A Review by Bryan E. Walker
If you want a lively, interesting, and uplifting book on how to be a Church Greeter, read Buddy Bell’s book Greeting 101: Easy Steps to Greeting in the Local Church, Harrison House: Tulsa, OK 1998 (110pp.) Written in an informal, encouraging style with many biblical references, this book will benefit any church Usher or Greeter who reads it. Though not nearly as thorough or as polished as Thomas L. Clark’s A Guide for the Church Usher, Buddy Bell’s book may be the best introduction to the subject of Greeting. The only caution I would give is that Dr. Bell’s theological background is from the Charismatic side of the Faith and that may offend some of my Baptist brothers. I found it refreshing, perhaps because the book I reviewed just prior to this one was Alvin D. Johnson’s The Work of the Usher which did not impress me.
Chapter 1 “You Are a V.I.P.” opens strong with “Being a greeter, or a host and hostess as some churches call them, involves more than just standing at the door and shaking people’s hands as they enter the church. It is a ministry. First Corinthians12:28calls it the ministry of helps,” (p.3). Right from the start Dr. Bell grounds the work of the Greeter in the Word of God. He contrasts those who would just look at the Greeter as a job anybody could do with those who look at it as genuine ministry. For Buddy, the Greeters’ primary responsibility is “to let visitors know they are welcome.” Buddy’s warm style oozes over into his explanation of how to spot a visitor and share with them about your church as you guide them to where they need to be.
Bell is careful to point out that the Greeters are not just for visitors, but have a valuable role in greeting other church members and refers to Heb. 13:24 “Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints.” While I am not sure his exegesis of the text is too precise here, his application is fitting!
In chapter two Buddy tells us that we Greeters are “Representatives of the Kingdom of God”. He strongly says, “You are an ambassador of the Most High God to His people, and you need to look and act your best because you standing in His behalf.” That sentence is worth the price of the book! And again he ties it in with scripture, Col. 3:17 “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
In all the books on ushering and greeting I have studied, there is some mention of how greeters/ushers should dress. Dr. Bell says: “follow the examples of your pastor and his wife.” Sound advice. He discusses cleanliness and even urges us to use mouthwash and underarm deodorant. That’s basic, and needed in some quarters. Bellwrites, “First impressions are critical, and your appearance and attitude can make the difference between someone being drawn closer to God or being pushed further away,” (p.25).
In his third chapter, “Getting Started”, Buddy says the greeters need to get to their places 30 minutes prior to worship starting and we need to pray together before we go to our doors, “All you need to do is to ask God to assist you in being the best greeter you can be today,” (p.32). Bell thinks that a church needs two greeters at every door as a minimum, and churches over 200 should have 6-7 greeters at each door, and as many married couples as possible should serve together. This allows for greeters to escort guests more freely. It is at this point that greeting and ushering seem to be combined by Bell (although he has a separate book on Ushering 101) but he later indicates that ushers are the ones who take the guests to their actual seats.
In chapter 4 “Extending a Warm Welcome” Dr. Bell states, “I believe that one of the most important aspects of our job as greeters is to surround every person who walks through the doorway of the church with the love of God,” (p.39). He gives us practical tips on how to do this with a “A Warm Smile”, “A Firm Handshake”, “A Kind Word”, and “Just a Simple Hug”. After his section on giving a simple hug, he goes into more depth explaining hugs for twelve pages! He is correct and very helpful to give this much detail to hugging because in our litigious and perverted society hugs have become controversial. Again Bell links his ideas with some Bible texts like Matt.8:3 as well as some medical research.
A rich part of the book for me, but that may irritate some, is Dr. Bell’s anecdotal stories of miraculous things that have occurred with Greeters. One such story is at the beginning of chapter 5, “Called to a Ministry of Love” on p.58, where he tells of a greeter who grabbed somebody’s hand and shook it, “and the person just broke out into tears and began to weep crying, ‘Oh, my God, I need Jesus.’”
We Greeters need to be “Walking, Talking Information Centers” in chapter 6. The Church Greeter should be able to answer questions about the church ranging from the practical, “Where is the nursery?” to the historical, “How did the church get started?”, to the convicting, “How many people have been saved since you have been here?”Bellsuggests that in order for Greeters to be effective they need to attend monthly meetings so they know what is going on in the church. The last section of ch.6, “A Word on Faithfulness” seems out of place for this chapter and should be in chapter 7 “Requirements for Greeters” which includes a section on the administrative aspects of becoming a greeter but then moves into a section “Be Committed”.
Chapter 8, “The Qualifications for Overseers” is a bit confusing because he misuses the word, seemingly referring to Greeters as Overseers but I think he is referring to the head Greeter. He is referring to Acts 6:3 and to the men who were to oversee the feeding of the widows, but normally the term “overseer” is meant as bishop, presbyter, elder, pastor. Nonetheless, Bell’s chapter is excellent as he speaks of some of the qualities you need in your Greeters. Bell believes that Greeters should be formally presented to the church with some kind of a commissioning service.
