IVP - Strangely Dim - The Hizzouse of Usher

October 8, 2004

The Hizzouse of Usher

By David A. Zimmerman

Nothing gives me the willies quite like being an usher. My anxiety, I think, goes back to my youth; I ushed poorly at my uncle’s wedding, effectively ruining the pageantry of the event by marching my grandparents down the aisle after the bride had made her entrance. My aunt and uncle are still married, but I don’t think my ushing has had much to do with their marital success.

Nevertheless, the usher is, in more ways than one, the point of entry into a church service. In my case, being an usher is, if you will, ushering me into the next phase of my involvement with my local church.

My wife and I started visiting our new church regularly eight months ago, and went through what I think is a natural initial process—curiosity, excitement, commitment and disillusionment—before finding our footing as regular attenders. We went through a similar process as we became members. Now we’re ushers, and we’re experiencing our new church through yet another set of lenses.

Suddenly, the fact that we don’t have a key to the building presents a potential problem. Suddenly, we have to know where everything is. Suddenly we need to understand how the service progresses, who needs to touch what, and what’s happening before, between and after the Sunday schedule. We need to have a working idea of who’s new, who’s old, and who gets the money from the collection plate.

We were getting along fine as members without all this information—until we started to ush. Suddenly we find ourselves not just associated with our church; now we’re participating in the church’s week-to-week life.

There really are three ways of experiencing church, I think: visitor, member and participant. You have particular responsibilities no matter which you pick, of course. Visitors must endure curious glances and hyper-enthusiastic handshakes and a barrage of questions and bewilderment in the face of an unfamiliar church order. I remember my wife’s first experience of a Roman Catholic mass, which involved intuitive standing, sitting and kneeling, and a sermon about broccoli. No way around discomfort—it’s a natural reaction to something new.

A member has a different set of expectations to fulfill, though of the three ways to go, membership may well be the easiest. You have to surrender some amount of personal information—perhaps no more than your address and e-mail—and you can expect to get some mail asking you for money from time to time. But your membership can conceivably take you a long way toward church legitimacy without much exertion on your part.

But to participate—now that’s where things get dicey. To participate is to leave part of your life open, to link not just your identity but your schedule to a particular faith community. You don’t just consume, you produce. You no longer have the luxury of complaining about what you don’t like about how things are; you have to either come to peace with it or make it better. Your very sanity and the natural cohesion of your community depend on it.

Ushers were the first people we met at our church; the second were people participating in the music ministry, and there followed pastoral staff, elders, trustees, stewards, and any variety of other participants in the life of the church. They shook our hands enthusiastically, shot curious glances in our direction and chuckled as we fumbled our way through unfamiliar rituals in the Sunday service. Eight months later, we’re going and doing likewise. It seems like a pretty natural progression.

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I'm still scared of posting comments online, but if you have something to say about all things usherish, e-mail me at dzimmerman@ivpress.com, and I'll post it manually.

Read interviews with me or various other IVP authors here.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at October 8, 2004 8:20 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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