Ushers are an integral part of the African American worship experience. Dressed immaculately and known for stepping in unison, these “doorkeepers” instill and help to maintain order in the church sanctuary. Ushering is a long-standing tradition, and an interdenominational group works with hundreds of ushers in Baltimore and across Maryland to ensure they are properly trained.
The Interdenominational Church Ushers Association of Maryland, Inc., (ICUA) is an interfaith Christian organization, and is affiliated with the National United Church Ushers’ Association and the Eastern Region Ushers’ Association. The organization is committed to providing quality service, participating in community outreach and community resource programs, providing educational resources for young people, promoting spiritual growth and encouraging leadership development.
The ICUA-Baltimore Unit is a part of the state chapter, and is headquartered at 2212 North Eutaw Place. Approximately 20 churches are members of the Baltimore Unit, which also operates the John R. Brown School of Ushering at the location. The school trains ushers in the universal method of ushering.
Gerald A. Hill, Sr. is president of the ICUA-Baltimore Unit. “In my capacity I ensure that the unit is running effectively,” said Hill. “I help to ensure that individuals come to meetings and trainings. I also make sure that information is properly disseminated. I also check on our sick and senior members.”
The John R. Brown School of Ushering conducts trainings the second Saturday of every month from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and the ICUA State School of Ushering is held the third Saturday of every month from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Trainings are sometimes held at the Eutaw Street headquarters, but also rotate around the state.
“I enjoy working with people, serving people, attending the conferences and fellowshipping,” said Hill. “Ushering also provides leadership skills. To me, you just have to feel it. Being a man of God, I love doing God’s work.”
Hill attends Providence Baptist Church were the Revs. Marcus Garvey Wood and Dr. Douglas E. Summers serve as co-pastors. Hill has served as president of the church’s usher board for the past 12 years.
“I have been ushering for the past 15 years, Hill added. “There’s an usher in my church by the name of Bro. Brown, who used to tell me to get on the usher board because my father would be proud. Bro. Brown and my sister talked me into it, and I have been ushering ever since.”
“As we serve, it’s in the spirit,” said Hill. “We are marching for the Lord.”
ICUA-Baltimore Unit members actively support usher anniversary services and other events. Recently, they participated in an usher anniversary service at Morning Star Baptist Church of Christ on Fayette Street.
“Different churches have anniversaries and we try to support those programs, especially for ICUA members,” said Hill. “Ushers can always count on each other to support one another at their anniversaries.”
On May 3, 2013 the ICUA-Baltimore Unit honored 82-year-old Preston Jennings, a longtime usher, at a Bull & Oyster Roast at The Forum Caterers.
Jennings has served in several capacities with the ICUA on the state, Eastern Region and national levels— including chairman of The John R. Brown School of Ushering and former Baltimore Unit president. Jennings began ushering in 1955, and still actively serves on the door at Waters A.M.E. Church on Aisquith Street where he holds the title of Usher Emeritus.
Sylvia Graves is the former state dean of the ICUA of Maryland. Graves also has served as an instructor with The John R. Brown School of Ushering.
“My reward is just being a servant,” said Graves. “As an usher, our job is to assist the pastor, have fans and envelopes available, and meet, greet and seat people. We also instill decency and order. We are marching up the King’s Highway and marching for Jesus.”
Graves attends Perkins Square Baptist Church on Edmondson Avenue where she supervises the youth ushers.
“The church usher plays a vital role in meeting the needs of the congregation and keeping the church service running smoothly and orderly,” Graves said. “The usher helps put the congregation in the right frame of mind to receive God’s Word. With all things, there’s a proper way to do them. The same holds true for church ushering.”
Graves said the ICUA motto is “If every usher was just like me, what would this usher board be.”
For more information about the ICUA-Baltimore Unit, visit: www.icuaofmd.com or call 410-532-9292.