Saturday, May 07, 2011

Cartwheeling Verger: the Abbey speaks


His grace has been in correspondence with The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, who officiated at the Royal Wedding and had the honour of intoning those glorious words from His Grace’s Book of Common Prayer ‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered here...’

His Grace enquired into reports and the increasingly widespread perception that Ben Sheward – aka the Cartwheeling Verger – had been reprimanded by his superiors and instructed not to speak to the media about his physical agility and acrobatic prowess, lest it detract from important spiritual concerns and bring the prestigious Abbey into disrepute. Surprisingly, for a very busy man, the Dean responded to His Grace within the hour, and that response was polite, helpful, and clearly personalised. Despite having received hundreds of enquiries and emails on this matter, the Dean was not copying and pasting a standard, labour-saving response (or even instructing a secretary to do so). Indeed, for the Dean of Westminster to bother corresponding with the resurrected ashes of a long-dead Archbishop says rather a lot about Dr Hall’s gracious character.

The Dean thanked His Grace for writing to him ‘about our cartwheeling verger’ (isn’t that pastoral expression of ownership just bless?). Dr Hall said: “Ben expressed physically what we all experienced emotionally: delight at what had been a marvellous service and relief that it had all gone so well.” Indeed, when you consider that all the pressures of organisation for a televised event – to be watched globally by two billion people – fell directly upon the shoulders of the Dean, the wonder is that he was not the one cartwheeling with joy down the aisle himself.

Significantly, Dr Hall disclosed that the Verger was ‘very upset to have been televised since he has a very high sense of commitment to the Abbey and professionalism’. The Dean’s only concern was to protect his verger: there was ‘absolutely no question of him suffering any disciplinary penalty of any kind’.

His Grace pointed out that he had previously attempted to elicit information on any disciplinary action, but had been sent (twice) what read like an official party line. The Abbey's ministry of tweets simply responded (and reiterated) that Mr Sheward 'will not be disciplined'. This, of course, was known and understood: in contention were any actions already taken.

And so His Grace pressed the matter, and apologised for taking up the Dean’s time on such a relatively trivial matter. His Grace asked how the Daily Mail report (quoting an Abbey employee) that Mr Sheward was feeling 'fairly chastened' might not suggest that he had been reprimanded by his superiors. Would the Dean confirm beyond dispute what the blessed twitterers would not? After all, if the Dean merely advised Mr Sheward not to speak to the media because he was pastorally concerned to protect him after he had been aggrieved and upset by the televising of his acrobatics, that is quite a different matter from their having reprimanded and forcibly silenced him.

Once again, the Dean responded to His Grace promptly and graciously. He said:
Thank you. I don't regard this as a trivial matter but do find it a little frustrating.

People feel chastened in themselves when they feel embarrassed - which can happen for all kinds of reasons. No one in the Abbey community chastened Ben. He was quite disturbed that the media should try to contact him at home and it was very much his instinct not to talk to them. He was not reprimanded or forcibly silenced.

Ben is an extremely popular and long-standing member of the Abbey staff and highly valued.

John
His Grace is delighted that he is now apparently on Christian-name terms with the Dean – who is a very nice man – and His Grace apologised sincerely for any part he may have played in exacerbating the situation.

It is apparent that Verger Ben is a very private individual; even nervous about speaking to the media. This character revelation undoubtedly reinforces the fact that his cartwheel was a spontaneous exuberance and undoubted evidence of his deep joy. It was, as evidenced in the Acts of the Apostles, a moment of drunkenness on the Holy Spirit which merited no rebuke and none was given.

Thomas won’t be troubling John again. With great humility and self-chastisement, His Grace (not for the first time) recants: the Petition is otiose.

42 Comments:

Blogger Bred in the bone said...

Rock on Tommy!

7 May 2011 at 16:00  
Blogger John said...

Never hurts to let the Masters of our world know they are under our observation

7 May 2011 at 16:07  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

Precisely what I had suspected, alongwith one or two others on here who added comments. Yet again the Daily Mail tilting at windmills and others joining them!

