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Rude or helpful?

Rude or helpful?

The Rev. Laura Everett, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, who visits many churches tweets:

Victoria Weintstein aka Peace Bang responds that she finds it helpful:

When I see this sort of notice in the bulletin, I am grateful that the ushers have a set time to seat latecomers so that I don’t have to figure it out myself (I don’t know the liturgy, so I’d rather not guess when the best time would be to find a seat), and the ushers don’t have to get anxious wondering what the best moment might be to seat me or let me in.

Laura writes that she gets a sense of “don’t disturb our performance” from this detail in the program. That’s interesting to think about. When I attend worship as a visitor, I hope that it will be a carefully planned and executed liturgy, with excellent production values.

More discussion here.

What do you think? How do you welcome those who arrive after the service has begun. What instructions do you give to visitors?


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Paul, I agree about ushers directing traffic at the Communion (and my parish, unfortunately, does it). Among other problems with it, I think it encourages people to feel uncomfortable and awkward in church – not moving unless an usher tells them it’s okay, or unless everybody else is doing something at the same time…wouldn’t want to do something wrong, or stick out, or be different after all. I remember Orthodox Christians (at least, the regular churchgoers) as moving and acting much more “normally” and relaxed during the Liturgy than Episcopalians do in church. Even when they stayed in one place, it never looked like they were doing so because they were afraid to move or thought it would be “wrong.”

Bill Dilworth

Paul Woodrum

For many years, my father served as a church usher, not just handing out bulletins, but welcoming people and leading them to their accustomed seats or, for visitors, to available seats. This strikes me as a welcoming, common courtesy.

However, what I have found distracting is ushers directing the flow of communicants, sometimes, even at Trinity Church, Wall Street, NYC, shouting at people they thought were disrupting the flow or going off in the wrong direction. Most people can find their way to and from the rail or station without help from martinets in ushers’ clothing.


I don’t think it’s rude, just tight-assed and WASPY.

The only seating fuss my congregation makes is asking latecomers to wait until the end of the entrance procession has reached the rood screen before they try to find seats along the middle aisle – we’ve had people get in front of the procession or tag along right behind the celebrant in the past, which is a little jarring. Generally speaking, though, you come and go as necessary.

We are, however, much more stationary than pewless Orthodox parishes I’ve been a part of, where there was a lot more coming and going and milling about. I suspect, with the influx of ex-Episcopalians in the past few decades, that there’s less of that nowadays.

Bill Dilworth

Ann Fontaine

Cultural context is one key to this. Euro-centric churches tend to be more formal about coming and going during services. Other cultures are more easy going and expect people will drift in and out. What might seem disruptive in one setting is normal in another. Giving people the evil eye – not helpful in any context.

Mary Caulfield

As with many things, it’s hard to judge without some context. If we’re talking about a 200-year-old building, with long, built-in pews, it might be difficult for people to find an empty seat once the church is 75% full. Sometimes, the easiest thing is to let an usher who knows the flow of the building help you to your seat.

I used to usher at Boston’s First Night in one of several late 18th or early 19th-century buildings that have an “official” capacity of, say 300 people. But once there are about 200 people occupying places, it’s difficult to walk in find yourself a seat – especially if the lights are low and the crowd is distributed fairly evenly. An usher who knows how the space “works” (that a pew can accommodate up to 8 people, or how to whisk people up the side aisle to where the folding chairs are set up) can help make sure everyone (eventually) gets seated as comfortably as possible.

As a participant, I also know that it can be jarring if you’re focused on a reading, collect, or hymn to be tapped on the shoulder so you can make room for someone. If I know there are points in the service where additional people will be seated, it’s easier for me to have a welcoming smile ready.

That said, maybe it’s possible to have a notice or small sign that’s more friendly. “We’re glad you’re worshipping with us. Please let one of the ushers find you a seat during a pause in the service.”

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