Ushers Are Ministers Too

I once served a church nearly 50 years ago where I had the privilege of training a newly-chosen corps of ushers. For Howard, the recently-elected head usher, I drew up a sheet of instructions and expectations. The entire group of us then met in the sanctuary on a Sunday afternoon to acquaint ourselves with the plans and to rehearse.

There was enthusiasm and camaraderie. It made these men feel like what they were called upon to do was important. The following Saturday, the day before our Sunday launch, Howard hosted a steak dinner at the nearby lake for fellowship and final instructions.

The instructions included such expectations as that ushers arrive 30 minutes early, dress uniformly in suit and tie for morning service, and for the evening, in jacket and matched pants; that they refrain from such distractions while on duty as socializing with other ushers as the large congregation gathered; that they remain on duty until the congregation had dispersed; be prepared for any emergency (with details given); and notify their team leader if they were unable to serve on any particular Sunday.

As I recall, the men were divided into two teams. To serve the large sanctuary required 12 ushers, three for each side aisle and six for the center aisle. If the balcony was to be in use, that would require an extra two ushers. There were also back-up personnel to be called upon whenever needed.

I had asked ushers to face forward as they passed the offering plates rather than appearing to peer down the row as offerings were given. My rationale was that this was to be a moment between each worshiper and God.

Meanwhile, in teaching moments I taught the congregation that the time for the reception of offerings in a service was not an intermission from worship while mundane things were cared for. Instead, the offering was itself a moment of worship. And I had made the point that in that moment of worship the ushers were not “taking up collections;” rather, they were “receiving offerings.”

Because I sat near the pulpit while the ushers received the offerings I could see this team of men at work each Sunday as they seated late-comers and later received tithes and offerings. Each usher was a committed believer, respected by the congregation. They went at their assignment with conviction. I am warmed as I recall it.

During the early days of this new regimen, I was counseling with a young man who came to see me because he was distressed over his increasing doubt and fading interest in following Christ. I recall his saying several times in our visits, “I just don’t care.” He made it clear that he was contemplating abandoning the church and its faith because of his inner conflict.

As I recall, it was during his third visit on a Monday that he told me what was keeping him from following his impulses. He said, “I look at those men who take the offering and carry it forward to the communion table and I say to myself, ‘These men are not dumb. They’re intelligent, committed, and they have a real faith.’”

Just seeing them at worship in that way had arrested him momentarily. For him, it was not the moment of an instant returning. The Lord was dealing with him about issues at deeper levels. Nevertheless, he had used a corps of faithful, believing ushers to get the young man’s attention while he dealt with him.

So you see why I say that ushers, when they serve well, are ministers too.

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One thought on “Ushers Are Ministers Too

  1. I recall Howard and his ministry. As a teen I remember being groomed for the position. My Uncle Gord explained the hand signals and how to be discreet with subtle gestures about available seats. Leonard Keillor faithfully manned the center doors and was careful to greet people warmly and yet help people transition quietly into the reverence of the sanctuary. I was instructed as to why we face forward and to acknowledge people who entered our zone but not to engage in conversation other than to help them get seated. I learned on my own where Brother Hibbit always sat. I would always hold that spot open for him.

    One Sunday evening when I was a freshman in college I was on usher duty in the front right position of the center aisle. I brought a date that night – an attractive redhead from Iowa. We were just getting to know one another and this might have been our second or third date. (Church dates were always inexpensive.) She sat next to my open usher seat under which I had placed the offering plate. The rest of the row was empty. In my duties I had escorted Mrs. Moore or Mrs. Ladue to her place on the aisle a couple of rows from the front. When I returned to my position I discovered another college student had moved in on my girl. He was sitting in my usher seat and was fully engaging my wide-eyed date in conversation. I gently tapped him on the shoulder, said quietly said hello and then said “I’m sorry but I’ll need to ask you to move as I need to sit here to be able to take the offering”. And then I just calmly returned to my usher pose standing next to the pew facing the back of the church. I stopped counting after three shades of red as he shuffled past my date as she winked at me and he took a slumped position in the middle of the pew and never said another word. The unspoken authority of the role of usher had served me well.

    Ushering was a privilege and an honor. It’s rare to attend a church where ushering is observed as a ministry. Thanks for taking the time to give it purpose.

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