Just do it

“I always thought we needed to change people’s attitudes, or people’s thinking,” one member of Ascension said this past Sunday at our Invite Welcome Connect Forum, continuing: “and then people’s behaviors would change.  I guess it can work the other way around, too.”

“Fake it ’till you make it,” chimed in another, citing the old adage.

Invite_Welcome_Connect-logoTwenty or so of us were enjoying sandwiches, those of us sticking around for a two-hour Forum after church, and we had just finished watching Mary Foster Parmer’s excellent video, an opportunity to hear from the founder of Invite Welcome Connect.  I had prepared a worksheet to help participants through the video, and we walked through the points she raised, step by step.  I noted that she puts a lot of emphasis on practices and behaviors.

It is true, I suppose, that trying on new behaviors, new practices can lead to new attitudes.  It’s in keeping with a saying The Episcopal Church used throughout the liturgical expansion and experimentation of the mid-20th century, citing something Prosper of Aquitaine wrote in one of his books, the Latin phrase “lex orandi, lex credendi,” or: “the way we pray shapes the way we believe.” Praying shapes believing, practices shape minds.

The gift of Invite Welcome Connect is that it helps us look at behaviors and assumptions we hold close.  Sometimes, we’re not always so aware that we’re holding things as closely as we do.  More often than not, we’re unaware that some practices can be off-putting to first-time guests or church visitors.  Invite Welcome Connect is a great assessment tool to help us look more critically at ourselves.  It’s about setting the church up for success.  Invite Welcome Connect helps us look at assumptions, behaviors, and attitudes, and it helps us re-think some of them.

Invite Welcome Connect is not, however, the total strategy or the solution, unto itself.  It’s something on the way toward a strategic goal, but it is not, itself, a strategic plan or goal.  I hope I’m explaining it well enough, because one of the criticisms of Invite Welcome Connect is that it doesn’t begin with a particular church’s particularly identified mission and vision.  Therefore, the criticism goes, isn’t it just directionless?

I don’t think so.

I think The Episcopal Church has been in such decline for so many years for a lot of reasons, too many to list or talk about here.  But one of the causes of our decline is that we can’t seem to agree to do something, anything … to get going and get outside of ourselves.  We’ve been in “analysis paralysis” for decades.  Invite Welcome Connect is a great tool to at least get us to try new things, see things a (slightly) different way, try to lead with changed behaviors and customs and practices … and maybe, along the way, lay all this before God to also change hearts and minds.

I’ll close with a story.

I’m sitting at Ascension in the early afternoon hours, writing this.  I had a string of morning meetings, all of which fell under the theme of strengthening our community partnerships and building coalitions.  That’s what Ascension is really good at, one of the many things Ascension is gifted at and known for in our community — partnerships, coalitions.

Just as I was done with one meeting, getting ready to leave for another, a local pastor popped in.  I had wanted to meet this young, outgoing pastor for a while now, as he and his new congregation have been offering food and intercessory prayer in Ascension’s lower parking lot for a few months.  He talks like a church planter, indeed, he is  a church planter — he’s walking the streets, meeting the people, going into tent camps, feeding the hungry, talking about Jesus, on the ground.  It was really inspiring to be with him, and now that we’ve spent some time in fellowship I pray that a renewed (and shared?) commitment to our common Kingdom mission will emerge from our relationship.

But he’s hungry, he’s fired up, he’s eager — I could just feel it.  His energy was infectious.  At the same time, he’s tired, so tired, he said, of people staking their claims and defending their turf and not doing something, not doing anything, he said.

I’m ready to do something.  Following up from our Invite Welcome Connect Forum this past Sunday, I can honestly say that Ascension is also ready to do something.  St. George’s Forum is coming up the weekend after this, and I know the vast majority of the folks who worship regularly in Valley Lee are also ready to do something.

Just do it.  That’d work for a pretty good church slogan right about now, too!