Bell’s final chapter, “Tips for Overseers” discusses how the head Greeter sets the example for the Greeter ministry. He goes into how he corrects Greeters who are making mistakes by coming alongside them and doing the job with them. Bell holds meetings, gives informational handouts to his Greeters and even gives them pop quizzes! On page 107 Bell has a brief discussion of Greeters and security, saying that one reason for hugging people is to check to see if they are carrying guns! This book was published in 1998, the year before the tragic shootings at Wedgewood Baptist here inFort Worth. I would suggest that many people in Baptist churches in Texas carry concealed with a license now. That is a good thing. Bell closes his book with an excellent prayer for Greeters and gives an Afterword that presents the gospel.
In conclusion, Buddy Bell’s book was very encouraging, biblical and practical; a joy to read. I can highly recommend this book as very possibly the best introduction to being a Church Greeter.
Here is a link to CBD for purchasing Buddy Bell’s book:
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The tone of the book is displayed on page one where the context of ushering is placed firmly in the secular world: “The host or hostess in the restaurant is the efficient and gracious person who knows where there is a readied table…The usher at the concert glances at a pair of tickets and quickly leads the purchasers down the aisle…The elevator operator in the lobby of a tall office building tells visitors not only the desired floor but also whether to turn to the right or the left…Railroad conductors, guards in sports stadiums…airplane flight attendants…all are charged with getting people to the proper location at the right time…The church usher is a part of such a tradition as he or she leads individuals into the atmosphere of the church service.”
Normally I would agree with linking the church usher with other ushers in secular venues, other authors have done so. But with this book there is no effort whatsoever to give a biblical basis for ushering. In fact, not one scripture reference was given in the entire book, other than an uncited quote that appears in the Preface and in the Appendix, “Doorkeeper in the House of the Lord” (which comes from Psalm 84:10).
Johnson gives the role of the church usher, thus distinguishing him/her from the secular ushers, on p.2 “They are, first, persons to be respected and appreciated. They are the embodiment of the gracious spirit of the religious group. And they are more than this: Often unknowingly, they are friends who share in making the lonely feel cared for, the bereaved see hope, the sinner feel forgiveness, the discouraged feel cheered, the rich feel generous, the poor feel rich, and all feel enjoined to unselfish love for their neighbor. In short, ushers are instruments who introduce individuals to every practical expression of the church’s mission, and to the presence of the Almighty.” This is the best part of the book, and is well stated, with the exception of the first sentence which, while valuable, should come elsewhere.
Johnson is correct when he states that “No person is born an usher. One becomes an efficient, practicing usher only by means of training and experience,” (p.3), and properly tells us that “The foundation of the usher’s preparation, as in any Christian service, is prayer,” (p.4). Johnson’s discussion on the usher being a person who thinks is helpful, “In their own church ushers are ever on the alert to spot any signs of awkwardness and to discover better ways of performing the ushering functions. They want to maintain a living and intelligent approach toward certain desired results and thereby guard against thoughtless repetitions of movements that are lacking in dignity or good taste. One of the greatest temptations of any regular position is that of getting into a rut, but dedicated ushers will seek to remain creative,” (p.5). That quote is worth the reading of the book despite its other failures.
Johnson makes a case for ushers needing to not be hearing impaired, unless their hearing aid is sufficient to allow the usher to carry on a conversation with a guest without requiring the guest to repeat themselves or shout.
According to Johnson, the usher should have a “lively sense of stewardship” and be dependable, regular and prompt. The usher’s personal appearance should be neat, conservative and with good grooming.
In chapter three, “Organizing for Action”, Johnson again roots the need for organized ushers in our democratic society, not the Scriptures. He warns against autocracy, anarchy and lethargy. “Too often a board, a society, or a fellowship group becomes so highly organized that its members lose sight of its real reason for existence,” p. 10. He makes a very good case for having regular usher meetings, though he does not state how often they should meet: “Three aims should be kept in view as the reasons for holding meetings of the ushers. First, many minds are better than one, and the sharing of ideas is important and productive. Second, the ushers themselves should devise and set forth the specific plans and procedures of their work, always under the advice and guidelines of the pastor. Third, a desirable team spirit is fostered as individuals learn to know each other better and feel more at ease in each other’s presence,” (p.11.)
Johnson brings out an excellent point when he speaks of “Deployment”: “If left to themselves, individuals who are supposed to usher are tempted to gather in a sociable little group in one spot, unaware of the clock and the assembling worshipers.” I have personally observed (and participated in) such groups of ushers!
Chapter three closes with a discussion on keeping records, including attendance and weather, or even at times, a special count of a certain age group. Here is where his writing gets a little bit weird, “The number present is acutely related to the date. Christmas, Easter, and anniversaries, for instance, are usually seasons of the greatest attendance. The location of the church also has a marked bearing upon attendance. If the church is in a typical town or city within two hundred miles of a popular resort area, the attendance may be expected to diminish during the resort’s big season…”
In chapter 4 “The Church Service”, Johnson explains greeting and seating, manner and deportment, and tending the congregation when the unexpected happens. He writes, “…ushers must be conditioned to respond to any crisis, even a disaster. People will look to them for leadership in such occurrences as a fire, bomb scare (bomb scare? This was published in 1966?) a riot or other civil disturbance, a sudden death, or the severe illness of someone present.” This is particularly appropriate in our post 9/11 era.
