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Origins & Development
Invite Welcome Connect was born out of Mary Parmer’s 10-year experience as director of evangelism and adult ministries at St. Stephen’s, Beaumont, Texas, where she learned the importance of relational parish ministry and empowering laity for ministry from the rector, The Rev. Patrick Gahan. The staff began creating and developing a model for newcomer ministry at St. Stephen’s, and in 2000 the original core content of this work was presented at an Episcopal Diocese of Texas Cluster Conference at Camp Allen. From there Mary Parmer began presenting the work at various diocesan clergy and lay leadership events. This initial framework, entitled “Sacred Connection” and then “Invitation, Welcome, Connection” was piloted in 2010 in four Episcopal Diocese of Texas congregations through the Newcomer Ministry Project. Further development occurred through the creation of checklists and resources, and workshops for more congregations were held at diocesan centers in Houston and Austin. The churches involved in the project reported immediate numerical growth, and the project spread to more than 100 congregations in the Diocese of Texas over the next three years. In addition to growth in numbers, the congregations reported a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm in their parishioners.
In April 2013, The Rev. Frank Allen, rector of St. David’s Episcopal Church, Radnor, Pennsylvania, invited Mary Parmer to take Invite Welcome Connect outside the Diocese of Texas for the first time, and she facilitated a workshop for St. David’s and a number of other Pennsylvania congregations. Word spread quickly and Mary began traveling around the country, presenting this ministry in various conference formats.
The first two national Invite Welcome Connect Summits were sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and held at Camp Allen in April 2015 and April 2016. Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, then diocesan bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, preached at the opening service in April 2015. In 2017 the ministry moved to the Beecken Center of the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and subsequent national Summits were held in June 2018 and June 2019.
With the arrival of the pandemic, we pivoted in June 2020 from an in-person Summit to an online Digital Gathering. 1,700 people from 48 states and 11 countries registered for this event. We followed in July with Digital Roundtables from which many creative ideas were generated and shared on our website and social media. One of the gifts of the pandemic was an emerging clarity that the time had come for Invite Welcome Connect to launch from our wonderful ministry incubator, the Beecken Center. Our affiliation with Sewanee helped to shine a light on both organizations and introduced thousands to our respective missions, and we are so very thankful for the wonderful friends we made and the amazing creative energy that our four-year partnership sparked.
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