Usher Customary

This customary for the instruction of ushers is designed for a typical 5:30 evening Eucharist. This service generally has a lower attendance than most Sunday morning services at Bruton, so only two ushers are required in most cases. For major feast days and for special services such as the Easter Vigil, this customary must be adapted to handle a larger congregation, generally by adding another two ushers.

Ushers are the first point of contact for people entering the church. It is hoped that ushers will always keep this in mind. Treat people courteously and with real warmth. Welcome each person into the church. One of the most gratifying parts of ushering on a regular basis is the ability to get to know the regular congregants. Beyond this, ushers also welcome new people to the church. As a rule, remember that we may be “entertaining angels unawares.” A good usher can make the difference in whether a visitor decides to return to a church, so take this job seriously.

Ushers should plan to arrive at the church no later than 4:45. Dress should be fairly formal; while a suit and tie for men and a dress or skirt for women are not required, jeans or shorts are also not encouraged. A name tag should be worn if at all possible. Usher tags may be ordered from the Parish Office.

All ushers should be familiar with the location of first aid equipment, fire extinguishers, flashlights, and phones. All injuries or accidents are to be reported and recorded in the Accident Log Book as soon as possible. See the end of this customary for locations and helpful phone numbers. Restrooms are located off of the choir room in the church basement, but these are to be used only in an emergency. The closest public restroom is located at the bus stop to the west of the church, down Duke of Gloucester Street.

Before the service

Large portions of the usher’s duties are completed before the service begins. Start by preparing the church for the service. Bulletins are located in the south cupboard at the right of the bell tower when facing the sanctuary to the east. Stack bulletins in piles of 20 to get an estimate of attendance. Stacks of bulletins can be placed on the bench in the bell tower. A bulletin should be tacked to the front gate. Pins can be found in one of the drawers in the bell tower. Both gate doors should be held open. Signs are located in the north cupboard in the bell tower; these go on the gate and on the door to the bell tower advising people that a service is in progress. Remove the telephone located in the rector’s box, turn off the ringer, and put it in a drawer in the bell tower. Turn on all lights that are needed for the service. Always turn on the spotlights for the altar. When it is dark enough to light all the candles, turn on all of the lights. When in doubt, ask a member of the liturgy committee. Ensure that both side doors are unlocked. If not, the key hanging from the door will unlock them. It is a fire code violation to have either door locked during a service. The signs stating the doors are locked can be moved out of the way, although the sign may be left on the north door after unlocking it, as this exit is generally unused. When it is light outside, the bronze lectern will be used for the readings, so the rope blocking off the lectern should be removed. During the winter months, the Old and New Testament lessons will be read from the ambo, so this will not be an issue. Circulate throughout the church to ensure the hymnals and prayer books are neatly stacked in the pews along the wall and that no garbage or leftover bulletins remain.

If a parishioner is in a wheelchair or stroller, the side gate should be opened. As this gate is often locked, find the key in the north cupboard in the bell tower. If possible, leave wheelchairs and strollers out of the way in the bell tower. If a parishioner needs a wheelchair during the service, it is best to have them in the side aisles so to not interfere with the procession. Make every attempt to ensure such parishioners are looked after, and make sure to lead a priest to them for communion.

During the winter months, the major role of the usher before the service is to light candles. This will take 5 to 10 minutes when both ushers are lighting. First, ensure that the candles are long enough to last the entire service. At all costs, candles should not be allowed to burn out completely, even if this means extinguishing a candle in the middle of the service. Any candles that are not at least 5 to 6 inches long should be replaced before the service. Replacement candles are located in boxes at the southern end of the sacristy. Candles are expensive, so do not replace them unnecessarily, but it is much better to err on the side of caution. The small candelabras on either side of the altar should be unhooked from the ceiling to replace candles. For the large candelabra, pull out the white tube acting as a candle holder to replace the candle. The pulpit candle sticks are slightly smaller than the others are, so the base of the candles for the pulpit should be shaved down until they fit properly.