Johnson closes ch. 4 with some good practical advice, “Not everyone who enters desires the personal attention of an usher, and care must be taken not to embarrass such people by forcing them to receive the usher’s well-intentioned courtesies,” (p25.) Personally, this is the most challenging aspect of being an usher. Serving in a young church, many younger people do not seem to desire or need an usher as much as in a more traditional church setting with an older congregation.
Chapter 5 “Before and After the Service” speaks to preparing the place of worship and cleaning up afterwards. It is in this chapter that I learned a new word: sexton. This is a church word for the custodian/janitor. I like this word because it adds some depth of meaning to the job of church janitor; the person who is committed to cleaning and caring for the house of the Lord should be special. Johnson’s point is that the ushers need to work together with the sexton to keep the sanctuary clean and comfortable. This would have been a great time to point back to the ministry of the Levites in the Old Testament. On p.28 is another odd passage though: “If the sanctuary requires artificial light, an usher should decide how much light is needed and adjust the amount …” Granted this was published in 1966, but were there really that many churches back then without electricity? The churches I attended in the early 1960’s all had electricity.
In his sixth chapter, “The Usher’s Church”, Johnson brings up a good point about ushers assisting special guests, guest speakers and such, by obtaining needed supplies for them and helping them with their equipment. And in chapter 7, “Recruiting”, he balances the need for experienced ushers with bringing in new, inexperienced ushers.
While there were certainly several good points in the book, the overall tone of the book, while helpful and respectful, lacked a gospel centeredness and a biblical basis. While any usher could profit from reading this book, it is generally out of date and not as useful as the others I have studied.
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by Bryan E. Walker
August 9, 2011
David R. Enlow’s wonderful little book, Church Usher: Servant of God, updated edition, Wing Spread Publishers: Camp Hill, PA 2001 (68pp) is a brief, anecdotal introduction to the ministry of ushering with a focus on the usher as a servant of God. Although the anecdotal nature of the book is a bit over done, the practical, biblical, and devotional aspects of the book will be of help to anyone called to serve as an usher.
The “Introduction” to Enlow’s book lets us know from the start that he sent a survey “to church leaders seeking help with this manual for ushers.” The book could have been improved by including more of the survey questions/answers in a straight forward manner. The endless quotes come across at times as being a little bit confusing, and unexplained, random even. Enlow lets us know his credentials in the “Introduction” too: he served as an usher in Dr. A.W. Tozer’s CMA church, Southside Christian in Chicago, a high pedigree for sure! It is also in the “Introduction” where he makes one of his best suggestions as he recalls the ushers’ banquets that Tozer’s church used to have which “helps to establish a camaraderie-an esprit de corps-worthy of consideration on a regular basis, whether quarterly, semiannually or once a year.” This suggestion is simply outstanding.
It is also in the “Introduction” where Enlow does something I have not seen in my other resources on ushering which I have read: a bibliography. He lists works by Paul H.D. Lang, Church Ushering,(1946), Willis O. Garrett, Church Usher’s Manual,(1924), and Leslie Parrot’s, The Usher Manual, (1970). Of these three sources, the only one I have in my library is Parrot’s, and I have not read that one at the time of this review.
In ch.1 “The Ministry Of Ushering” Enlow, unfortunately begins with what I believe to be an overstatement, “Four great ministries comprise the work of the church: preaching, teaching, music and ushering. Each one is vital to the spiritual success of the church, for without any one of them the total ministry will suffer.” While my current effort is to study the ministry of ushering and thereby improve my service to the Lord and my church in this area (and perhaps share my enthusiasm for this ministry with the other ushers in my church) I do not think that overstating the importance of ushering helps. Is not prayer or evangelism/missions ahead of ushering?
His next paragraph is much more sensible, beginning with, “First and foremost, the church usher is a servant.” This is the theme that Enlow rightfully expounds in the following chapters. Looking at 1Cor.12:28, Enlow continues to boldly thrust his view of the importance of ushering by stating that “the ministry of ushering surely must be included in the gift of helps”.
Enlow does the best job so far in my studies, of looking to the Bible for passages that will help define the usher. Gal. 5:13“by love serve one another,” and John 12:26“If any man serve me, him will my Father honour”, and Col.3:23f “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ.” Enlow writes, (p.6), “The usher should constantly remind himself: ‘I serve the Lord Christ. That will add a whole new dimension to his service.” This should constantly be on our minds, men, as we usher.
Enlow cites the favorite Old Testament text for ushers, Psalm 84:10, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” But then Enlow refers to a text in the Gospels that I never saw as pertaining to ushers, until now; Matt.15:35-37, where Jesus has his disciples distributing the loaves and fishes, and picking up the leftovers! That is genius and deserving of a thorough exegesis.
Chapter 1 of Enlow’s book is full of Scripture and its application for ushers making this chapter worth the price of the book! He walks you through the fruit of the Spirit from Gal.5:22f and applies it to those who would serve as ushers. This is not only quite helpful but convicting. It preaches! He closes the chapter with a special usher’s commission that is too long to quote here, but is wonderful and uplifting.
Chapter 2 “The Usher’s Importance In The Total Church Program” simply shows the impact of ushering upon evangelism. This chapter had some minor organizational issues because the second half of the chapter tends to focus on appreciating the ushers. Quoting Emil Centanni on p.18, “I keep them [ushers] on my prayer list,” points to a practical way we can care for one another in the church is by praying for those with whom we serve as ushers.
