague of 20 plus years enter the chapel. He had come to pray for a dying cousin with no idea that I would be leading the service. There we were together in War Memorial Chapel, the spot where I had come a few years before to pray for my mother’s soul and my grieving heart. Now I had the chance to offer prayer to my friend, to the five or six others who joined us that night, and to myself.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
Working as a verger, I see how our individual and collective prayers—as congregants, clergy, musicians, and visitors–echo in these stones every day, a blessing to us and to those far beyond our walls.
By Verger Scott Sanders