What Are Hand Signs for Church Ushers?

Premium UIG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Church ushers communicate to their congregations and among themselves through the use of hand signs. Some ushers use the “National Silent Uniform System” that was developed during the 1940s. In the typical resting signal, one hand hangs by the side, while the other is in a fist at the small of the back. When greeting the congregation, the usher moves the hand from the side to a waist-high, open position.

To signal time for prayer, ushers cross their arms with their hands touching their elbows and bow their heads. Ushers at the doors sometimes have to ask people to wait before entering the church. The reason for the delay is given silently. A fist indicates that it is prayer time, while fingers bent at the knuckles closest to the hand show that scripture is being read.

Ushers signal to each other as well. To prepare for an upcoming signal, an usher places one hand at the base of the throat. To indicate to all ushers to take their designated positions, the head usher sweeps an open hand from the face to the hip on the same side, tracing an imaginary curved line down the torso.

If this signal is given to a specific usher, it is inquiring about the number of available seats. Ushers reply by holding up fingers. One to three fingers means those number of seats are vacant. Five fingers indicate three or more seats are empty, but a fist shows no free spaces. To begin collecting the offering, the head usher places both hands together at waist level, palms down, and moves them slightly apart.