All of the Abbey's response could have been inferred by a careful reading and a balanced reference to the comments from the Abbey. They were seeking to protect their verger and there was no evidence of them disciplining or criticising him.

Hyperbole and exaggeration all around and absolutely no need at all for a petition!

Well done though to the Abbey for their forbearance and to you for publishing their account.

7 May 2011 at 16:18  
Anonymous MrJ said...

Let those who know how much is owed by so many to the one who enables us to make our comments here resist the adversary who would tempt us into crowing too readily when humble pie has been eaten.

7 May 2011 at 18:09  
Anonymous Undercover Nun said...

The Undercover Nun has always wished we had a designated aisle in the nave for those who are so filled with Spirit at the Eucharist that we must dance -- or cartwheel -- back to our seats.

David danced before the ark, so why can't we cartwheel in church? Oh, right, yes. I forgot: we're ANGLICANS. ;-)

7 May 2011 at 18:42  
Anonymous BritNorAmFreedom (British North America Freedom) said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to investigate the facts regarding this issue and pressing the Dean for answers. Keep up the good work.
http://bnafreedom.posterous.com

7 May 2011 at 19:43  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

MrJ said...
"Let those who know how much is owed by so many to the one who enables us to make our comments here resist the adversary who would tempt us into crowing too readily when humble pie has been eaten."

Humble pie? Whenever has the author of this blog demonstrated any such characteristic? He whipped this 'story' up, selected the quotes, and refused to allow any objectivity or criticism, deleting comments instead as the blog was a 'petition'.

Go back and re-read the blog!

7 May 2011 at 19:53  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bible instructs us to shout, dance and clap our hands in our joy of the Lord. Even the mountains and trees do so.

7 May 2011 at 19:54  
Blogger Pam said...

Looking at the comments on the original petition, it seems some confusion arose because people were confused about what 'chastened' means and assumed it was a synonym for 'chastised.'

As a matter of principle I never get indignant about something the Daily Mail wants me to be indignant about until I've had the facts verified from elsewhere - things so turn out not to be quite what they seem.

As it is, they managed to get a substantial chunk of the Christian blogosphere fulminating against Westminster Abbey after a triumphantly good Royal Wedding instead of congratulating them.

'We like sheep' indeed.

7 May 2011 at 20:06  
Anonymous non mouse said...

This is very special! Thanks both to Your Grace and to the Dean. I particularly admire his insight: "People feel chastened in themselves when they feel embarrassed - which can happen for all kinds of reasons."

And - Your Grace - surely Mr. Sheward's embarrassment may be alleviated by knowing how very well your communicants have received his cartwheels! :)) I hope that all concerned can now view the petition as evidence of your support and our appreciation.

****************

Some years ago, when last living in London, I used to attend the Abbey for Evesong services. I always wondered at the privilege of being able to do that; and the memories are treasure! What a magnificent - but very human - establishment it is.

7 May 2011 at 20:23  
Anonymous MrJ said...

Pam, such gentle words of reproof: exemplary, and fit for the occasion.

7 May 2011 at 20:25  
Anonymous non mouse said...

Evensong ... sigh.

7 May 2011 at 21:14  
Blogger MFH said...

could his grace ask who the two nuns where who sat next to HRHs.
that is a mystery to me

7 May 2011 at 22:01  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

non mouse said...
"Some years ago, when last living in London, I used to attend the Abbey for Evesong services."

Was that before or after Anglican Cathedrals started charging an admission fee?

7 May 2011 at 22:50  
Blogger Pam said...

@The Last Dodo - You can usually go into any place of worship without paying if you are a bona fide worshipper.

@MrJ - I don't mean to be reproving of anyone - There but for the grace of God etc. And I appreciate ++Cramner's persistence in getting a statement which I accept is ultimately more helpful than complete silence given that the story of the verger being disciplined had grown legs as the saying goes.

