Where I live, in one of the great Midwestern cities: Chicago, the month of March has always been a bit of a mixed bag. One minute we are sensing the warmth of Spring pressing forward, and then just a day or two later, we are digging out our winter gear in order to face the below-freezing temperatures. In the Midwest, during the wild month of March, we are both anxious to get outside and grateful for a warm hearth; we are both ready for a new pattern and stuck in old habits. We are both excited for Spring and weary of Winter. But inertia is a powerful force, and sometimes it feels easier to imagine that eternal Winter might just be easier than the disorienting work of moving into Spring and new life.
This springtime wild ride seems to have also caught up so many of us across the church, lay and ordained, who are currently engaged in our Lenten disciplines and planning for the great feasts of our Holy Week and Easter celebrations. In the church we are both excited for a return to the fullness of parish life and are also weary -or is it slightly terrified - at the thought of it?
We can’t wait to see all of our longer-term members return, and we seek ways to provide meaningful welcome for those newer members whom God is, even now, sending our way. But many of us are also feeling the pressure, and recognizing the challenge of rising and responding to this great return, even as we grasp the excitement and promise of the moment. God continues to beckon the world—but can we keep up?
Perhaps this concern is one reason that our Invite Welcome Connect Digital Gathering in February brought an astonishing 800+ individuals from across the Episcopal Church to compare notes and learn from one another in this peculiar moment. We gathered for an interactive webinar with panelists from across the church to engage two timely topics: The Digital Front Porch –how we might more fully welcome and incorporate members who have come to us through various broadcasting means but have not yet joined us in person, and Re-Connecting our Communities: welcoming back longstanding parishioners who upon their return are finding a congregation that looks different than the one that they last saw: many new faces and some of the old ones missing.
Led by Mary Parmer and members of the Invite Welcome Connect Advisory Board, we spent an energizing and inspiring afternoon with leadership from across the country and beyond, sharing what has worked and encouraging one another to beat back the anxiety and embrace this great moment of community reconnection and church growth.
This resurgent Spring energy was on display again just a few weeks later when I was privileged to accompany Invite Welcome Connect founder Mary Parmer as she attended the Consortium for Endowed Episcopal Parishes (now renamed Episcopal Parish Network) conference in Atlanta, Georgia. There, I witnessed the reunions of colleagues who had not seen one another for two years. The joy and excitement of in-person reconnection was electric- and so profoundly encouraging for the future trajectory of our church. I watched as person after person greeted Mary, grateful for the chance to re-engage with her and her ministry of radical welcome. All of this joyful reconnection unfolded at the same time and in the broader context of a conference in which many acknowledged the heavy lift that lies ahead of us as our churches move into the next phase of dynamic growth.
As we move through this church-wide Spring, with its conflicting, exciting, and slightly terrifying time of return, reconnection, and new growth, I remain profoundly grateful for God’s abiding presence and relentless love drawing us ever forward. I am grateful for the gift of the Invite Welcome Connect community, for Mary Parmer’s leadership, and for the spirit of love and mutual support that runs through all that we do together.
May God’s richest blessings be with you during this season new growth and rebirth.
Lisa Hackney- James Advisory Board Chair of Invite Welcome Connect Sub-Dean, St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois