“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.
Twenty 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!