Do UUs Think Ushering Is Beneath Them? or Yet Another Black Church Memory

I was talking to a friend a couple of days ago and she mentioned that she was going to have to usher again tomorrow because only one person had signed up. And I’ve noticed that at the church where I’m interning, they are also having a hard time getting people to be ushers. Same for my home church.

I don’t get this. In the black church, at least as I remember it growing up, being an Usher was the thing to be. It was a position of status…you wanted to be an Usher.

With so much talk about growth…why don’t more people who are already here want to be at the doors to greet those who come in? Who knows…maybe the welcome from an Usher will be just the thing someone visiting needs to feel as if there is a place for them in Unitarian Universalism.

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5 thoughts on “Do UUs Think Ushering Is Beneath Them? or Yet Another Black Church Memory

  1. Back in the 1970s when I was in high school, ushering at church was a big deal in the nearly all-white suburban United Methodist Church I attended. You were a very visible presence in a worship service.

    This was also true in Protestant Chapel services at a nearby Air Force base.

    The problem getting folks to volunteer to be ushers may reflect bigger issues in church life like the declining importance of church and church attendance in North American culture.

    Even in our Southern “Bible Belt” town, the youth sports leagues now have games on Sunday that interfere with the time set aside for church services.

    If church is becoming less important for families than their kid’s soccer game, it’s probably going to be hard to get them to volunteer for anything at church including ushering, serving on a committee, teaching religious education, etc.

  2. I wonder if the lack of volunteers to usher (or host!)- is because of our lack of desire to commit to being at a particular service in advance?

  3. You’re right on about status and community value. When the ushers have clearly big responsibilities and are part of decision making and safety, when the ushers have to be extensively trained (not just: staff the door and hand out programs), and when the ushers are very much understood and appreciated as part of the worshipful life, then folks want to be an usher. When “anyone can do it” and it is rotated throughout the ranks, without special preparation or reward, then it feels and looks like unappreciated and unimportant service, unless we’ve been trained in another model. If ushering is part of the explicit route of eldering (followership to leadership) of the congregation, then it might be better respected. If we value visitors, worship, safety, and leadership cultivating, then we probably want to reconsider valuing ushers.

  4. Thanks to the Rev. Naomi King, as that was well-said and helpful. Although the church I served as DRE out on the west coast prior to coming to serve another church on the east coast seemed to be doing well getting folks to usher, and there I think it was one of the jobs that people desired because it was lower-commitment but high impact (and a great job for newer folks who are trying to get to know everyone). Because we had a few really *excellent* ushers in the church, everyone of us had memories of the first folks who greeted us when we came to the church. These people introduced us to others, knew us by name as of our second week (in my case, that’s obvious, since I came in as DRE, but everyone else from the congregation had this happen for them too), chatted with us as we entered the sanctuary, and were active in helping folks find seats, etc. Plus, they always had broad smiles and seemed glad to be greeting. Knowing what a big impact they had on us, lots of folks seemed to want to do that for other folks. So it may be that half the issue is just getting a culture of hospitality that is powerful enough to multiply itself.

    But I resonate with what you say about training both for the reasons you mention and others. I think quality of ushers is almost as big of an issue as numbers. For example, how many ushers choose to stay out in the foyer/narthex until the first hymn because they *know* that newcomers sometimes run late because of getting lost, etc., and that there is nothing more intimidating than walking into a church and not knowing when it is okay to open the doors and walk into the sanctuary or not knowing where to find that stack of “orders of service” an usher has left. The untrained ushers that I’ve seen haven’t thought it through in that way. And that’s just one example.

  5. I’m not sure that ushers, per se, are suitable to every UU setting. At the two UU congregations I know best, people are greeted at the door and given the program/ bulletin/ order of service, their questions about childcare or RE are addressed, but then between them and being seated in the sanctuary/ fellowship hall/ auditorium there is an unofficial social space, where people are chatting and discussing and informally greeting each other before going to their seats. You’d almost have to change the culture to “enter – sit – shut up” for a formal system of ushers to work.

    I do believe, though, that training for greeters and placing greater value an the greeting function is needed.

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