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The Festival of Lessons and Carols, scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 11 in the Cathedral Church of St. Mark, should move smoothly, thanks to verger Lee Shaw.

"But what's a verger?" some might ask.Shaw said his specific duties at the Festival of Lessons and Carols are to lead the procession in and out of the cathedral and to escort readers to and from the lectern.

On weekdays, Shaw is community relations director for the state Tax Commission. However, on special occasions like Advent, Christmas and Easter, he serves as verger at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark.

Shaw said there are only three Episcopalian vergers in Utah - one at the All Saints Episcopal Church on Foothill Drive and two at St. Mark's.

"I act as verger for the diocese," Shaw said. "But it's not a weekly assignment. I am used only when services are rather complex."

The other verger at St. Mark's is David Hodges; he serves the parish.

"He is over the acolytes - that is, those people in the procession who carry the candles, torches and the cross," Shaw said.

Shaw said that verger comes from the word "verge," meaning "staff."

"Around the 16th century in the early church, a verger used the staff to help clear the way for the procession," he said. "The verger also served as a bodyguard to the bishop or priest."

He said that since that time, those particular functions have gone by the wayside. Today, a verger can assume a number of other functions, depending on the cathedral.

"In fact, at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the verger is a full-time job. He oversees all the sextons and custodians, as well as making sure the vessels and vestments are clean."

The verger's vestments are traditional in styling. The sleeves are in three parts or tails. Originally these tails were functional. They allowed the verger to carry the priest's books, thus freeing the priest's hands.

"Now they are strictly ceremonial," Shaw said.

Shaw said the Lessons and Carols Service was introduced in 1880 by Edward White Benson, a Church of England bishop who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. It is believed that Benson obtained the service from 13th century medieval sources.

"But the Festival of Lessons and Carols is not geared at Christmas, but at Advent," Lee said. "The month before Christmas is a time for us to rest from the external preparations of Christmas and prepare ourselves internally for the coming of Christ into our lives."

Shaw said the hourlong service is both simple and stately. It consists of several parts - the Service of Light, the Phos Hilaron, the bidding prayer, the lessons and hymns, the offering, the Collect for Advent, the blessing, and the recessional hymn.

At the beginning of the service, the cathedral's interior remains relatively dark. But during the singing of Phos Hilaron, the candles are lit and the house lights are turned on, symbolic of Christ being our everlasting light.

Officiants of the festival will be the Right Rev. George E. Bates, bishop of Utah; the Very Rev. William F. Maxwell, dean of the cathedral; the Rev. JoAnn Leach, canon; and the Rev. Richard Frank, deacon.

Nine civic, religious and community leaders have been invited to read the lessons.

"Every year, we try to have a different group of readers," Shaw said. "They are from different denominations in the community."

Participating this year are Mayor Palmer DePaulis; Justice Michael Zimmerman of the Utah Supreme Court; Ivan Cendese, principal of Highland High School; the Rev. J.A. Frazer Crocker, deputy for ministry development and pastoral care for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah; the Rev. Shannon P. Leach, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church; the Rev. Harold T. Nilsson, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church; the Rev. Sandra Ragan, chaplain of Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School; Joan D. Richardson, pastoral assistant for community ministries for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City; and Sister Linda Bellemore of Holy Cross Hospital.

The Festival of Lessons and Carols is becoming a very real part of the tradition of St. Marks, as well as the tradition of the community.

But it's more than a worship service for the community. Shaw said it gives something back to the community because the offerings are donated to needy groups. Last year the money went to Episcopal Hospitality, a ministry geared to the homeless. This year the money will go to the Shalom Apartments, a small building that houses people with AIDS who have no other place to go.

The Festival of Lessons and Carols is designed to do much more than focus attention on Christ's birth in a manger. It centers around Christ's birth within our hearts. And through that birth, we yearn to reach out to the poor and helpless, to the cold and hungry, and to the sick and oppressed, Shaw said.