My name is Thomas Nelson, and for the last twelve weeks, I have had the great pleasure of being an intern in the cathedral, working with the vestry as a relief verger.

I first considered the cathedral as a workplace while volunteering at the Three Choirs Festival last year as a steward and was very keen to come back as soon as I could. Thanks to a generous grant from my university, and the help of the wonderful Revd Pam Row, on 23  May this became possible, and I joined the cathedral’s team of vergers.

I mention this date to friends and colleagues in the cathedral and they tend to react with horror: ‘It’s been that long?’ and, according to my calendar, at least it has been, though for me it seems to have gone slower – for the best possible reason.  

The first thing any new verger will note is the sheer amount that there is to remember. From the veritable alien language that describes the parts, places and purposes of the ceremonial aspects of the role, to all the odds, ends, and tasks that accumulate on one’s mental to-do list throughout a day, to the names that come attached to all of the friendly faces that one meets. I’m told that ID cards for staff and volunteers received mixed reviews when they were first introduced, but I for one have been very glad for them from time to time!

In my experience at least, when I look back on time spent learning and being challenged a lot, it seems to have passed quite slowly, but, unlike an evening spent filling out forms concerning health insurance for a year’s study in America, one feels refreshed and ready to spend more time doing things that challenge them – as opposed to sticking a pillow over their head and lying very still in a darkened room until one’s roommate tells them to come out, stop being silly, and could you please top up the electricity meter, it’s your turn this time - ‘and just you wait until you actually get ill over there!’ I have very much enjoyed my time as relief verger, and believe I have learnt many very valuable, transferrable skills that have prepared me very well for the year that is to come.

On 18 August I will depart the rainy climes of Britain for the (apparently) equally rainy Salem, Oregon, in the USA. I will study there for a year before returning to Keele University in Staffordshire for two more years of a degree with integrated master’s in liberal arts and sciences. I am a firm believer that the single discipline approach of the traditional English degree course is best served complemented by a broad education that covers the arts and sciences, and my course at Keele has allowed me to do that. My degree allows me to specialise in the interdisciplinary study of narrative, while studying all manner of courses in music, philosophy, literature and social science. In Oregon I will add to this repertoire with a focus on business and French. My eventual goal is to study for a PhD before going to work in the field of community arts, possibly working for the Arts Council.

Churches – especially cathedrals – have always been places where people have come together to create, curate, consume and participate in ‘art’ (whatever that may mean). As the arts are further squeezed from our curriculums it is institutions like arts organisations and our churches that are left to deliver what is unquestionably a necessary and irreplaceable swathe of our society, on ever-dwindling budgets. I’m certain I’m not the first person to say this, but it’s a testament to the dedication of those behind this industry that it continues to grow and push forward at the rate that it does year on year. Perhaps we in cathedrals have an often overlooked advantage: as long as our towers remain part of our city skylines, everyone in the area will at some point look up at it and think, perhaps at first cynically, though surely later with genuine affection and curiosity – ‘what was that architect thinking of when they designed that? And what must that have felt like to see it actually be made?’ Where these and other similar questions are asked, so too will the drive to create for the sake of one’s community.

To close, I would like to thank the other vergers - It has been an honour and a privilege to work as part of such a kind, skilled, and effective team and I look forward to keeping in touch. I have been reassured that America does indeed ‘do’ postcards.