The candle lighters are located in the sacristy next to the door on the right of the altar. Tapers are located in a long white box on the shelf next to the sink. To replace the taper, push the adjustment pin all the way out, then remove the end of the old taper. Clean out any wax that may be inside the lighter. Thread about two inches of the new taper into the lighter, and then retract the adjustment pin. Keep a few inches of the taper hanging out from the lighter. Walk with the lighter pointed down in such a way that the flame does not spread up the taper and wax does not drip inside the lighter. To extinguish the lighter, the adjustment pin can be used to pull the taper into the lighter. However, immediately push the taper back out to prevent wax from melting inside the lighter.

The Paschal Candle should be lit first if it is present, such as during the Easter season or at a Service of Holy Baptism or Confirmation. Everything else should be lit from the Paschal Candle. If the service will extend into dusk, all candles should be lit. Recall that most of the church is not lit by electric lights and congregants therefore rely on candlelight for services in the dark. Begin by lighting all candles housed in a glass shield, then lighting unshielded candles. The unshielded candles will burn faster. The large candelabra can be pulled down with the black hook located in the sacristy. Do this slowly, and pull straight down. Once candles are replaced and lit, the candelabra can be pushed up to the ceiling. Again, this should be done slowly, and as straight as possible. Lighting candles should be completed by 5:10. For services in which candlelight is not required, only light the two candles on the altar, the two candles on the pulpit, and the two candles on the ambo below the pulpit. Altar candles should be lit from right to left.

Once all of the preparations are completed, stand in the bell tower and be ready to greet people and hand out bulletins. The small wooden table should be placed in the middle of the bell tower. If both ushers are busy with other tasks, place bulletins on this table. Around 5:20, one usher should ring the bell for about two minutes. The rope is on the hook on the south wall of the bell tower. The bell requires only a short, smooth tug. As a reminder, the bell was cast in 1761, so do not pull the rope too hard or too fast.

During the Service

At least one usher should remain in the bell tower during the service. Latecomers are typically held there until they can be seated without disrupting others. The bulletin generally has suggested times when latecomers can be seated. As a rule, however, the Gloria and at the beginning of the Gospel hymn or other portions of the service when the congregation is singing are good times to seat people. Use judgment for other times. The goal here is to keep people happy by seating them as soon as possible without disrupting other members of the congregation.

Before the offertory, an estimate of the attendance should be made. Again, it helps to have put bulletins in stacks of 20 to make this process more accurate and quick.

At the offertory, wait for the crucifer to stand up, and then move together to the front of the church. The crucifer will hold out the plates in the receiving basin. Tell the crucifer the attendance so the celebrant can estimate how many wafers are needed, exchange a simple bow, and then turn to the congregation. Start first with the side transepts, then up to the balconies, and finally the nave. The first usher to finish, or a previously designated usher, should collect from the west balcony if necessary, although most services do not use this balcony. When collecting, it is best to retain control of the plate or plates at all times. Sometimes this is not always practical, especially when the church is full, as people will often take the plate and try to pass it. However, always keep the plate visible. Collecting itself can be somewhat awkward; not everybody will offer. Keep a pleasant demeanor and pause long enough to let people come forward, but do not hesitate too long if a person does not make a move. Once both ushers are finished, they should stand at the rear of the church until the beginning of the Doxology. Once the organ begins, walk together towards the Altar. The crucifer will hold out the receiving basin. After the plates are put back in the basin, exchange a simple bow and return to the bell tower.

At the Invitation “The Gifts of God for the People of God. Take them…,” walk together towards the intersection of the nave and the side aisles. At this point, the chalice bearers should have entered the sanctuary. Each usher should move backwards to invite people to the communion rail. Inviting people to receive should be done in the same order as the offertory. This again is not a simple process. Keep in mind that the communion rail should always be full, and that there should be approximately as many people waiting in line behind them. Each side should hold around 10 people. It is impossible to predict who among the congregation will wish to receive, so this is a task that is best learned from experience. Each usher should move independently of the other. The goal is to keep a steady flow to the communion rail. The priests should not have to wait while congregants move to the rail, and people do not like to wait too long. Again, this is just a matter of experience. Ushers should keep an estimate of how many people do not go up to receive, for this, along with the total in attendance, needs to be recorded. Keep an eye out for those who cannot come to the rail to receive. It is appropriate to ask someone in such a condition whether they wish to receive communion. Once everyone has been invited to take communion, the ushers should walk forward to receive themselves. After receiving, one usher should remove the center kneeler and place it on top of the kneeler to the left. At this point, ushers should notify the celebrant of anyone unable to come forward for communion and should be prepared to guide them to where those particular congregants are sitting.

