THE REBOOT BLOG | August 19, 2021
For Youth Serving as Ushers, Greeters, and Other Supporting Roles
By Mark W. Stamm
Professor of Christian Worship and Chapel Elder, Perkins/SMU
When does worship begin? When does it end? Many suggest that our worship follows a four-fold pattern that begins with the gathering (or entrance) of the Body of Christ and ends when that Body is sent forth into the community and world. In between are the two movements that we usually think of as “the worship service.” First (or by this four-fold pattern, second) comes the part during which we read scripture and dialog with it via prayers, congregational song, and a sermon or other type of teaching moment. Second (or, as it were, third) comes Holy Communion. (For extensive descriptions of this four-fold pattern, see The United Methodist Book of Worship, pp. 13-32, and the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, pp. 33-45. Both are available online).
Given our typical understanding of the worship service, we tend to think of worship leaders as those who stand in front of the assembly and speak words, lead musically, and lead or assist the congregation in their celebration of the sacraments. These are vitally important roles and I’ve addressed several of them in this series, specifically reading scripture, leading prayers and other acts of worship, serving communion within the assembly, and the work of extended table. All of these discussions have presumed an understanding of distributed spiritual gifts and leadership roles within the church. When we understand them in the best way, these roles are done in service of the whole church and for the sake of our common mission (see I Corinthians 11-12, and the first blog post in this series).
When we go back to the questions that I asked in the first paragraph, “When does worship begin and end?,” a wider perspective comes into view. Think of the sending dynamic like this: As we gather around Word and Table, God meets us with a deep generosity—we call it “grace”—and that grace blesses us beyond measure. Some days we may feel it more so than on others, but nevertheless, when we’re sent forth in the overflow of that deep love. That’s the generosity that what I want you to feel as you go on extended table visits and as you pray for the world, and for that matter, in all that you do.
In a sense, we live in the overflow of the last worship service that we attended, but we also look toward encountering God’s generosity in the next one. Thinking of it like that, some suggest that Sunday’s service begins as soon as we wake up and turn our hearts and minds toward assembling together. From that perspective, other important roles come into view, many of them played out behind the scenes.
For example, these days most worship services rely on electrical technologies of various types, at least for light settings and sound, while some gatherings rely on them quite heavily, using computer graphics, movie technologies and projection in a highly sophisticated manner that requires extensive preparation and graphic design. On the one hand, when such technologies work well, we may barely notice those who operate them, regrettably almost taking them for granted. On the other hand, you know how frustrating a worship experience can become when its technological aspects don’t work well, perhaps through the glitches that can occur in the moment, or avoidably, as the result of inadequate preparation.
Let us speak in praise of thorough preparation (!), but more, let us remind ourselves that persons who fill these preparatory roles are vital participants in the leadership of worship. We should see them and honor them as such. For these sisters and brothers, the worship service begins sometime during the middle of the week, if not earlier. Like all worship leaders, however, as they prepare they should ask, “What can we do to support the active participation of the entire gathering?”
Greeters and ushers are equally important servants of the assembly. As noted, all of us will do well to think of the worship service beginning as soon as we wake up on Sunday morning and prayerfully turn our hearts and minds toward the gathering. But, we live in a complicated world, and you know what life is like. You know the distractions and stressors that households may feel as they try to organize themselves and load the SUV, even on the best of days.
Ushers and greeters should arrive at church early and pray together for those whom they will meet and direct that day. A few minutes of centering and prayer will likely make a significant difference, both for you and for them. Take those few minutes to imagine those folks on their way to church, and pray for them. Then, as vanguard of the assembly move to your assigned places—the parking lot, the lobby or gathering area, the doors of the worship space, wherever you’re assigned--joyfully ready to help. Help folks figure out where to park. Be ready to direct persons to the rest rooms and/or the diaper changing stations, to the coffee station, to Sunday School classes, and yes to the worship space. Do so in a peaceful and non-anxious manner, as someone whose prayer has already begun.
When these persons reach the worship space, welcome them as your sisters and brothers in Christ, as persons valued and loved by God, for that’s exactly who they are. Give them whatever bulletin or worship guide they may need, help them locate listening devices as needed, and if they need help in finding a seat, assist them in that way as well. But, realize the big picture. You’re not simply helping folks find a seat, but you’re helping the Body of Christ gather. The worship of God’s people is beginning, even before the first song or prayer is offered, even before the first announcement or word of greeting is spoken from the front of the room.