I've just learnt the hard way that there's often more to D Mail stories than meets the eye.

(In their defence however they are occasionally unexpectedly brilliant eg their coverage of the Stephen Lawrence murder IRRC when they robustly demanded justice.)

7 May 2011 at 23:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"His Grace is delighted that he is now apparently on Christian-name terms with the Dean."

Oh , I wouldn't read too much into that. HMTQ would not use a surname in correspondence either , but YG would not going calling her by her Christian name ,would he now?!

Well done,YG,for nailing this issue - long may the verger cartwheel (if only away from the cameras).

Marcus Foxall

8 May 2011 at 00:23  
Anonymous non mouse said...

Dear Dodo @22:50 - All things considered, even a rare pigeon should know better than that!

Free access to worship is as Pam says; 'twas ever thus, in my experience. A glance at the Abbey's official website confirms the policy - and provides necessary information for those who'd like to go there.

8 May 2011 at 00:58  
Anonymous wannabeanglican said...

I've had the pleasure to meet the Dean of Westminster twice back in 2007. And he is indeed "good people" as we say in Texas.

The relaxed friendliness that you saw on TV from him as he greeted royals and the like, that is how he is with everybody who worships at Westminster Abbey.

And, having heard him preach twice, I can say he is a good preacher, too.

8 May 2011 at 02:17  
Anonymous not a machine said...

It was very kind of the Dean to respond to your grace ,knowing full well that many ears would be keen to cut to the truth. It seems clear that the verger has had no penalty and is not tempted by his own late night celebrity show and wishes to serve at the Abbey. Given tourists always love to visit Westminster Abbey the verger will not now be pressed into service for the 12:15 clerical cartwheel event down the knave. (note I am making light of difference between joy and job, and not the Dean/abbey)

With the NI vote recently in I think we can now consider that event done , whilst the drawing lots one was interesting (there was also one story of a counter being mugged ,although I could not see how it would affect count)
Up pops Tavish scott with same story as yesterday that coalition has cursed the lib dems .I think the lib dems know that there campaign was a turnoff ,as i say again in no leaflet did they attack labour in meaningfull way ,one I had even had a pop at Thatcher some 21 years post.
I would think given smirsch are now in many urban town halls again ,I would tell them that any budget overspends will be rebalanced,I might even have enquiries into value ,one report I heard about one infamous london council was that it had over 100 people on 150kyr more than double its similar sized neighbour.

I might response the business sec "toothless ,percolating and utterly herbal"

I dont thinks eds stratgey is quite the genius thing it appears ,rehabiltaing Mr Brown to be powerbroker ? must be nuts . I think I will wait as the picture on truth and lie is not quite dveloped .

8 May 2011 at 02:56  
Anonymous MrJ said...

Pam 23:03_Yes, understood.

8 May 2011 at 07:18  
Anonymous len said...

Your persistence in obtaining the truth does you credit your Grace, as is your humility when the facts are obtained.
A lesson to us all!.

Perhaps Anglicans could incorporate spontaneous ' cartwheeling'as a means of 'debunking'the solemnity of religion?.

8 May 2011 at 07:47  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

Maybe the 'facts' should have been obtained before reacting to the Mail's insinuations.

Cranmer hasn't apologised nor given the Abbey an opportunity to accept an apology. He may have humbled himself before his readers and maybe feeling self chastened, nonetheless, as in times gone by, he misrepresented his church.

8 May 2011 at 12:46  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr The Last DoDo,

Please re-read the post. Unless you ae being purposely obtuse, which is likely, it is clear that His Grace apologised directly.

And he did (twice) give the Abbey the chance to respond, and they (twice) responded with a denial of future disciplinary action, with no comment on the media reports. But you've conveniently ignored that as well.

Maybe the 'facts' should have been elicited before contributing your own prejudicial comment.

8 May 2011 at 12:59  
Anonymous Pageantmaster said...

All's well that ends well, although that's a bit after your time YG.

