Hospitality Becomes More Important During Pandemic

October 18, 2020

Usher holds door open for parishioners

As churches began to reopen for public worship after closing due to COVID-19, there were many more tasks to consider.

Who would encourage everyone coming to wear a mask to prevent spread of the virus?

Who would clean the church after each gathering?

Who would offer hand sanitizer and help people find the baskets where they could put their tithing gifts?

Parish hospitality ministers – the ushers – have stepped up in an increasingly important role. Not only are they welcoming parishioners and guests, they’re ensuring that safety measures are followed so the faithful can continue to worship.

“The role of ushers has changed and it’s changed for the better,” said Loralee Chase, of Sacred Heart Parish in West Des Moines.

“When we had to plan to reopen our doors after almost three months of nobody allowed in the church, the task seemed almost impossible,” she said. “There were so many regulations that needed to be met to have people safely worshipping.”

The parish began working with veteran ushers, but quickly realized many more were needed and some who had served for many years could not because they’re vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Maren Trettin and her 11-year-old daughter, Audrey, became ushers at the parishes 5 p.m. Mass on Saturdays.null Audrey is often seen standing outside the door with a big “Welcome to SH” sign.

Maren volunteers to share her gifts and talents and to role model for her children.

“With the pandemic, unfortunately, many of the ways in which we would normally volunteer aren’t quite possible yet,” she said. “When they asked for people to help usher, I thought it would be a good way to continue volunteering and something my kids can do as well.”

It worked for Audrey.

“I volunteer because I love helping,” she said. “I would also like to be like my mom someday because I can tell she has a close relationship with God. I like to volunteer because I know it’s helping me build a relationship with God and I know I’m helping as much as I can for my age.”

The role of usher changed at St. Patrick in Audubon and Holy Trinity in Exira, too.

“Before the pandemic broke out, people thought that the main task for ushers was to greet people at the entrance of the church or to open the door for them,” said the pastor, Father David Nkrumah.  “But when the pandemic broke out, it took on a different dimension all together.”

nullUshers now make sure the church pews have been disinfected, stand ready to take guests to their seats, offer hand sanitizer, provide a face mask for those who come without one, and ensure social distancing at communion time. They open the doors widely as people leave so visitors don’t have to touch the doors and disinfect the pews after Mass.

“When we asked for volunteers, we got new ones,” said Father Nkrumah. “People volunteered to assist in all of the jobs. They are so wonderful.”

Alice Lauridsen, of St. Patrick in Audubon, had been in charge of scheduling the ushers before the pandemic. Now, she not only schedules them but serves as one herself along with members of the Audubon and Exira joint parish council.

Kurt Petersen has been an usher at Corpus Christi Parish in Council Bluffs for about 35 years and said he has additional responsibilities as a hospitality minister since COVID-19. He and fellow ushers encourage parishioners to use masks and social distance. Ushers dismiss people from church so there isn’t a crowd at the doorway. They also spray the pews and wipe door handles.

“If somebody needs something, they’ll come to us or if they have questions, they’ll ask us,” he said. “It’s a way of ministering.”

"There is a new normal for what going to Mass looks like and it can be intimidating,” said Trettin at Sacred Heart. “It’s the usher’s job to help put people at ease and make things run as smoothly as possible so that parishioners can focus on participating in the Mass. It’s a bonus if you can put a smile on their face at the same time.”