A view backstage at Beverley Minster

What’s the collective noun for virgers?

Neil Pickford is lost for words
Sorry, I ran out of space last week so I wasn’t able to conclude my carefully considered piece on why I think, overall, the creation of the Church of England was a good thing at the time – despite its considerable impact on the wealth and beauty of Beverley Minster.
And, sadly, I think I’ve lost the thread so I’ll have to thrash around and return to it at a later date (if anyone cares, of course). Instead, my mayfly mind alighted on another subject of great interest and made me redirect my editorial efforts for this week. So here goes.
While shuffling uncomfortably in my chair t’other day it struck me that, sometimes in life, a few unconnected events can come together and create what world-famous columnists then identify as a ‘theme’.  Sometimes, when wittering on about this theme, said world-famous columnist ends up revealing a profound truth which was previously invisible to all but a select few. Said world-famous columnist is then hailed as a guru and far-seeing observer of the human condition.
I wonder if that’s going to happen today because, you see there is a strange mood in the virgers’ vestry at the moment: a sort of tense, controlled preparedness for whatever may come. Without being trite it’s a teeny, weeny bit like going into battle – a sense of trying to balance tension with relaxation as you wait.
Or maybe that’s just me.
You see, we know we’ve got a solid lump of hard work to come throughout December and so John and I are taking advantage of the relatively quiet weeks beforehand to sort a few things out while we still have the chance.
One of those things is to get used to a new person, Kevin, who has joined us as a relief virger – to universal… ummmm… relief. John and I are confident he is someone on whom we can rely, looking after the church in our absence and doing all the 1001 odd little virger-y things that crop up on a daily basis.
Already he’s learned how often a straightforward attempt to start a routine task can be diverted by three or four random interjections from visitors, welcomers, forthcoming events organisers and phone calls from various concerned individuals, as well as reminders of the ever-present need to keep the ladies’ loo supplied with toilet paper. Despite this experience he’s still with us and we old hands are delighted, because it’s a job that desperately needs doing.
This was brought home to me with a vengeance on the very first day that Kevin was being trained into his new role (and here, with a barely noticeable change of gear, comes the second item that gives form to this dribbling diatribe).
On that Monday John, Kevin and I were hosts to a gathering of vergers (I’ll spell it that way merely because most of them do, not because I agree with it) from all over Yorkshire.
John had organised an educational training session (this year kindly provided by members of the Hull Guild of Silversmiths) and then we gathered for the tedious business which keeps us formally functioning until next year.
We had 18 people for this meeting who had travelled from as far afield as Redcar, Leeds, Patrington and even Hull. Under one roof we had a gathering of individuals who, collectively, have provided hundreds of years of service to the Church of England. They were all individuals who enjoyed doing what they did, had huge care and compassion for others and, in many respects, made me feel quite humble to be lumped in their number (and that’s not me being pious or ‘holier than thou’ – it was a fact).
I realised what a fragile resource we had in that room, however, when one of them afterwards asked if I would be prepared to take over some of her Guild duties as she was getting a bit worn down by them – especially the regular overnight trips down to various conferences and meetings in the south of England.
“Well, I am 82” she confided in me.
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it but – at the Grand Old Age of 56 – I was the babe in the room and that was a frightening realisation.  Oh, there are younger virgers around, of course there are (some of whom are perfectly capable of performing cartwheels in Westminster Abbey for the entertainment of the masses). But not many in our part of the world.
We must be bonkers – at the service some five years ago where I was formally accepted into the Guild there was one of my senior colleagues who was being commended for having been a member for 50 years.
And what was his present for this incredible achievement? Answer: a certificate and free life membership of the guild from that date on – not a hint of retirement or suchlike.
That’s when I started musing on the proper collective noun for a bunch of vergers and the best one I could think of was a ‘giving’. Mind you, some people might call us a ‘stupid’ or a ‘taken-for-granted’ but, judging by the condition of the individuals in that room, it’s a guarantee of long and happy life.
That means that John, Kevin and I can expect another 25 years or so under the cross before we sign off.
So maybe the proper collective noun is a ‘daft’.

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