A verger is a layperson who assists Anglican and Episcopal clergy. The office dates back to the early days of the Anglican Church. Vergers today have a variety of nonsacramental duties, including guiding church tours and caring for clerical vestments.
The Church of England established the office of verger in the 16th century. A "verger" originally meant someone who carried a "virge," or rod, as he led processions into church.
The verger served as a bodyguard for the clergy and used his rod to clear the procession's path of animals or unruly people. Vergers also maintained the church and grounds, prepared the altar for liturgies and dug graves.
Vergers today still perform ceremonial functions such as leading processions, conducting tours and welcoming churchgoers. These vergers are often volunteers.
Other vergers are paid administrators with managerial duties. They might lead worship committees, supervise maintenance or train readers and acolytes.
Many churches have paid or volunteer vergers to allow their clergy to concentrate on preaching, pastoral care and administering the sacraments, rather than on administrative details.
The Vergers' Guild of the Episcopal Church, founded in 1988, offers a training course for vergers that leads to a Certificate of Completion. (See vergers.org in the References for information.)