8 May 2011 at 13:02  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

Mr AC Cranmer

Apologies for not acknowleding your qualified apology to the Abbey.

"His Grace apologised sincerely for any part he may have played in exacerbating the situation."

A bit of a slippery apology, and not exactly unreserved, for the part you surely did play! As you have recently reported, your blog is popular, fairly widely read and probably exercises some influence on public opinion.

However, I still stand by my observation that all this was unnecessary. If you read my posts on the blog at the time, before summarily deleting them, without explanation, all this was evident.

Someone as astute and experienced as yourself should surely have been able to read between the lines of the Mail's account? Indeed, you selectively quoted from the article, serving to add fuel to the fire.

Too little, too late.

8 May 2011 at 14:43  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr The Last Dodo,

You wrote: "Cranmer hasn't apologised nor given the Abbey an opportunity to accept an apology."

That was simply untrue. Indeed, it is a complete fabrication. And yet now you perpetuate your misrepresentation.

In what sense was His Grace's apology to the Abbey 'qualified'? Have you spoken with the Dean? You have certainly sought no clarification from His Grace. Ergo your continuing criticism before bothering to acquire any facts makes you something of a hypocrite for criticising His Grace for not acquiring the facts relating to the verger.

Again, His Grace repeats (because you persist in ignoring the fact) two attempts were made to elicit further information. The Abbey responded 'politically', referring only to future disciplinary action. They could have crushed this story at the outset as the Dean has now done.

Your comments (and those of others) were deleted as they contributed nothing to the petition. A petition is not a place for debate: it is a device for securing signatures of support. Those who do not agree simply do not sign.

8 May 2011 at 15:05  
Blogger Pam said...

I thought that your interpretation of the statement that he would not be disciplined - 'Ah - but that means he might already have been!' was either disingenuous or displayed an appropriately unwordly lack of knowledge of how employment legislation works.

The only way he could have been disciplined was if this was a further occurrence of an offence against a code of conduct or other guidance issued as part of his job description - since a first occurrence normally elicits a verbal warning and a second offence a written warning.

Of course, had there been such an action, then it would have been a breach of the employee's confidentiality for the employer to tell a third party, so perhaps the Abbey has been forced into speaking to dispel the impression that there is no smoke without fire.

Touching as it is to believe that the Daily Mail was acting out of concern for the verger, it seems on the balance of evidence - unnamed informant giving ambiguous information that is then widely misinterpreted - that they were merely wringing the best story they could from their annoyance at being refused an interview.

8 May 2011 at 15:22  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Ms/Mrs/Miss/Rev Pam,

Dinigenuous? Unwordly?

His Grace thanks you for that.

But the ignorance in employment legislation is manifestly yours. A warning - whether oral or written (both are 'verbal') - constitutes disciplinary action, and should appear in the 'Disciplinary Policy' of any place of employment. You appear to suggest that only serious incidents or repetition of an offence after prior warning merit 'disciplinary' action: this is simply not the case.

8 May 2011 at 16:07  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

Mr AC Cranmer said ...

"In what sense was His Grace's apology to the Abbey 'qualified'? Have you spoken with the Dean?"

I was raised to simply say sorry when I've done something wrong! I apologised to you for not acknowleding your qualified apology to the Abbey.

I base this on your own words:

"His Grace apologised sincerely for any part HE MAY have played in exacerbating the situation."

Did you apologise for your selective reporting this non-event? For ommitting key quotes from the Mail article? For irresponsibly and prematurely starting a petition?

Maybe you did. In which case I offer a full and unqualified apology for doubting your sincerity.

8 May 2011 at 16:08  
Blogger Pam said...

Since you do seem to know something about what such action entails, perhaps you could have have considered at what point between the incident and the Mail's report such action could have taken place before before suggesting the Abbey wasn't being entirely upfront in its statement that he would not be disciplined?

[FWIW there is a difference between a disciplinary procedure and a disciplinary action. However, since neither took place that's a bit of a red herring.]