Enlow writes in ch.3 “What Does An Usher Need To Know About The Church?” that “the church usher must be one of the best-informed people in the congregation,” (p.21). Everything from knowing the church’s denominational affiliation, the pastor’s educational background, and where the first aid materials are is important for the usher.
“The Qualities Of A Good Usher” is the title for Enlow’s 5th chapter and here he excels. Friendly seems to be the best quality he is looking for in an usher, but he moves on to Vision quickly. The usher should have a right vision of his duties and refers to Prov.29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Other traits include Humility, Calmness, Flexibility, Reverent, Punctual, Kind, Gracious, Informed, Clean, Sensitive, Poised, Faithful, Dedicated, and others. While writing on these wonderful traits he fills the descriptions with scripture and prayers. This chapter could be easily turned into a sermon series and was probably his best chapter. I could see a group of church ushers conducting a weekly Bible Study with this chapter as a guide.
“Not every church considers their greeters part of the ushering staff. But in this manual we will assume that such is the case,” writes Enlow at the beginning of ch.6, “The Duties Of The usher: Greeting And Seating.’ In the two churches where I have served in the past 19 years Greeters and Ushers were two separate duties. In my last church there were the ushers (all men) whose primary responsibility was the offering, and a Greeter committee (including men and women) that would welcome people. In my present church members of Care Groups (men, women, children) serve as Greeters on a rotating schedule, while seating ushers (all men from a volunteer list), offering ushers (men from the Care Groups), and Special Ushers (volunteer men, external ushers), split the duties of the Usher among them. Enlow and the other resources I have read make an excellent case for concentrating all the usher duties into one select group appointed by the church. This chapter focuses on the core duties of the usher and one pastor quoted by Enlow states, “The usher should be able to quiet down a person in a tactful manner if that person is disturbing the service. If he is not successful, then he should usher the disturber out as quietly as possible.” A few years ago there were several incidents of homosexual activists disturbing the worship of Bible-believing churches who were opposed to homosexual marriage. So, yes, ushers need to be able to handle unruly people at times.
Enlow uses a 14-point sheet of instructions for ushers he got fromWheatonBibleChurchthat is very helpful (pp.50-51.) Some of these instructions include: “The two ushers in the two inside aisles stay together when taking the offering- even if this requires one to slow down or wait for the other”, and “Always face the rear of the church when taking the offering. Do not look at the people in the pews when waiting for the plate,” and “Always be alert and ready to render assistance to anyone needing it- be prepared to give aid in sudden illness- it’s a good idea to keep a roving eye for such occurrences.” He gives practical suggestions for carrying out our duties: “No chewing gum should be allowed on duty” (might I add, no chewing tobacco on duty? Hey, I’m inTexas!) “The use of some kind of mouthwash beforehand is strongly recommended.”
Enlow deals with one of the most difficult parts of the seating usher’s job, “Seating people is an art in tact and diplomacy. In today’s ‘liberated,’ more independent atmosphere, it is not always wise to attempt to coerce members and guests to sit in a particular section…” (p.53). And he deals with one serious security measure that in these days, we must always be conscious of, “Ushers should be alert to small children who leave the service. Are they with an adult who has given them permission to leave? If not, do they need directions to a restroom, or supervision otherwise?” Although he does not follow this train of thought any further, I must ask, Is this sufficient cause to consider adding women to the usher rolls? Following a small child who went to the restroom is prudent in these evil times, but it should more properly be a lady, not a man.
In conclusion, Church Usher: Servant of God is a very good resource for you if you are called to serve the Lord as an usher. The strongest part of the book is his use of Scripture throughout. If you are going to train your ushers, I recommend this book.
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Usher Handbook by Ralph R. Van Loon, published by Augsburg Fortress in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1990 (48pp.), is a good little book for ushers of the Lutheran persuasion. www.christianbook.com/usher-handbook-ralph-van-loon/9780806624846/pd/24841
Van Loon places the role and jobs of the usher within the context of worship…wait…excuse me…of the liturgy (perhaps the most frequently occurring word in the book). While the concept of explaining the usher duties within the context of the liturgy adds a fresh insight into ushering, the book is so Lutheran focused that I cannot recommend it to anyone who is not a Lutheran, unless the reader is, like me, a serious student about all things usher.
The overwhelming positive aspect of this small volume is the sincere effort to place ushering in its rightful place as, not just a job, but an act of worship and ministry that helps lead the congregation into an encounter with God. The reverence that Van Loon has for ushering as part of worship is contagious! Oh that my Baptist brethren had this attitude towards ushering! My heart was heavy with conviction as I read this book with my background as a Baptist usher. Van Loon’s emphasis on the liturgy will certainly scare off many who might begin this book, but if you are serious about cultivating your ushers as worship leaders you should read this book.
In the opening paragraph of chapter 1 (p.6) he teases the reader with, “You have been asked to serve as an usher. That means that you are being given a very special ministry in your parish, a ministry that can trace its origins back to the earliest moments of religious history.” He states his thesis-“Ushers are ministers of hospitality. Their task is to serve all those who have come together to worship- to serve them with quiet efficiency and authentic hospitality, enabling them to offer reverent worship to God and to enjoy Christian community. That’s the kind of ushering that complements and advances the mission of the congregation, for it makes both visitors and members feel welcome and wanted,” (pp.7-8). Well said!
