The usher at the church door - his left hand half-closed at waist-level behind him and right arm at his side in basic or "service position" - can, with silent and inconspicuous hand signals ask where the empty seats are, request 50 more church bulletins, or ask permission to leave his station.
Just as silently, a colleague clear across the auditorium can respond.
Both ushers, who are almost certain to be serving in a black church, learned their unusual commication technique at the School of Ushering at Lincoln Park United Methodist Church, 1301 North Carolina Ave. NE, under the sponsorship of the Interdenominational Church Ushers Association.
Men, women and even children ("juniors" begin training as early as 8 years) will attend classes every Wednesday night from October through June at the School of Ushering in order to earn a diploma that certifies that they have mastered the technique.
There are lectures, extensive practice sessions, midterm and final exams, and finally, a graduation exercise at which diplomas are distributed after a demonstration of silent ushering technique by members of the graduating class.
According to Raymond L. Gray Sr., president of the usher's association, the school graduates an average of 150 ushers a year.
There are even textbooks for the course, said Catherine E. Mills, dean of the school. These include the "Universal Church Usher's Manual" and "Technique of the Universal System of Church Ushering."
"We try to get the attitude of Christian worship in the service by creating an atmosphere conductive to accepting the word of the Lord. We do not talk, we learn how to project (needs) silently so as not to disturb the pastor or other church members, said Alma C. Hawkins, national public relations chief and former president of ICUA.
The silent system of church ushering "originated with the black church in an effort to control ushering in a worshipful manner, "according to Gray. At present ther 1.134 member churches in the UCUA.
The 2,000 Washington area graduates of the School of Ushering attended the school in order to learn the finer points of the complicated hand signals. Many already were serving in their respective churches in some ushering capacity that did not require detailed knowledge of the silent ushering technique, Mills said.
Postgraduate classes in silent ushering are offered. Said Mills: "You can't learn everything in one year. You get the majority (of hand signals), the basics, but learning is continuous. There is always more to pick up."