As Merton’s Chapel Verger, Leah Collins is integral to all of the Chapel’s operations – from weddings to funerals, to Passiontide and Advent Carol Services, she ensures that everything runs to perfection and that everyone in the Chapel community is looked after.
Leah first became a Verger at the age of 15 when her godfather, who was the Head Verger at St Albans Cathedral, gave her a part-time job as Assistant Verger. She worked as an extra for bigger events, when the Cathedral needed additional support, and also performed concert duty. This meant acting as a port of call for visiting groups, managing the security of the building and generally being on hand to help with issues that might arise. She worked part-time at St Albans Cathedral all the way through school and when she returned from university in the holidays.
Leah studied Environmental Science at Bangor University in North Wales and then stayed on to do a Master’s degree in the same subject. For her dissertation, she researched how Lanthanum, a rare earth metal, affected the growth of plants and the structure of soil. She joined Merton after graduating in September 2013 and particularly enjoyed starting in her role as Verger when the College’s 750th Anniversary celebrations were in full swing. She has seen the Chapel go from strength to strength since, and she is particularly proud of her involvement in the founding of the Merton College Girl Choristers in 2016.
As part of her duties, she has had some incredible experiences, including verging at the first ever Anglican Evensong at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and travelling with the College Choir to Hong Kong and Singapore. Outside of work, she enjoys music, sewing, hiking and camping. Over a period of two years, Leah and her husband did the Coast to Coast walk, which spans an impressive 192 miles from Cumbria to Yorkshire.
Leah loves working at Merton, interacting with students, and forming bonds within the College community. She got married in the Chapel in 2018, with many people from Merton present. The Chaplain, Simon Jones, said of Leah: "She makes a huge contribution, not only to the day-to-day running of the Chapel, but also to the Chapel community. She is actively involved in all aspects of our life and enhances what we do in so many different ways. It’s a joy to have such a gifted and committed person as part of the team."
Leah and Student Chapel Officer Molly Clark (2014), who is also being profiled this week, sat down in Chapel to talk about their time at Merton and their interests more broadly. Please do have a look at the wonderful video below.
Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch, what was your first impression?
I was in awe of the place and the sense of grandeur and history. Especially in Chapel, it is just huge and beautiful.
Do you have a particular ‘Merton memory’ that stands out?
Every year, the Advent celebrations that we do are absolutely beautiful, especially the procession as we go out into the Ante-chapel, with all the smoke, everyone holding candles, and singing Lo! He Comes – that makes me tingle every time.
Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.
I can play four instruments, and I learned one of them (the saxophone) in two weeks.
What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you’ve achieved?
The best advice I could give myself, and I think it’s still true now, is to take a step back every single day and remember why we’re doing what we’re doing. It can all get really overwhelming and stressful sometimes, so it is important to try and see the bigger picture.
Describe Merton in three words.
Community. Brilliance. Beauty.