One of the joys of this book is Van Loon’s brief, but excellent, history of ushers. He refers back to 1Chronicles 9 and the gatekeepers, established by David and Samuel to care for and protect the worship of Israel. They would open the Templeevery morning and guarded it [granted, the Templewas built after both David and Samuel had passed on]. Van Loon writes, “By the time of Christ, they had become known as the ‘TempleGuard’….” “Very early in Christian history, it was determined that persons were needed to serve as ‘porters’ (overseers of the doors) during the celebration of the liturgy. It was their responsibility to guard the doors…This was especially important during the days of the persecutions….” (p.9). To understand the historical context of ushers we need to think of worshiping our Lord under the threat of persecution. Ushers were the guardians of God’s people, the “lookouts” who would risk all in order to protect those who were worshiping. And yet it is here that Van Loon stumbles, “happily, the military character of the temple usher has disappeared. The usher as ‘lookout,’ to keep certain persons out of church, disappeared with the ending of the persecutions in A.D.313.” Van Loon could have perhaps profited by studying the persecuted church of today in places likeChina orMalaysia, or theConfessingChurch under the Nazis inGermany. Written in 1990, he had no concept of 9/11 and theWedgewoodBaptistChurch shooting of 1999 had not occurred yet either. The Daingerfield, TX. church shooting of 1980 was an obscure event. Church shootings have become not uncommon in the last 20 years.
Van Loon considers ushers to be a ministry of hospitality that is essential for worship. “It’s just not enough to put a service bulletin in the hands of arriving visitors and members. Nor is it enough to gather the offerings with efficient precision. Robots could perform such tasks. What is needed instead is a warm, genuine, authentic, dignified, reverent expression of Christian cordiality that shows itself through honest efforts to be unobtrusively helpful, caring, and accommodating,” (p.10).
Perhaps my favorite line in the book is, “As people approach the church building for worship, ushers should regard them as pilgrims in procession toward the very presence of the almighty and all holy God,” (pp.10-11). That sentence places a whole new light on the tasks and calling of the usher for me.
Ushers are liturgical ministers, says Van Loon, they are worship leaders. Though he just touches on this subject in his opening chapter, he devotes an entire chapter (ch.2 “Basic Information”) to describing the Lutheran worship space, furnishings and participants/leaders. This was excellent information for someone like me who has only been inside aLutheranChurchonce or twice. There is a whole vocabulary of worship that the Lutheran usher needs to know that is quite foreign to this Baptist usher! But this chapter also clearly limits the scope of the book to his fellow Lutherans.
Chapter 3 “Before The Liturgy” gives the tasks of the usher prior to the worship service (alright,- liturgy) beginning. Van Loon expects the usher chairpersons to attend the parish’s liturgy planning meetings. “No usher should have to wait until just moments before the service to discover what will be happening,” (p.22). The author then goes into some of the details the ushers should be involved with prior to the start of worship, things like cleaning up, checking the sound system and lights, unlocking doors, etc. He brings up an excellent point in regards to seating worshipers: “Some worshipers seem determined to cluster always in the rear seats, leaving the front rows looking a bit like a lumber yard. This creates a wide chasm between the chancel and the worshipers, and that’s just not very friendly or conducive to good worship….There is no easy solution to the matter of seating distribution,” (p.25). This brings up not-so-fond memories of the days when I was pastoring a cantankerous church that seated 200 but was averaging about 70. Van Loon is particularly helpful in his discussion of Seating Latecomers on pp. 27-28. He jealously guards the liturgy by insisting on not seating late worshipers at inappropriate times. This practice properly places the emphasis on God as the object of our worship instead of on the convenience of those whom we delay seating until the appropriate time.
I disagree with Loon on where to sit parents with small children. Loon writes, (p.26) “Reserving the rear rows for parents with small children is usually not a worthy practice. Being so far back denies children the opportunity to see what’s going on during the liturgy.” Perhaps it is his lack of a definition of “small children” that causes me a little discomfort. I tend to think that parents of children ages birth to 3 years will worship better in the back as an option. Certainly we should not require then to sit in the back. But if he is referring to 4-7 year old children, then I would agree with him.
In chapter 4 “During the Liturgy”, Loon gives us a line by line breakdown of how Lutherans worship and what the role of the ushers is during each part of the liturgy. What I found most useful is his detailed explanation of how ushers are to take up the offering describing how to carry the offering plates and how to time your movements. Then there is this jewel (p.33): “Gathering the sacrificial tithes and gifts of the people of God is a significant time within the liturgy and should not be trivialized by careless, casual, chancy procedures. It needs to be remembered that worshipers are responding to the gospel and to their Baptism in a very profound and personal way; they are offering themselves and their tithes to God. To gather and present those signs of sacrifice and commitment are very priestly acts, deserving of the greatest care and highest reverence.” That is worth the price of this book!