8 May 2011 at 16:12  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

"Did you apologise... Maybe you did..."

"Since you do seem to know something about what such action entails..."

It is a good day for bashing the Archbishop. But the prejudicial judgements are unbecoming. The Revd (and quite glorious) Maggie Dawn has it about right.

8 May 2011 at 16:35  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

Cheer up Mr ABC, these things are sent to try us. You'll bounce back, I'm sure. And who can disgree that prejudicial judgements are unbecoming.

The Abbey Tweet on 2nd May, a full 5 days before the apology and recantation.

"For all those wondering about the cartwheeling verger - there is absolutely no question of Ben being disciplined..."

8 May 2011 at 17:01  
Anonymous len said...

We are still awaiting the Popes apology on a much more serious matter Mr Dodo,
Perhaps one day,?

How many times have you pressed him ( The Pope)for an apology?

8 May 2011 at 17:24  
Blogger Pam said...

Well the English language does have to take a part of the blame - it's quite a short distance from 'chastened' (which as the Dean has pointed out is an emotional feeling) and 'chastised', and the phrase 'there is absolutely no question of Ben being disciplined...' could have been made much less ambiguous by replacing the gerund with a finite verb.

Only teasing you ++ Cramner, whatever the reasons for the impression that Ben the Verger had been squashed by the mighty tortoise of the C of E you did a good job in getting a further statement and in publishing it.

I'm sure you don't need any praise from me to make you sleep better at night though (if archiepiscopal shades sleep!)

8 May 2011 at 17:50  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8 May 2011 at 20:35  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

len said...
"We are still awaiting the Popes apology on a much more serious matter Mr Dodo,
Perhaps one day,?"

How many more times will the sins of the few be laid at the door of the entire clergy?

I take it you are referring to the sex abuse scandal?

The Pope has apologised, more than once. And these have been full, unqualified and uncompromising.

Clearly you refuse to hear.

In March 2010:
“You have suffered grievously, and I am truly sorry,” ... “Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated.”
He also criticized Ireland’s bishops for “grave errors of judgment and failures of leadership.”

During his visit to Briyain in September 2011, he went further, saying pedophile priests had brought "shame and humiliation" on him and the entire Roman Catholic Church. "Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes," he said.

As he traveled to Britain, Benedict acknowledged to reporters that the church had failed to act quickly or decisively enough to stop the abuse and prevent it from recurring.

8 May 2011 at 20:40  
Blogger Ariadne said...

It's obvious that we have more than one star in Westminster Abbey and how good it is that publicity doesn't attract them.

Thank you, Your Grace. I wouldn't have seen the wonderful Ben and rejoiced vicariously if not for you.

8 May 2011 at 21:33  
Anonymous len said...

Dodo,
The Pope 'apologised'' when the reports of abuse were made public and the Vatican could no longer contain the truth about long standing abuse by Catholic Priests.

Abuses by priests in the Jesuit Order were also carried out in the 1950s and 1960s, so abuse is no'new thing'and would probably be still covered up if the Media had not uncovered it!.

9 May 2011 at 08:24  
Blogger killemallletgodsortemout said...

Well-played, with grace, Your Grace.

9 May 2011 at 15:01  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

I suppose we should be grateful that vergers don't follow the lead of the Scots (allegedly) when wearing skirted clothing.

9 May 2011 at 18:14  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

len said...
"Dodo,
The Pope 'apologised'' when the reports of abuse were made public and the Vatican could no longer contain the truth about long standing abuse by Catholic Priests."

You are a very ungracious man. Do you always think the worse of people?

The apology was heart felt and sincere.

9 May 2011 at 22:23  
Anonymous len said...

Dodo,
I am a realist.Your religion disposes you to you accept the unacceptable.You feel obliged to defend the position you have taken otherwise you would look foolish and 'lose face'.

To see the reality of your religion you have to step outside and view it as an outsider.

That is why don`t belong to a Denomination.

10 May 2011 at 08:00  

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