Some Guideposts for the Fine Art of Ushering

“For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God…”
                                                                     –Psalm 84:10

“So we are ambassadors for Christ…”
                            –2 Corinthians 5:20


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an usher as “an officer who walks before a person of rank” or “one who escorts people to their seats (as in a church)…” The term is derived from the Vulgate (or popular) Latin word “ustiarius,” meaning “doorkeeper.”

At St. Paul United Church of Christ every usher is a doorkeeper but also much, much more. Our church’s ushers are on hand to greet and welcome worshipers as ambassadors of Christ; to answer questions, provide directions, and serve as guides-especially for visitors and newcomers; and to assist in the worship service itself.

Graciousness is the key to everything we do as ushers, reflecting our belief in God’s graciousness. But there are many other things that we should also keep in mind as we give our best to our role as ushers. What follows are some “guideposts” for the fine art of ushering as our church gathers to worship God. Thank you for contributing your time to usher! Your ushering is truly a ministry that enhances our worship time together as a congregation.

Attire and Arrival Time

Ushers are asked to dress more formally than you otherwise might in simply attending a Sunday service. Men should wear a collared shirt and tie. Clip-on ties are available for your use in the Usher’s Room off the narthex if you have forgotten to bring a tie of your own.

Ushers should be on hand a half hour before the start of a service. When you arrive please notify the presiding deacon. He/she can let you know where your help will be needed most (e.g., stuffing additional morning bulletins, placing a rose on the pulpit to announce a newborn in the congregation, changing hymnal signboards, lighting candles, ringing the church bell, greeting worshipers, passing out bulletins) as everything is readied for the worship service. The deacon may also wish to assign you to a special post in the west lobby or at the arched entrance to the sanctuary where worshipers enter from Fellowship Hall. All ushers and greeters for worship services are asked to wear nametags.

Greeting Newcomers

Our goal is to have a visitor-friendly church. Because the layout of our church facilities can be confusing to those not already familiar with it, ushers are asked to be on the alert to those who are new to our congregation. (“Hi, I don’t remember meeting you before. Are you new to St. Paul Church? …Well, welcome!”) Please provide them with the basic orientation they will need to feel comfortable and at home with us. Clear directions to our lavatories are especially important. (“Do you know where are lavatories are?”) Other families will want to know how to find the nursery and/or church school program. If possible, please walk with them to the upstairs nursery and church school and personally introduce them to our Director of Christian Education or a member of the church school staff.

Share Church Pamphlets and Information

Printed information about our church, including recent sermons and a wide range of pamphlets, is available in the narthex and vestibule for newcomers. Please direct them to this literature about our ministry together and encourage them to take any copies for themselves or friends that they might like. Also let them know that you will be glad to answer any questions about our church or direct them to someone who can.

Fellowship Hour Invitation

The Fellowship Hour after Sunday morning service is a great time for visitors and newcomers to meet church members and to enjoy our congregation’s hospitality. Please extend to visitors and newcomers an invitation to coffee and donuts between services in Fellowship Hall. (“We have a Fellowship Period every Sunday with coffee and donuts that you might enjoy. It’s in Fellowship Hall, directly beyond the sanctuary area through the arched doorway…”) Where possible, pair newcomers with a church member in the pews who can further help orient them to the worship service, as well as show them the way to Fellowship Hall.

Assisting Those with Special Needs

Some of our members and friends have physical disabilities or special needs. Our congregation has assistive listening devices and both large print hymnals and orders of service for use in worship. These are available for distribution in the narthex. Please assist worshipers in securing whatever they need. Let them know that the assistive listening devices and large print hymnals should be returned to the narthex at the end of the service. Also, a folding wheelchair is kept in the Usher’s Closet below the steps leading up to the balcony. Worshipers making use of a wheelchair should be directed to the special wheelchair area off the center aisle of the sanctuary. The center aisle can be used for any overflow needs. No wheelchairs can be parked in the side aisles of the sanctuary where they might prevent emergency egress or exit. A first aid kit is kept in the Ushers’ Room at all times. Also, a small blanket is stored in the Ushers’ Room for emergency use inside or outside the church. In case of serious medical emergency, 911 should be immediately called using the telephone on the Ushers’ Room desk. The presiding pastor should additionally be alerted so that he/she can ask for medical assistance from any nurse or physician who may be present in the worship service, as well as offer prayer.

