Sunday, January 10, 2021

Video & Article Excerpt About The Roles Of The Black Church Ushers & Information About The Ushers' Grand March

Usher's Grand March

Everett DotsonSep 17, 2017

11th Auxiliary Ministry Day Celebration

Sunday September 17, 2017 3:30 P.M.

Theme: Working For Jesus Don't Hurt

Guest Church Pastor Gary Roberts & Mt. Sinai M.B.C.
In this usher Grand March video the ushers circle the entire sanctuary. Circling the sanctuary may be the oldest type of usher Grand March, but (based on YouTube videos that I've watched), it appears that most usher marches since at least the early 2000s march up the right (or the left aisle) and then down the center aisle without circling the sanctuary.  


Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part III of a pancocojams series on African American church ushers.

This post showcase a video of a Church Ushers Grand March and showcases an article excerpt about the roles of church ushers. Special attention is given to Section IV of that article which provides information about the ushers' Grand March. 

Selected comments from a discussion thread of another YouTube video of an usher's Grand March (other than the one embedded above) are included in the Addendum for this post. Those comments-including two that I wrote- address a commenter's questions "What is this march about? Is it worship or what?" 

Click for Part I of this pancocojams series. Part I presents a video of Black church ushers and presents excerpts from three articles about African American church ushers.

Click for Part II of this pancocojams post. Part III showcases a video of African American ushers marching during an annual church Usher Day. Part II also presents some theories about why African American ushers wear gloves as part of their usher attire.

The content of this post is presented for historical and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners. Thanks to the publisher of this embedded YouTube video.
Click for a 2011 pancocojams post that showcases multiple videos of usher Grand marches.

Also, click the "Black Church Procession" tag for more pancocojams posts on this subject, including posts about Black (African, Canadian, and Caribbean) church choir processions.


Ushers Day Cultural Resources

Sunday, June 13, 2009

Ralph Wheeler, Guest Cultural Resource Commentator

I. Introduction and Historical Overview

A. Role of the Usher

The black church in the United States, as an institution, functions with, and is supported by, numerous auxiliaries, boards and departments. These working arms of the church enable the body of Christ to carry out its basic missions of spreading the gospel, attending to the needs of the people, and assuring the church’s administrative, physical and spiritual components remain in accord with governing Biblical principles and accepted religious tenets.

Generally, the form of auxiliaries, boards and departments in individual black churches are determined by the age, denomination, size, location and specific needs of  the church body. However, there is one auxiliary that most modern black churches have, regardless of their age, denomination, size or location: an usher board or usher guild.

The work of the usher board is considered a ministry of the church. The pulpit, music and usher departments of the black church are often the three most visible ministries of the church. Each has an important servant role in the church’s overall ministry. Yet, each plays a different, but essential, role.

A major part of the public role of the pulpit and music departments is oral service. In contrast, ushers perform most of their public role in the church in silence or through restrained speech. In many respects, the service that church ushers provide in God’s house and to God’s people is a testament of humbleness and selflessness. Only their service and uniforms speak for them.

Each Sunday, ushers are usually some of the first servants to arrive at the church house. They make sure things are in order and get into their positions to greet members and visitors. During the worship service, ushers safeguard the entrances, aisles, exits and financial offerings of the church.

So as not to be disruptive, ushers master directional signs, so their work can be done in relative silence. They are purveyors of order and decorum, even during the most stressful moments of the church’s services and proceedings. Also, they are often the last to leave the sanctuary, as they remain after the worship service to retrieve discarded church bulletins and other items that the audience has left on benches and the floor.

Usually, ushers are at their posts for most church services, including all worship services, special programs, celebrations, weddings and funerals. For this reason, the church family, in many churches, set aside a day once each year to celebrate the role and work of its ushers—Usher’s Day. At the least, this annual day on the church’s liturgical calendar is a statement of gratitude and a formal recognition of the importance of the role of ushers in the black church.


III. Help Your Sister Board

In addition to being a day of celebration and gratitude, Usher’s Day is also a major day of fundraising for the black church. The ushers’ fundraising formula is a simple one: help your neighbor and your neighbor will you. Usher boards help each other throughout the year. They assist each other with big events such as anniversaries, conventions and large funerals.

On Usher’s Day, usher boards from many different churches, including usher guilds from different denominations, are invited to participate in the annual day activities of the host church. On that day, the ushers of the host church do not work. For them, it is a day of rest, except for the grand usher march, which usually comes at the end of the program. Ushers from the invited churches do all of the work that is normally done by the host church ushers. It is not uncommon for usher boards from five guest churches to attend the anniversary service of  a sister church.

Each of the invited churches comes with a major donation which is presented during the usher board roll call and march. These “gifts of love,” depending upon the number of sister churches invited, can, and do often, amount to thousands of dollars. Usually, all of the money, except for expenses, goes into the coffers of the host church. This is repeated year after year. Ushers refer to it as helping the usher board of a sister church.

In addition, some usher boards also use their annual day to make special contributions in the name of deceased ushers, to support special church projects, and to support their church’s scholarship fund for college students.

IV. The Grand March

One of the highlights of Usher’s Day is the Grand March. All ushers, including the host ushers, participate in the grand march of the ushers. Those churches with children and youth usher boards add a youthful energy to the procession. The nurse’s guild is also a special attraction. Modernly nurse’s guilds have become part of usher boards and, most often, are present to assist persons who experience illnesses during a worship service, those who need bandages or similar items and, in some churches, to aid in the needs of the pulpit. The nurses can often be seen in white uniforms, with hats and, in some cases, with capes.

