MERIDEN — When asked to describe what role the ushers play at Parker AME Zion Church in Meriden, 92-year-old Rhudean Raye pointed more towards the secular than the divine, at least initially.
“It’s just like when you go to the theater. There are ushers there,” Raye said. “We are different because we move more quietly. We aren’t noticeable.”
Raye was being modest. The ushers are important participants in the church-going experience at Parker Memorial AME Zion Church in Meriden, and Sunday was their day. Over 40 ushers from all across the state were recognized at a joyous Sunday afternoon service. Each year all of the respective church units — divided between New Haven, Bridgeport, New Britain, and Hartford — bring their ushers together for a moment of celebration.
“Everyone comes together to appreciate what we do,” said Raye, president of the New Britain unit.
“Today is a very special day,” said Mayor Kevin Scarpati. “With the love, faith, and joy in this room — if we could bring this out, not only into our city, but into our state and our nation, we are going to be in a good place.”
Functioning as part masters of ceremonies, part stage managers, the ushers most importantly convey a sense of Christian fellowship. “We want to make you feel comfortable,” said Raye, a member of the church since 1959.
At the beginning of the service the ushers processed into the church in rhythm, wearing medals touting their home church, the men clad in dark suits with white gloves and the women wearing snow white dresses.
“Someone ought to give God praise. He’s the one that got you up in the morning,” said Rev. G. Wesley Dullivan, pastor of Parker AME. “Anyone come to magnify the Lord this afternoon?”
For Raye and the other ushers, magnifying the works of the Lord is exactly what they are trying to accomplish through their service.
Estelle Rivera-Freeland, a Newington resident, serves not only as an usher, but also as part of the nurse unit, a group of volunteers who help out if someone has a medical issue during the service, or is “overcome with the Spirit.” The nurses also do outreach from churches if there is a need in the community.
“We are serving God and serving mankind,” Rivera-Freeland said.
Sunday was a proud day for Raye and her colleagues. Allusions to the work of the ushers were sprinkled throughout the service. “We want to welcome you if you weren’t already welcomed,” Dullivan said to the congregation.
Raye believes that the ushers’ ministry doesn’t just end at the church door. There’s always room for a phone call to someone in need or a visit — simple, yet powerful gestures.
“I’m giving something back. God has been good to me,” Raye said. “You want to bless someone else.”