Launching Invite Welcome Connect

Last year, in 2018, Ascension & St. George’s Vestries took on two significant initiatives, both designed to celebrate the story of our churches as well as build on that story — God’s story, we believe.  God has, in our past, created churches that were marked by growth, vibrancy, joy and experimentation — a ‘can do’ attitude, grounded in the Holy Spirit.  God will, I trust, re-create his Body in the same form and fasion, inspiring ongoing growth, vibrancy, joy, freedom.
The first initiative was the formal process of merging our two parishes into one — all the while keeping two worshiping communities: Ascension in Lexington Park and St. George’s in Valley Lee. Even a casual attender of worship at Ascension or St. George’s heard plenty about that, and that work is now on a natural glide path toward completion. Just this week, in fact, I was joined by Karol Wolgemuth, Phil Horne, and Eric Delk as we made our Petition for Merger to the Council of the Diocese of Washington. They received our Petition gratefully, and they voted unanimously to recommend it for action at January’s Diocesan Convention. I am really proud of the dedicated work of so many lay leaders among us. With them, and with our congregations, we are truly becoming a resurrected — indeed, Resurrection — Parish.
Invite_Welcome_Connect-logoThe second initiative the Vestry took on was Invite Welcome Connect. It’s not a program, but a methodology, an assessment, a tool. Invite Welcome Connect helps us look deeply at our common life, our congregational culture and find ways to be more intentional about inviting, welcoming, and connecting all persons with God and one another in Christ. It’s about evangelism (invitation); hospitality (welcome); and the sacred act of listening (connection).
Admittedly, over the course of the past year, this initiative did not get as much airtime as the first. That was intentional. Each had a linear relationship to the other — changing the business model (=merger) came necessarily first, if only because the healthier, more balanced operational scale it brought about has given us the room to now ask: Where are we going?
But the Vestry, at least among themselves last year, did explore Invite Welcome Connect — something like a practice lap. Each Vestrymember was asked to do two things: first, visit a local church, ideally a thriving church, as a ‘Secret Shopper’; and, second, invite a friend who does not attend your church to come to Ascension or St. George’s as a Secret Shopper. They did, on both counts. We prepared a common assessment tool, and we received some very enlightening responses. Did you know where to park? Did you know where the front entrance was? Did anyone speak to you, say good morning to you? What was the appearance of the church? Did anyone welcome you? Invite you to fellowship? Get to know your name? Would you come back to this church? Why or why not? We learned a great deal from this raw data about our strengths and the areas we need to grow in.
The gift of Invite Welcome Connect is that it also gives us tools to grow, indeed, tools to change the church culture, as they say, “from maintenance to mission.” Careful attention to everyday practices and appearances, scrutiny of behavior many of us take for granted, removing any obstacle that stands in the way of someone entering a relationship with God through our church as well as looking, equally, to put in key positions those who really have the gifts of welcoming and connecting and inviting — that’s what Invite Welcome Connect brings. But, as we know, changing behaviors and attitudes and practices is a whole lot harder than changing a business model, even a parish name.
This is the “so what…?” of this whole exploratory venture Ascension and St. George’s have been on these past several years. So what? …So Jesus will be glorified and people will be restored to unity with one another in His name. …So our churches will grow in faith, in vibrancy, in joy. So we will reverse numerical decline — a sobering reality of The Episcopal Church for far too long, and only getting worse — and grow our congregations by serving boldly, taking risks, and loving God and our neighbors (and neighborhoods) passionately, deeply, and well. …So anyone connected to this place knows without doubt the value added to their lives and this community by following Jesus through membership in Ascension and St. George’s.
Ascension and St. George’s are each having an Invite Welcome Connect kickoff launch party.  Ascension’s will be Sunday afternoon, September 15, right after worship, at coffee hour (12:15pm start time).  St. George’s gets together Sunday afternoon, Sept. 29 at 4:30pm — potluck dinner and conversation. I would be honored if all members would plan to spend an hour and one-half, or so, in prayer and conversation on those days, at their respective places. These will be opportunities to better understand the why, the “so what...?” of Invite Welcome Connect. This will also be an opportunity for you to hear from me some tangible next steps, and how you can get involved. If you are otherwise unable to join us this Sunday, click here to watch this video from the creator of Invite Welcome Connect, Mary Foster Parmer. (Or if you want a Sunday preview, watch it.)
I’m looking forward to kicking off this new season in our churches — no less than two churches which have the great audacity to call ourselves ‘Resurrection Parish’!