The Church Usher Who ‘Marched His Way into Our Hearts’

'I can't help but thank God for the moments of genuine joy, Christ-like love, and lighthearted fun he's brought to our spiritual family'

by Ryan Day | Updated 01 Nov 2017 at 5:48 PM

For almost 20 years, I’ve enjoyed the shock of churchgoers who can’t believe what they’re seeing.

I’ve spotted their raised eyebrows and wide eyes, their hands reaching up to muffle a laugh. I’ve observed these responses again and again, and it always makes me smile because I know exactly what’s happening. From my vantage point, I often spot newcomers to our Sunday worship services leaning over and whispering, “Is that church usher … dancing?”

Scott Spohr, left, with the author of this piece, Pastor Ryan Day

No, I want to tell them — that church usher is not dancing. He’s marching, like soldiers in a Main Street parade.

When our local churchgoers gather for Sunday worship, the ushers typically walk to the front of the room during the final chorus of the first song, in preparation for the offering. As the music plays, three ushers will casually stroll forward. But the fourth? He high-steps down the aisle like a drummer in the Penn State marching band.

This one-man parade may seem out of place to some, but our church family has come to enjoy it: The one doing the marching is Scott Spohr, our most dedicated usher. We love the marching because we love the man — a 39-year-old parishioner with Down syndrome.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on my relationship with Scott and his impact on our church. I’ve known him for nearly 20 years, and as I look back I can’t help but thank God for the moments of genuine joy, Christ-like love, and lighthearted fun he has brought to our church family.

Related: What My Hospital Roommates Taught Me About God

Who could ever forget the Sunday — it was July 9, 2000 — when Scott baptized himself! Because of his cognitive and communication challenges, we understood his ceremony was going to be unique. But none of us could have imagined what would happen that morning. Upon entering the baptismal tank, Scott turned and faced the congregation — then pinched his nose and dunked himself. Joyful laughter erupted, and to this day Scott remains the only member of our church ever to be self-baptized.

But it isn’t only his marching or his baptism that has so endeared Scott to us. There is also his remarkably diverse hat collection, which he faithfully displays each weekend. One Sunday, you’ll see Scott wearing a John Wayne-style cowboy hat — the next, a Frank Sinatra-inspired fedora. When summer strikes, he’ll have a farmer’s straw hat.  But once the snow flies, he’ll appear in a red-and-white wool hat — complete with reindeer pattern, side-braids, and a pom-pom on top.

Some people feel a little sheepish about wearing hats in public, but not Scott. He wears his hats with more swagger than Elvis at a Las Vegas show. Which reminds me: Scott also owns a pair of Elvis-styled sunglasses — the round, gold ones from the '70s — and he wears them to church regularly, uh-thank-you-very-much.

Over the years I've watched many people interact with Scott, and they always come away with a boost of encouragement. He doesn't use big words or complicated sentences, but you can't possibly ignore his friendship when he comes at you with a piece of candy, a giant hug, or a high-five.

Not long ago, Scott started working at Avenues, an organization that provides services and vocational training for people with developmental disabilities. A supervisor told Scott's parents, Tom and Bernie Spohr, that their son is one of the very best workers. To those of us who know Scott, that glowing report wasn't a surprise. Everywhere he goes, Scott has a way of making people and places better.

Related: Down Syndrome Couple Engaged at Chick-fil-A

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus told His followers to "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." As I look around our church, I can't think of anyone who personifies that more than Scott Spohr.

We typically look at people with developmental disabilities and conclude they are at a tremendous disadvantage. But in many ways, people like Scott far surpass us in genuine love and heartfelt obedience to the Lord. Where so many of us are held back by fear, circumstances, misplaced priorities, or unbiblical prejudices — people like Scott charge ahead courageously and put their Heavenly Father on display with unparalleled openness and love for all.

Related: Our Lord, Who Was a Carpenter, Challenges Us to Do His Work

Some might look at Scott and grieve over his mental state or learning abilities. But we are the ones who need to learn from him. This man serves God without acclaim — caring nothing for glory or fame. Here is a man who loves without strings — where hugs and high-fives aren't hindered by race, age, or political affiliation. Here is a man who lives life to the fullest — working hard, but always with candy in his pockets.

Take time to praise God for special people, especially the Down syndrome children, teenagers, and adults that He has graciously brought into our lives. What incredible joy they bring to our families, communities and churches. At our church, we'll be giving thanks for Scott, the usher who marched his way into our hearts.

Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 18 years. He is a regular contributor to LifeZette.

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