by Lola Michael Russell
Over 200 voices joyfully singing Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God, and its righteousness rang out in the St. Anne’s School gymnasium during opening of the Episcopal Church in Delaware’s Second Annual Evangelism and Growth Conference on Saturday, November 23.
The Rt. Rev. Kevin S. Brown welcomed members of every parish in the diocese to continue the work of Invite Welcome Connect in Delaware. The worship readings gave us some direction for the day’s journey — Psalm 108-1-6, with its proclamation “I will confess you among the peoples, O Lord” and Isaiah 65:17-25, which proclaims, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth”. Brown’s sermon encouraged us all to continue the work of Invite Welcome Connect (IWC), which was so strongly launched last year.
Brown introduced Mary Parmer, the creator of IWC, now an important component of the curriculum at Sewanee University of the South School of Theology. Parmer’s presentation of talks interspersed with videos and engaging stories of her own history and experiences at different churches was animated and inspiring. First, she addressed Invite, meaning evangelism.
The morning session was brilliantly illuminated by videos of two people whose lives have been forever changed by the simple act of an invitation to church: Lisa Lynn-Blitzer and Silas Harrison. After the videos were shown, Brown moderated a discussion between them about the impact such invitations made upon their lives. Movingly, Silas spoke of his transformation from being homeless on the streets of Wilmington to a fully engaged member of the community he is today. Amusingly, Lisa mentioned the person who had invited her to church recently saying, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. All I did was invite you to church!” It became abundantly clear that by a simple invitation we, too, can change lives, and spread the Good News.
In breakout groups by church, participants discussed ideas and made suggestions for putting the Invite techniques to work. The afternoon session focused upon Welcome and Connect. Fortified by a plentiful lunch, participants from each church again had the opportunity to brainstorm ideas for welcoming and connecting in their parish.
The day culminated in a fiery talk by Brown as he exhorted us, “There is nothing wrong with wanting the church to grow! We need to own it, and the church should grow! We are called upon to proclaim the glory of Christ who died for each and every one of us.” Brown thanked everyone for being a part of the conference and said there was a special place in heaven for those who’d given up watching a football game to be there! But he emphasized that this is important work, and we can all play some part in transforming the world and in changing lives. A simple invitation can transform a life.
At the annual convention in January this past year, each church was given $250 in seed money, a grant to finance some an IWC project. He asked each church to write approximately 100 words about their resultant IWC efforts and send it to Toni Snow at the mission support office. The uplifting day finished with cheerful voices singing, “Tell out, my soul” and, encouraged and excited, we all went out into the world to do God’s work – Invite Welcome Connect!