Inside the Washington National Cathedral, Dr. Torrence Thomas gripped his virge and marshaled former American presidents as they paid respect to Sen. John McCain during his funeral.
As a the head verger of the historic Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Thomas is always ready to lead the way.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to provide that kind of support, not only to the McCain family, but to the nation grieving over Senator McCain,” Thomas said about his role in greeting visitors.
Thousands of people attended the Sept. 2 service in the nation’s capitol along with McCain’s family, and national leaders such as members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Former Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Al Gore were also present, among other well-known dignitaries.
Thomas, a lay minister, gives assistance to the clergy in the conduct of public worship, especially while marshaling during processions. He’s responsible for 1,500 services each year and supervises a team of 15 vergers. It’s a tradition he’s been carrying on for five years. The history dates back to the Middle Ages when vergers would lead the way and make room for people to enter the church from the town square.
Thomas graduated from Clinton High School in 1997 and was a drum major in the marching band.
“I always had an interest in leading people and marshaling things and leading processions, oddly enough,” Thomas said.
He later earned a bachelor’s in history, with a minor in religion. Thomas continued his education at Yale University, where he received a master’s and a doctorate in history.
“This is something that I feel prepared for and I have a very deep interest in it,” Thomas said.
The Washington National Cathedral is the sixth largest in the world and Thomas emphasized that it’s “a house of prayer for all people,” especially during crises, celebrations and funerals that touch the nation. As a historian, Thomas is proud to serve in the Cathedral, which was suggested by George Washington as a church for national purposes.
In 1893, Congress granted a charter to the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia to establish the building. Next, a cornerstone was laid on Sept. 29, 1907 and after 83 years of construction, the cathedral was consecrated on Sept. 30, 1990.
“The cathedral is an interesting place because you have people who come there every day for religious worship and it’s their church home and you have people who come for special occasions,” Thomas said. “It’s a wonderful mix of congregational feel and a place where historic things happen.”
Thomas lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife Jalene Spain Thomas, and is the son of the Rev. Dr. Theodore Thomas, a longtime community volunteer in Sampson County and pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Warsaw. In the Thomas family, it’s a tradition to serve in ministry. His grandfather and great-grandfather were also ministers. Daniel Minus, his great-great-grandfather, was born into slavery in 1848 and was also a minister. After he was emancipated, Minus received a doctorate and founded a school.
“In today’s culture, religion is under assault and people are very suspicious of religion and organized religion especially,” Thomas said. “So I think showing the best, not only of the Cathedral, but of the Christian faith, and how it supports people and help them during their time of life changes … I think it’s important, so I’m happy to do that.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.