Honors and Privileges

Sunday evening at Evensong, I was installed (sort of sounds like a kitchen appliance) as a verger at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I am deeply honored at being asked to join this august group of worker bees who keep the services humming at the cathedral. The ceremony promised to be brief during which I switched from my black cassock to a cathedral purple one and then donned a white vest called an anthem. They then gave me a ‘virge’, a ceremonial stick, with which I led the procession out of the nave at the conclusion of the service.

Ah, but that’s not all. Next week we celebrate the Festal Evensong of St. George, an annual tribute to our Anglican roots, and in that parade, I get to carry the Union Jack. Why, you may ask, is someone with my last name presuming to carry the banner of the British Empire, representing the Queen and all the pomp and circumstance that has been handed down to us from our British forebears?

Well, I’ll tell you. My mother’s maiden name is Allison, a part of clan McAllister, and according to her oldest brother (long deceased) who researched our roots, our clan arrived on these shores sometime around the 1680s or 1690s, supplied troops for the Revolutionary War, gave us such distinguished ancestors as Daniel Boone (I have no idea how he fits into this), and later, a renegade named Morgan who staged raids into Ohio during the Civil War. There was also some whiff of a bank robber who showed up at family reunions before he was caught and hanged in Kentucky. All stemming from clan McAllister, a Scottish family of worthy reputation and colorful descendents.

If that’s not enough, my adopted family name is related in some mysterious way to the Wellendorfs of Saxe-Coburg who were distant cousins to the Hanovers, the family that spawned Queen Victoria and the current reigning monarch of what remains of the British Empire. This last piece of astonishing news came from my paternal grandfather, who was wont to talk on grandly about this connection to anyone who would stay still long enough, often begging the question from my grandmother, looking askance at him, as to why we hadn’t been invited to the coronation nor to any of the royal weddings.

With such upstanding credentials as these, I take up my duties as flag bearer alongside a splendid US Naval officer who will be carrying the Stars and Stripes. I won’t cut as fine a figure as he will, but we will each in our own way be proud to be a part of what has become a St. Paul’s Cathedral tradition, even if my name doesn’t seem to be British in the least. But now you know the facts that should curb any disdainful whispering among the congregation next Sunday evening as I swan down the aisle toting the Union Jack.

Come join this wonderful Evensong, and don’t forget to bring your sandwiches (or whatever Anne Walter got you to sign up for) to the reception afterward.

Robert Heylmun

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