Saturday, April 24, 2010

Our “Welcoming” Congregation

Only with great effort have I restrained myself from writing about St. Paul’s’ now ubiquitous tag line, “The most welcoming congregation in the South Hills for all generations.” This slogan seems to show up on every document produced by the church. When Lionel Deimel’s Web Log was my only personal blog, I was reluctant to write a candid post about the catchphrase for fear of causing embarrassment to my parish before an audience primarily of non-parishioners. St. Paul’s’ Epistle is hardly a private blog, but the case for reticence is not so compelling here.

While straightening up my desk today, I came upon my copy of April’s issue of The Messenger, in which Lou discusses how parishioners can be personally welcoming at church. (He offers good advice, by the way, and I told him so when he presented this material at one of the Wednesday evening gatherings.) Lou’s opening sentence in his letter reminded me that I had yet to gird my loins for the challenge of writing about about the slogan: “Our Vision is for St. Paul’s to be the most welcoming congregation in the South Hills for all generations.”

My first public effort to convince parishioners that there was something wrong with our slogan was, to say the least, ineffectual. Here is what I said at January’s annual meeting:
Besides being somewhat ambiguous, our new, ubiquitous slogan is neither true, nor likely ever to be true, nor, I suspect, an aspiration of most parishioners. Although we have been told it represents an aspiration, the tag line is stated as an assertion. It is arrogant, superficial, disrespectful of other churches in the area, and, frankly, an embarrassment. I believe strongly that we should scrap it.
My opinion has not changed in the ensuing three months, though the distaste I have for the slogan has probably intensified. There is little more I need to say now, and I invite comments, positive or negative, on our use of the tag line. I would like briefly to clarify two points, however.

More than once, I have been told that the slogan is a vision toward which we, as a congregation, are working; it represents a goal, not an accomplishment. This is essentially what Lou is saying when he writes of “Our Vision.” (I don’t know why that phrase should be capitalized.) Such an understanding may satisfy parishioners to whom the distinction has been explained, but the visitor to the recent Duruflé concert who encountered the slogan on the cover of the program likely concluded that our congregation has already arrived at its goal. Actually, the visitor probably surmised that we think we have arrived.

Finally, I wanted to explain my remark about the tag line’s ambiguity. My assumption is that the intended interpretation is that our congregation welcomes people in every age cohort better than any other congregation in the South Hills welcomes those same people. The slogan could be interpreted as meaning that we are the most welcoming congregation in the South Hills now and for all future times. Were the slogan to be recast using the proper idiom to remove ambiguity, it would become

The most welcoming congregation in the South Hills to all generations.

Perhaps in another post I will suggest ways of correcting the more fundamental deficiencies I see here.

New slogan

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I believe the dual interpretation is intended.