Directions to Worship Participants

People arriving at the church to participate in special worship ceremonies (e.g., baptisms, funerals, new member services, festival of lessons & carols) should be directed for further instruction to the pastor’s office, which can be reached through the arched doorway at the front east side of the sanctuary, adjoining the chancel. Please alert the pastor to their presence. In the case of a baptism, the front three pews are often reserved for the participating family. Please escort the family directly to these pews.

Assisting Latecomers

Church members or friends may arrive after the worship service has already begun. Let them know in a friendly and quiet manner that you are on hand to help them find a pew. ( “Let me show you to a pew…”) If they decline all assistance, indicate where they can most readily find an empty pew. Encourage them to use the back pews or enter the sanctuary from a side aisle where they will be the least disruptive to the worshipers already gathered. No latecomer should enter the sanctuary from narthex during time or while a choir, music ensemble, or soloist is performing or the sermon is being delivered. The best time to seat latecomers is during a congregational hymn or announcements. Until seated in the sanctuary, latecomers can make temporary use of pew seating in the narthex. Except for overflow seating when the lower sanctuary is eight per cent full or more, the balcony should not be used for Sunday morning seating. Please advise anyone who chooses to sit in the balcony that they will need to descend to the narthex to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion on Sundays when it is administered.

Help for Families with Infants

Unless they are participating in a baptismal ceremony, families arriving with infants and young children should be encouraged to make use of the nursery and toddler room upstairs, where our child care attendant is ready to greet them. You can provide encouragement by personally escorting them to the nursery or toddler room, where they will receive a beeper to summon them in event that their child has any needs. If families choose to attend worship with their infant or toddler, please direct them to the back pew on each side of the center aisle which is reserved for families with young children. Let them know that the Ushers’ Room is also available for their use if their child becomes uncomfortable and disruptive. (“If you baby is uncomfortable, you may want to make use of the Ushers’ Room in the back, which has a speaker so you can listen to the service there…”) Also, kids’ packets-complete with a small coloring book and a couple of crayons-are available in the narthex and can be presented to worshiping families with toddlers.

Assisting Families with Children and Youth

Children and youth (K-12) often attend worship.  On Some Sunday mornings our pastors offer a special children’s talk early in the service.  Unless summoned to the front of the sanctuary by the presiding pastor(s), children and youth should remain seated with their parents until being dismissed for Sunday School classes upstairs.  At no time should children or youth be allowed to sit alone or as a student group in the sanctuary balcony without parents or an adult monitor.

Consideration for Worshipers

Although at least one usher is needed at the doorway between the vestibule and the narthex to promptly greet latecomers, all other ushers are asked to take a seat in a back pew and to participate in worship until their help is needed. Please be alert: the presiding pastor may request special assistance of the assistance from the lectern or pulpit during worship. (e.g., I’m going to ask our ushers to check the mike system…it doesn’t seem to be working…” or “Our pulpit rose is missing…”) Although the Ushers’ room serves as a gathering spot for ushers receiving instructions prior to our worship services, it should be reserved during worship time as a “Cry Room” for families with infants or toddlers or as a lounge area for those who have to temporarily leave the sanctuary pews for emergency reasons. Neither the Ushers’ Room nor the narthex is sound-proof. Conversations and noise from these areas can be heard in the sanctuary, becoming disruptive to the worship experience of those in the sanctuary pews, particularly near the rear. During worship services, please encourage everyone in the Narthex and Ushers’ Room to be as quiet as possible until the altar candles are extinguished following the pastor’s benediction.

After Service Clean-Up

Ushers are asked to help the presiding deacon clean up following the worship service. Used orders of service, plus other printed material, may need to be removed from the pews or picked up from the floor. Pew bibles and hymnals should be returned to the pew racks. Tablet pages from the “Ministry of Friendship” (signed by members and newcomers) should be collected and return to the deacon who is responsible for depositing them in the church office.

Turn Out the Lights!

The presiding deacon may also welcome your assistance in closing windows, turning off lights, and locking doors. Light switches for the sanctuary are variously located on the back wall of the narthex (between the vestibule entrance and the balcony stairs); in the hall between the chancel and the pastor’s office (see both the wall switch and the gray utility box marked with green dots inside to designate circuit breakers for the sanctuary all sconces and chandeliers), behind the hallway door to the chancel (see wall switch to turn on or off lighting for the Gethsemane Stained Glass Window over the altar), and on the wall above the organ bench (light switch for the recessed sanctuary and chancel lighting). Other wall switches controlling indoor and outdoor lantern lighting are located in the vestibule on the left side of the double doors and at the bottom of the narthex side steps next to the exit door.