In ch.6 “Organizing and Training” he again places the emphasis on ushers as worship leaders, calling for the head usher(s) to be a part of the worship committee and involved in the planning of worship. In an example he uses he does casually mention a woman’s name as a head usher, but does not ever get into a conversation about gender roles and ushering. In regards to recruiting ushers he writes (p.41), “Where ushering is done well, where a cadre of trained ushers demonstrate an awareness that they are involved in ministry, it is seldom difficult to recruit persons to become ushers. On the other hand, if church ushering is presented as a kind of necessary evil, a ‘somebody’s-got-to-get-stuck-with-it’ sort of chore, then only a few will respond to recruitment efforts.” This is so true, not just in ushering but in everything in life. If we serve as unto the Lord, serve as the royal representatives we are, and train and serve with excellence, then others will want to serve with us. We are not just doing a job at the church, we are serving the living Lord of the universe and His called out ones- the Church.
Loon gives us a good summary of tasks for the ushers to be trained in on p.43. On page 44 he touches briefly on another controversial topic: “Dress Code”. While notes that “Each parish decides what is appropriate apparel”, he adds, “A conservative style of clothing is usually the choice for church ushers, one that achieves a kind of uniformity.” Clothing for ushers has been a controversy in both churches I have served in during the past 19 years. In one church the controversy was that some of the younger ushers were dressing down too much, and my current church had a minor tiff when I suggested the ushers needed to dress up a bit more!
Loon concludes ch.6 with an “Order for Installing Church Ushers’ that is very nice and again demonstrates loon’s view that ushers are ministers and this ministry should be recognized for its value for the Church.
Although this book, Usher Handbook, is very specific for theLutheranChurch, the overall message and many of the items mentioned are much needed for Baptist ushers. The focus on ushering as a part of the worship of the Church has really gladdened my heart and given me more passion for the ministry of ushering.
Bryan E. Walker, August 6, 2011Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I am called of God to be a church usher. I have been ushering, greeting, and taking up the offering since I was in Jr. High School in the early 1970s- about 40 years. I became a deacon and began helping serve the Lord’s Supper in my twenties, almost 30 years ago. I also have a Masters of Divinity and have served as a bivocational pastor for 15 years and can truthfully say that serving as a church usher is a joy and one of my most meaningful forms of service to the Lord and His people, the Church.
In my current church I am not on staff, but I am a Deacon, and one of my areas of responsibility is Church Security. This job gives me some responsibilities in the ushering area, but we have another Deacon, Evan, who is directly responsible for the seating ushers, the greeters, the offering ushers and the servers of the Lord’s Supper. My area of responsibility is called the Special Greeters, who serve as exterior ushers looking for those who need help outside of the sanctuary and inside after the other ushers are finished greeting and seating. Besides organizing and leading my Special Ushers, I serve under Evan as a regular seating usher, offering usher and Lord’s Supper server. Obviously we are organized somewhat differently from most churches.
Recently I have become interested in improving how I serve, so I began searching for information on ushering and found several small books on the subject. I hope to read through several of these resources, do a few reviews like this one, and ultimately, work with Evan in training our ushers, greeters, etc. The first book I want to review is “A Guide for the Church Usher”, by Thomas L. Clark, Broadman&Holman Publishers: Nashville, TN 1984 (125pp.)
This is a well organized, well written, practical help for those who are serious about serving the Lord as an usher. Using real life situations sprinkled throughout the text, both humorous and embarassing, Clark takes the reader from selection by the church to a training program for ushers. He covers some of the biblical material pertinent to ushers, the qualities needed in an usher, how to prepare for the task, how to conduct the tasks of ushering and he gives help for the Head Usher. In short, this book is an excellent place to begin preparing to being an usher, or, if you are like me and have been ushering for a while, it is an excellent resource to renew and reinvigorate your calling and service as an usher.
In Chapter 1: “A Place To Serve”, Clark takes us through the selection process for the usher, but he begins with a very brief biblical background for the position of usher, or “doorkeeper”. Likely the most popular Bible reference for “doorkeepers”/ushers is Psalm 84:10 “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand, I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
It is here that Clark and his editors made a crucial mistake, twice. An entire paragraph on page 13 is directed at the question of women ushers using 2Samuel 4:6, TWICE, yet that verse has nothing to do with doorkeepers. He writes, “The same Hebrew word is used for doorkeeper in both Psalm 84:10 and 2 Samuel 4:6.” I do not know to what he was referring, but he may have meant to use 1Chron. 15:23-24 which mentions doorkeepers in proximity to the Ark of the Covenant as the Ark is being brought into Jerusalem.
He refers to three New Testament texts (Mark 13:34; John 10:3; and 18:15-17) and the “porter” but does not expound on these at all.
Besides Psalm 84:10, the other main verse used to support the usher ministries is 1Cor.14:40 “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Clark rightly points out that the context of this verse is the worship service but again fails to expound on the significance of this verse for ushers.
This is the most disappointing aspect of the book, Clark uses only about one page to discuss the biblical background of the usher, and one paragraph of that discussion is badly garbled due to citing the wrong text. “Other phrases, verses, and passages related to love, kindness, helpfulness, and hospitality are too numerous to list but should be remembered” (p.14).