The Grand March is a time that the congregation eagerly awaits. Prodded by the organist playing one of the great marching songs of the church, the ushers line up in the back of the church and begin their march around the entire inner confines of the sanctuary, leaving their love gift on the collection table. In almost every church, one waits to see the ushers “cut the corners.” Cutting the corners refers to sharp, precision-like turns made by ushers as they march around the entire church. The turns bring to mind a battalion of soldiers quickly turning from one formation to another or a marching band doing the same. Ushers of the host church march last. It is a time of high celebration.

When they get to the front of the church, the ushers, to the delight of the audience, move into an almost syncopated genuflecting movement, as they cut the corners during their grand march. By now, the crowd is on its feet, applauding the ushers on their day.

Over the years, I have seen older female ushers wearing three to four inch high heels and crisp uniforms participating in the grand usher march. I have also seen disabled ushers, some in wheel-chairs, participating in the grand usher march. They marched, while singing along with the congregation and their fellow ushers, as if they had the energy of teenagers. This was done after many of them had stood at their posts for several hours, in perfect formation, throughout the Usher Day program.

V. Ushers, Maids or Cooks

When I was a young child, the senior (not the children, youth, or young adult) female ushers of our church wore all white during the summer months. The senior male ushers wore white shirts and pants and black ties. For the females, their summer usher uniforms were identical to the white uniforms many of them wore to works as maids and cooks.

On Sunday mornings, however, no one ever mistook any of them for anything but an usher. On this day, they were not maids. They were not cooks. They were ushers, and they were in charge of keeping and order and providing service in the Lord’s house.

On any given Sunday, they were responsible for collecting and safeguarding more money than some of their employers would see in months. They were responsible for attending to the needs of a much more important group of people than those on their jobs: the pastor and the congregation. These men and women had a passion for what they did. They knew their work was important, much more important than their weekday jobs. This work was connected to a highway to heaven. The uniform for the two jobs may have been identical, but their service they provided on Sundays in that uniform was for a higher purpose.


VIII. Songs for Usher’s Day

There are staple songs in the black church for any Usher’s Day celebration. Three of the most noted are “Walking Up the King’s Highway,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “Till We Gather Again.” Other staples include “We are Soldiers” and “In the Army of Lord,” both of which were highlighted in last year’s cultural resource unit for Usher’s Day.”…


MCHCA Ushers & Nurses Grand March"

Mount Calvary Holy Church Inc, April 19, 2009

This is the annual International Nurses & Ushers Convention Grand March. This year's event took place at the International Headquarters of Mount Calvary Holy Church of America Inc. Washington D.C.

April 3, 2009

Numbers added for referencing purposes only

1. Gerald Haynes Jr, 2018
"Can anyone let me knw what is the march about? Is worship or what. So many churches do this. I have no experience or info on this. Thank u n advance 4 ur responses. 😁"

2. Naturally Naila, 2018
"I'm probably not the best person to answer your question but I believe it is all just for fun and showmanship. Im SDA so we don't do things like this but culturally Black people are really into entertainment. Dancing and music so it seems to be an outward expression of Black culture not so much for worship."
SDA= Seventh Day Adventist [Christian denomination]

3. Lexie J, 2018
This looks like a convention, many different churches celebrating together"

4. LoveNeverFails, 2018
"Most times you will see this at a "special" service ( anniversary or appreciation day etc.) This is not your typical Sunday Service. This is to "show off" and make a grand entrance--really doesn't have much to do with worship other than the music playing. Best way I can describe it. Blessings!"

5. Azizi Powell, published 2019 & edited January 9, 2021
"@Gerald C Haynes, Jr,  I believe that the earliest roots of the African American Usher Grand March is the ring shout. Way back in the day, the chairs in the buildings or tents where people worshiped could be moved and set aside so that people could participate in a ring shout (shuffling their feet while they moved in a circle and sang). However, when church pews that are fixed to the floor became the norm, people began to circle the sanctuary as an adapted form of "ring shout". During church services,  some people would also run, circling the sanctuary when they felt the Holy Ghost. That might still happen today. Nowadays, some groups (choirs, ushers, church nurses) no longer circle the sanctuary, but just march from their pews to the back of the sanctuary and then march (single file or double file) down the center aisle and then back to their seats.  

That said, as noted by other commenters, the purpose of the Grand March in Black American churches and church events such as this convention is to provide an opportunity for the group (choir, nurses, ushers, women's day organization) to receive their due recognition for their service from those in attendance.

6. Azizi Powell, 2021
"There is a Liberian social dance called "The Grand March" that I believe has its roots in the Virginia Reel . Descendants of Black Americans who had been enslaved in the USA or had been free Blacks brought that custom to Liberia when they emigrated to that West African country.

That Liberian Grand March and the African American Ushers/Choirs  Grand March are somewhat similar, but I think that old school African American Usher/Choir marches have more similarities to military marches and drill teams. Nowadays, some African American usher board marches, and some church choir marches that are performed during their anniversary programs or conventions also include some moves such as the dip that come from non-religious dances. There are different opinions about the appropriateness of these moves (and of church marches themselves), but personally, I love this tradition."
Watch the "
MCHCA Ushers & Nurses Grand March" video whose link is given at the beginning of this Addendum for examples of ushers doing "the dip" and doing "side to side" and "back step" movements and other movements that are performed in "The Electric Slide" line dance, and in other secular dances.

This concludes Part III of this three part pancocojams series.

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