I often say to folks that if I could be paid full time with benefits just to be a thurifer, I would. But then, for some monks and for some gentlemen in bowler hats at Oxford and Cambridge their whole lives they spend as “porters”, doorkeepers. Doorkeeper is an ancient minor order, no less than a lay reader, or an acolyte. It is something that should be taken seriously and, for the most part is. But how can it be done better? I remember in high school going to the local Pentecostal mega-church. There was a closet not unlike where the acolyte robes are kept where every gentleman had in his size a maroon usher’s blazer. I was impressed. I have heard raving reviews of the ushers at St. Michael’s in Charleston. Again, what can we do to do a better job?
After all, it’s the first contact. “You never have a second chance to make a first impression.” It doesn’t just take skill to take up the collection (repressing the urge to check out how much is going in or who is giving). It takes far more skill to gauge the person coming into church, not simply to press a bulletin into his or her hand and mumble a greeting, but to figure out exactly what is needed, where they would like to be seated.
It takes prayer. Just as the priest prepares before going to the altar and hopefully the acolytes, just as the altar guild prays before their holy duties are engaged upon, perhaps even more so should the usher saturate himself with prayer, that is, if we are to take evangelism seriously. How are you, after all, to make sure the proper welcome is given, the bulletin is pressed, the nursery is pointed out, the best place for the hearing impaired is hinted at, or the warmest or coolest places for the chilly or warm looking, all in about 5 seconds?
The Usher should be well aware of the latest procedures concerning how evangelism is to take place. How important is your guest registry? Is there a place for email on it? How is your “email capture” as the sales world calls it? How do you point out where the Nursery is without making the young family think that you don’t welcome young people at the worship service? This takes tact indeed! And only prayer, I think, will pull it off. That and practice.
I was always impressed with the ushers growing up. They were serious, usually men of military experience, conscious of the importance of their task. Yet as they grow older, have they passed on their skills and the tricks of their trade to a younger generation? I wonder. Mentoring, too, is important if these traditions are to continue.
Fr. Peter Geromel is Assisting Priest at Church of the Incarnation and an adjunct professor of Philosophy at Northampton Community College. Educated at Virginia Military Institute, Hillsdale College, Reformed Episcopal Seminary and the University of Dallas, Fr. Peter has authored Sublime Duty: Its Emphasis in The Anglican Way, Christ & College: A Guide from The Anglican Way, and Frankincense & Mirth on High. He manages Traditional Anglican Resources.