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Church ushers call their duty a gift from God

Stacy M. Brown | 4/10/2015, 6 a.m.
Many consider them ministers of hospitality, or the doorkeepers of the church. However, for Vanessa Lucas and Sylvia Graves, greeting ...
Ushers during church service (Courtesy Photo/Soul of America)

— Many consider them ministers of hospitality, or the doorkeepers of the church. However, for Vanessa Lucas and Sylvia Graves, greeting parishioners and visitors on Sundays and other gathering occasions, their job is much more than simply saying hello.

“We are about serving god and being the best, representing our Christian love,” said Lucas, president of the Interdenominational Church Ushers Association of Baltimore (ICUA), an interfaith organization affiliated with the National United Church Ushers’ Association and the Eastern Region Ushers’ Association.

The group of faithful doorkeepers has a primary goal of training ushers in the universal method of ushering through a school of ushering. The organization’s motto: “If every usher was just like me, what would this usher board be?”

“We use that model; when we train our ushers we expect them to be the Christian usher that God wants them to be,” said Graves, the current ICUA Baltimore unit chaplain and former state dean of the ICUA’s School of Ushering. “If they follow the training, they should be just that. Being a Christian organization and trying to be like Christ, that is what governs us.”

Primarily, ushers have to know and understand how to greet people while at the door, be friendly, and to share a welcoming smile while performing their duties, she said.

On Saturday, April 11, 2015, the ICUA will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a gala at the La Fontaine Bleue in Lanham at 2 p.m.

The event will feature a talk of encouragement from a local pastor and the banquet’s theme will be a “Parade of States” where individuals will represent the state they’re from by wearing local outfits and carrying flags and mementos from their respective states.

Headquartered on Eutaw Street in Baltimore near North Avenue, the ICUA has worked with church ushers across denominations to make sure that ushers are trained properly in what ICUA officials call the universal method of ushering.

“The ushers are the doorkeepers, they are usually the first person that someone coming into the church will see,” Graves said. “The way that visitor is greeted often will determine whether they will return.”

One online source outlines steps for ushering, including dressing appropriately for the job; smile at all who enter; handing out church bulletins; asking whether a visitor is there for the first time; welcoming all by name if possible; thanking them for coming; seating them according to how the seating capacity is in the sanctuary; during the offering, be sure to come forward with other ushers in a decent and orderly fashion; and always being on the lookout for distractions such as children playing.

Both Graves and Lucas say the usher plays a critical role in meeting the needs of the congregation and keeping the church service running smoothly. They said the hard work helps to put the congregation at ease and it prepares them to take in, undistracted, the sermon for that day.

“We have qualified trained instructors to teach individuals to be ushers and to train those who aspire to do better and those who would like to obtain a certificate or degree in ushering,” Graves said. “We have an excellent manual and everything in there starts in the biblical form like how the Levites of the Bible looked over the tabernacle and how God highly favored them and expected them to look after the tabernacle.”

Graves said the job of ushering isn’t for everyone, but that’s okay.

“Not everyone is a people person or a good greeter,” she said. “But, we teach them how to handle the worship house, including how to handle it during funerals. We have signs and signals where we don’t even have to talk to communicate. We can be at a rather far distance, but we know what’s going on because of the signs and signals that we’ve learned.”

Tickets for the event are $65. For more information, visit: www.icuaofmd.com or call 410-523-9292.