Serving the Lord as an usher

by Don Heimburger, Chief Usher

Grace Ushers are sponsoring "Usher Get-Acquainted Months" in January and February when youth, adults, and couples can "try out" being an usher for anywhere from one worship service to a month of services. There is no commitment, but if you wish to continue being an usher, you may! If not, you will learn a little bit about what ushers do.

There is on-the-job training available at both the 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. services on Sunday mornings. Contact Chief Usher Don Heimburger (don@heimburgerhouse.com) to get started.

About 60 men and women currently volunteer to serve as ushers and reserve ushers at Grace. They’re divided into six teams, with an 8:30 and an 11 a.m. team assigned to each Sunday service. Ushers are on for one month, off for two months. Each usher team has a Head Usher.

Many Grace ushers have been on a team for years and years. As we like to say in the usher world, “Once an usher, always an usher.” Despite this, we are always looking for new ushers to serve. Typically at any one time we need two to three more ushers to fill in on teams that are short members.

Ushers are also asked to help with other services during Advent, Lent, Christmas, and Holy Week, as well with Bach Cantata Vespers. Schedules are coordinated through email, phone calls and in person. Verna Offermann helps with the usher lists and sends schedules out from the church office.

Ushers greet worshipers, pass out bulletins, answer questions from guests, visitors, and members, take the collection, record attendance at each service, check the sound system, help people who are disabled, distribute large-print bulletins, children’s bulletins and hearing devices, usher worshipers to communion, track lost and found items, and carry messages during services between pastors, nursery personnel and parents, and between congregation members. Many people arrive at the sanctuary door and say to an usher, “Tell my husband where I'm sitting when he comes.”

Ushers handle any unusual situation that may develop during a service that needs immediate attention. Many of the ushers have attended a seminar at Grace on medical emergencies.Congregation members know that if something happens during a service and they need help in some way, an usher will be there to assist.

Ushers arrive before the service begins, and leave after they've cleaned and checked the pews, setting everything in order for the next service. Parishioners leave many, many things behind in the pews--jackets, scarfs, umbrellas, books, purses and more. Ushers have their own code words such as “Picking up the back eight.” (Ask an usher sometime what this means.) They are “paid” with a small piece of candy by the Chief Usher when he sees them; often they sportingly vie for more by reporting the extra time they put in at various church services. We all have a good laugh!

The biggest jobs of the year for ushers are the 4:15 and 6 p.m. Children’s Christmas Eve services, which attract as many as 2,000 people between the two services. Some ushers go home after these services completely exhausted! The Maundy Thursday service, with foot washing and worshippers kneeling in the chancel for Holy Communion, is another challenge.

I have been privileged to visit many large churches in Europe. I always try to see how the ushers are performing their tasks. At Westminster Abby, I was briefed by the head usher on the burial service of the Queen Mum (Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon) when she passed away March 30, 2002—it was a tremendous undertaking, as they were expecting 2,500 people at the service, many of them presidents and royalty. I always like to say I was trained at the Westminster Abbey School of Ushering, because the ushers there perform their work in such a dignified, gracious manner.

Why would someone want to be an usher? It's a wonderful, fulfilling way to serve the Lord, people, and the congregation, all at the same time. I find that ushering, which I've learned has an ancient history in churches, is a form of God-honoring service. Ushering is also important because an usher is typically the first person someone meets when they come to Grace—thus it's a public relations job. Ushers and greeters put the welcoming arms of the church around the shoulders of all who come to worship, promote a climate of friendship, acceptance and surrounding love, sharing with others the certain knowledge that we are all children of God.

Don Heimburger grew up attending St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Sadorus, Illinois, a small village of 400, where he had his first experience being an usher. He joined Grace with his wife, Marilyn, in 1973, and their two daughters, Amy and Alison, went to Grace School. Marilyn makes the silk carnations that ushers wear each Sunday.