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.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.
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.
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.