After the Service

Once the service has ended, both ushers should remain in the bell tower. One should ring the bell while the other should help greet people. Once most people have left the church, begin extinguishing candles. It is very important that all candles be extinguished. Once this is finished, walk through and tidy up. Stack hymnals and prayer books next to the wall. Clean up all garbage and extra bulletins. Replace the phone in its cradle in the rector’s box and turn on the ringer. Return the rope to the lectern. Remove all signs and the bulletin from outside.

One usher should be responsible for stacking the money collected at the offertory and putting it in the safe. For safety, never complete this task when alone in the sacristy. There are bags on the south end of the sacristy for the money. Search for the bag marked for the 5:30 service; if it is not there, use a blank bag. Often the bag contains an attendance card. Fill this out and place it in the bag. Do not count the money or bother sorting it; simply place it in a neat stack, close the bag, and put it in the safe in the sacristy. Record the attendance and approximate number of communicants as well as those who did not receive, or let one of the members of the liturgy committee know what the final counts were. The attendance records are kept in a black binder on the shelf to the left of the sink. The sacristy is a very small space, so usher duties should be completed by only one person and done as quickly as possible. Finish and leave promptly.

Often, the liturgy committee will be responsible for locking up the church. Make sure, however, that this is the case. If not, ushers are responsible for this duty. The main door to the church in the bell tower should be locked, the metal pins at the top and bottom of the door closed, and the wooden bar placed in its slot. The doors between the bell tower and the nave are also to be closed but not locked. The side aisle doors are to be locked, and the signs should be replaced. Again, ensure that all candles are extinguished. The bell tower lights can only be turned off from the switches next to the door, and the two spotlights for the altar are turned off by toggle switches located underneath the choir box closest to the altar on either side. All other lights can be turned off from the sacristy. Only one light is controlled by the fuse box itself. Flip the switch in the fuse box on the lower right corner. There should be a note next to the fuse box giving instructions. Once all lights are out in the church and all doors secure, close the doors to the sacristy and turn off those lights. Proceed down the stairs to the basement. Call security from the phone next to the piano. The number is located on the back of the phone. Give them your name and tell them that the church has been locked up. Once this is finished, turn off all remaining lights and exit the church. Make sure that the door leading outside is locked. Make a sweep through the churchyard to ensure no tourists are still inside. The side and front gates should be closed and “fake locked” by putting the padlock through the door and out of view. Often the side gate will actually be locked; a key is located in the north cupboard in the bell tower. If this gate is not already locked, however, leave it as it is.

Emergency Information

Ushers are often the first contact in case of an emergency in the church. Try to make a sick or injured person as comfortable as possible. If a person is unconscious, you are required to call 911 immediately. Use the phone from the rector’s box or in the choir room in the basement of the church. It is therefore important to remember where the phone from the rector’s box is located during the service. If a person is conscious, talk to them and find out what they need. Colonial Williamsburg Security can be called at 220-7375. Do not cause panic. Make sure people are as comfortable as possible, and call upon the necessary people for assistance. An accident form should be filled out. These can be found in the “Guide Log Book” in the tower cupboard and can be turned in at the Parish House.

In case of a pastoral emergency, refer to the number for the Parish House at 229-2891.

General information and phone numbers:

First Aid Kit: Located in the cupboard in the north side of the bell tower and in the sacristy.

Water: Use the sink in the sacristy or the water cooler in the choir room in the basement. Cups are by the water cooler in the choir room.

Fire Extinguisher: South cupboard in the bell tower and on either side of the main cupboard in the sacristy.

Flashlights: North cupboard in the bell tower and in the rector’s box by the phone.

In case of fire or medical emergency, call 911 immediately.

Colonial Williamsburg Security: 220-7375

Bruton Parish House: 229-2891

Customary Navigation: Liturgy Committee Customary Introduction Usher Customary Acolyte Customary Reader Customary
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