Clark discusses the Role Expectations for the usher and uses a neat 3 word mnemonic: the usher is expected to be a “greeter”, a “meeter”, and a “seater” and adds a fourth expectation of being a “helper”. He then discusses the various functions of the usher, such as: greet all visitors with a smile, hand out visitors’ cards, seat worshipers at the appropriate points in the services, aid the pastor and staff…as needed, distribute church bulletins, be prepared to handle emergencies, etc. Clark gives a couple of scenarios to illustrate some of these expectations and I found these very helpful.
Clark urges the ushers to consider the responsibilities of being an usher, “Saying yes to the church’s invitation to serve as an usher is a major commitment. Don’t take the opportunity lightly”, (p.21). He urges ushers to take time to study the responsibilities of ushering, take time to train, and set aside the time to perform the duties, and set aside time to evaluate.
Clark stresses training for the new ushers, saying, “Another part of the initial stage may involve you in a series of training sessions…You may spend time in practice sessions and learn all you can…” (p.25). It has been my experince over the past 40 years of ushering that most of the time no training is the norm. I have never participated in any kind of usher training. I hope to fix this deficiency and hence, the reading of Clark’s book and the writing of this review!
Clark finishes Chapter 1 by saying your willingness to serve is the third step in becoming an usher. Here he stresses not your initial agreement to being selected and trained, but your committment to being faithful and dependable to showing up when and where you are supposed to show up. Clark stresses that ushering is an Opportunity to Learn, an Opportunity to Encourage and an Opportunity to Witness.
Clark’s second chapter, “What Every Usher Needs” is all about the qualities that make for an excellent usher. There are Qualities You Can’t Do Without- such as “A Good Self-Image”, “A Sense of Humor”, “A Good Appearance”, “Good Personal Hygiene”, “A Love for People”, and “A Sense of Reverence.” Clark peppers these discussions with some entertaining and realistic scenarios to emphasize his points. His discussion of Appearance and Hygiene is blunt and, frankly, needed. His discussion on Reverence was refreshing and convicting. In our more laid back day I wish this portion was longer.
Clark next discusses “Qualities You May Need to Develop”. This section of chapter 2 is encouraging because he points out that serving as an usher can and SHOULD lead to devloping a deeper character. He begins with “A Willingness to Learn” and immediately dives into a common problem in ushering. He writes, “Too often folk accept the position of usher by reasoning, ‘i don’t want to teach a class at church because that requires a lot of study time. But I’ll be glad to usher once a month because anyone can do that” (p.42). That sentence was worth the price of the book! Clark continues, “Ushers are leaders of the first order and not just ‘anyone can do’ the work of an usher. It takes years of dedication, training, and practice to master all that is required of an usher. Therefore, an usher, new or experienced, must be willing to learn”, (ibid.)
To illustrate his emphasis on ushers being willing to learn he refers to a “large downtown church” that, for safety reasons, installed a surveillance system complete with a control system and an usher to montor the cameras. The ushers had to learn how to operate this moderately complex system, “Extensive training was required for each usher to properly perform the task” (ibid.) This reference would have been helped by the addition of a footnote/endnote explaining the church’s security measures and giving the church’s name and location.
This passage is especially pertinent for me as the Deacon of Security. In my professional life I have been a Security Officer for over 25 years and monitor cameras every day at work. One of the shortcomings of Clark’s book is that it only mentions security a few times and there is no devoted chapter to the subject as it pertains to the ushers. The book was published in 1984, before the terrorism of the 1990’s and the attack of 9/11. If this book is to be revised any time soon I would highly recommend more about the security role of the church ushers.
The next quality the usher may need to develop is A Good Memory. Clark stresses that this can be developed and practiced. Remembering names and relationships are particularly important for the usher. He recommends that we ushers Concentrate, Associate and Practice.
We need to develop Tact, Timing and a Helpful Attitude. In the area of developing a helpful attitude, Clark refers to Matt. 5:41 “Whoesoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” He writes, “Don’t develop this quality to receive praise of men. Helpfulness is an attitude you seek to develop because you recognize people are important, and you can have a part in their lives through positive action”, (p.47).
Chapter 2 finishes with a discussion of Qualities Others Expect You to Have, like a Dedication to the Task, A Positive Attitude, A Courteous Manner, A Personal Calmness and A Christian Witness.
“At Work Before the Worship Service”, Chapter 3 of Clark’s book, points out that usher duties may very well entail some jobs prior to the worship service. He first discusses the preparations the usher himself should perform prior to serving Sunday morning. This includes being Prepared Physically by getting proper rest. “Yawns come at most inappropriate times- like when you’re greeting a visitor,” (p.53). The usher should be Prepared Mentally. Clark mentions physical pain, being in a rush or suffering from emotional strain as causes for ushers to lose their sharpness and concentration.
The usher should be prepared Socially and Spiritually as well. Clark recommends that the ushering team meet ahead of the morning service for prayer and an inspection. Praying over the user duties prior to the worship service should be cultivated.
The ushers should prepare the sanctuary for worship and Clark recommends a checklist. Ensuring everything from visitors’ cards to the air-conditioning should be taken care of by the ushers.
Clark finishes chapter 3 with a discussion on Greeting the People. Ushers should choose their greeting words with care. He urges that ushers should strive to never embarrass people and gives some classic examples: “Good morning, Mr. Knight. Where have you been hiding the last few months?” (p.66). “A basic principle for greeting is, greet others as you want to be greeted” (ibid.) in a take off from the Golden Rule.
