Seventy-two-year-old Aliceteen Wade has been putting on her white gloves and white usher's uniform and little black beret every Sunday for more than half her life.
Even after 40 years, the volunteer job for this queen of ushers doesn't seem like a chore. For Wade, who trains younger ushers at Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Churchin Annapolis, the task is more like a calling.
"Being an usher at church is something very special," says Wade.
"It gives the people a good frame of mind when they're in service if you can greet 'em properly (when they come in)."
The job of usher for this denomination and other black churches means more than simply directing someone to a seat, explains the Rev. Colin Macrae Lambert, the church pastor.
Next month, the church's usher board will celebrate 70 years of existence, three-quarters of a century of ministry. Ushers at this 500-member church greet people at the door, help them to their seats, hand out fans in warm weather and tissues in coldweather, console the grieving at funerals, visit the poor and generally do good to all.
It's not always pleasant, Wade admits. The elderly woman has faced Sundays when she thought her smile would fall right off greeting the occasional grouchy church member.
"Ushering is not the easiest job in the church, because people have so many different personalities that you greet on Sunday morning," she says. "Youalways have to be giving them a smile, whether you want to or not."
Yesterday, Wade and the entire usher board of the church -- from senior ushers right down to the 4-year-old "doorkeepers" in training -- were on hand to grace the morning service.
Wade, silver-haired and spry, held out warm hands to members and visitors alike, guiding latecomers to seats, providing programs and information.
"It's veryrewarding at my age to know you can move about," she says. "I do pretty good, though I don't go like I used to."
The usher board admitted men in 1973, and the new president is a man, Ernest Ziegler, but women continue to dominate the position, Wade says.
Female ushers -- looking rather like nurses in their starched uniforms and white stockings -- seem to serve as mother figures, and the art of ushering is passed down, woman to woman.
When Wade started ushering, she learned "from other ladies."
Later, the church joined an interdenominational ushers association, and now ushers attend a school.
"We learn how to hold a position (during the service); how to greet people;how to extend your hand the right way and how to say good morning," Wade explains.
Mount Moriah has 18 senior ushers, of whom Wade is a past president. She also served as president of the state usher's group for four years. There are seven young adult ushers, 16 young people ushers and eight junior ushers.
About 16 small children serve as doorkeepers, minding the doors of the church and waiting for the day when they too will be old enough and skillful enough to usher.
Mount Moriah ushers recently returned from an Interdenominational Ushers Association of America convention in Mexico, where they brushed up on ushering skills and attended seminars along with about 3,000 ushers from churches across the country.
Last week, the senior usherssponsored a Double Rainbow Delight Dinner to celebrate the conference and raise money, making $300 which Wade presented to the church.
"The training we have has paid off not only for morning services andfunerals," says Wade, "but it's also a good assistance to various people. During Christmas we give out a lot of donations, clothing, whatmay be.
"The charity work keeps the ushers together."
To usherCynthia Williams, 44, the small kindnesses the ushers extend during the services are another way to show her love for God.
"I just wanted to be closer to God" when she joined the ushering board eight years ago, says Williams, who also helped coordinate last week's dinner.
An hour into yesterday's worship service, Wade, standing guard over the sanctuary from the back of the church, noticed a younger ushernot standing properly.
She moved the teen-ager's arm into the correct position and whispered instructions.
After all, this isn't just a job. It's a holy calling, and it needs to be done right.