This section is especially approriate because he covers some basic rules of good manners which are increasingly forgotten in this present crude age. He gives excellent instructions for shaking hands including a paragraph on shaking hands with an amputee. This is especially appropriate in our day with so many soldiers and marines coming home from the war with horrible wounds. He tells the ushers to Guard Against Undue Familiarity and Favoritism to finish the chapter.
Clark’s 4th chapter deals directly with the ushering tasks during the worship service. He begins by stressing “Meet the People”, “Somewhere between the time you greet a person and seat him is a segment of very valuable time,” (p.70). He gives us a sample conversation between an usher and a visitor where the usher moves from greeting to getting them to sign the guest register. Clark covers in some detail the proper etiquette for making introductions. This is one of the treasures of this book, an emphasis on proper etiquette and manners! He also tells us to look for ways that we can be of special help to people by giving them pertinent information about the church’s ministries and the morning worship service.
In Seating the People Clark urges us to Study the Sanctuary to determine where the empty seats are, but also to know where the cold/warm spots are. While seating preferences are not always practical once the service starts, ushers should be able to help people with special needs. Maintaing seating balance is important also, in order to avoid large open spaces. He gives very helpful advice on How To Seat and When to Seat people.
During the worship service ushers help take up the offering. He even includes a bit on what to do if you drop the offering plate! “(1) pick up the plate and as much of the offering as you can recover quickly, (2) face the embarrassment of the moment, (3) learn from the experience,” (p.82). I have been in the worship service twice that I can recall, when an offering plate was dropped, and once when a Lord’s Supper plate was dropped. On none of these occasions was I close enough to tell exactly what happened. But as a worshiper in the pew, it was upsetting.
Clark mentions some of the security tasks that ushers are called upon to do in this section. He writes, “You may be assigned to monitor the parking lot….The security you provide frees the congregation of one less worry during their worship experience….Some congregations require security during a worship service. This request may be for both inside and outside the building,” (p.84). As a licensed security officer in the state of Texas, I know a bit about the law pertaining security in churches. You have to be VERY careful to not call or imply that your ushers are a Security Force. Their duties need to be sufficiently diverse so that they are not perceived as impersonating a security officer. Again, this book was written well before the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing.
Chapter 5 lets the usher know that his work is not done after the worship service concludes. In the rush to get out of church sometimes the elderly need assistance and the ushers should be there. This is also a good time to greet and meet the visitors as well as the members. Cleaning up the sanctuary can be in the job description of the ushers and special care should be taken to look for personal items that may have been left behind by a worshiper; these can be taken to the lost and found. Clark emphasizes the Usher Reports that, apparently, are used in some churches. These reports cover everything from the morning count to building repairs needed. He concludes with, “Did I seek to be helpful today?…How have I grown as an usher?
Chapter 6 is appropriately titled, “Dealing with the Unexpected”. Unfortunately, I think his opening sentence is a bit inappropriate, “Unless you are skilled at using a crystal ball to look into the future, you will be forced, like other ushers, to deal with unexpected events as they happen,” (p.98). This casual reference to an occultic practice, though perhaps common in our daily conversation, should have been edited out. His main point, however, is- “You must be ready when the emergency occurs,” (ibid.) Clark breaks down this subject into two areas: Things to Do and Things to Know.
He gives us five things we can do in any emergency. Be Prepared to Act is first. He tells us to “develop the skill of distinguishing between the usual and the unusual,” (p.100). “No matter what you are doing at the time, an emergency must take priority,” (p.101), is excellent advice. All too often I have seen people freeze up during an emergency or even continue doing what they were doing thinking, perhaps, that someone else would take care of it. Secondly, Clark tells us, Be Quick in Action. “Each emergency requires someone to take charge to bring the situation under control,” (pp.101-102). Third, Be Thorough in Direction. He gives an illustration of an usher who saw a car fire in the parking lot and gave a woman directions to go get help…but by failing to tell her to also get a fire extinguisher, she came back with help but no fire extinguisher so the fire got worse! Clark continues with Be Directive.
Under Things to Know Clark breaks it down to What? Where? and Who? Do you have a first aid kit? If so where is it? Is there a doctor, fireman, EMT or nurse in the church?
Chapter 7, Ushers for All Seasons, goes through some of the variety of special events in the church year. Things like revivals, funerals, Christmas programs and homecomings all require extra from the ushers.
Chapter 8 finishes his course with a word to The Head Usher. He urges the head usher to Organize the Ushers, Train the Ushers, Plan with the Ushers, Evaluate the Ushers, and Encourage the Ushers. In short, the Head Usher is to be a leader of men. A practical suggestion is to plan an usher Appreciation Banquet.
Clark closes his book with a program for Usher Training. These four training sessions seem easy to do and I believe any church would benefit from them.
In conclusion, I would highly recommend “A Guide for the Church Usher” by Thomas L. Clark. The book is highly readable, very practical, and very “old school” in some ways that I think are important for the younger generation today. I would go so strong as to suggest that a church ought to purchase this book in quantities to ensure that every usher gets a chance to read/study it. While there were a few errors in the book, those in no way should stand in the way of reading this book.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )