At the 2019 NEXT Church conference, Pastor Heidi Husted Armstrong introduced her audience to the Latin phrase solvitar ambulando, which means, “it is solved by walking.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this refers to something that can be solved by practical demonstration. An example: Diogenes responding to the claim that motion was unreal by getting up and walking.
Pastor Heidi used the phrase to talk about the work of transitional ministry. What I heard her describe was how she was frequently put in situations in which she didn’t have an easy answer or solution. The only way to respond was to take a next step — to experiment, to try new things, to start on the path, even if the destination wasn’t clear. This Latin phrase has stayed with me since the conference, offering insight for a variety of issues.
I think back, for example, to a season of chronic sickness. I kept looking for silver bullets, for solutions that would magically heal me or at least provide me with immediate progress. But I didn’t heal overnight. All the silver bullets failed me. In fact, some solutions made me sicker. Instead, healing came about through consistent acts of self-care over a matter of many months. Diet and exercise, acupuncture, centering prayer and the right medications did not provide me with immediate relief, but they did lead to my healing over time. I had to start walking the road of self-care to reach an eventual solution. I took step after step down the path, even though I did not make the quick progress I wanted to make. Without quick progress, I had no guarantee early on that these solutions would work. But slowly and steadily, they did.
I also think of the changing nature of the pastoral vocation in the United States. Tod Bolsinger, in his book, “Canoeing the Mountains,” makes the case for church leaders to build adaptive capacity. Adaptative leadership is adventurous, willing to take groups into unknown landscapes with a spirit of discovery. Solvitur ambulando is an apt phrase for this type of leadership. To adapt, one must risk trying new things, even if those new things are not guaranteed “wins.”
Bolsinger encourages a process for change that involves observations, interpretations and interventions. Interventions should be small and playful at first, but hint at bigger changes coming down the road. The interventions are always rooted in careful observation and analysis of facts. Even if we don’t know for certain where we are going, we know where we’ve been.
And we know the place to which we ultimately want to get. Some people call it the love of God or salvation. I prefer to talk about the Kingdom of God. We are all traveling toward the day when God will reign fully, on earth as it is in heaven. We demonstrate and proclaim that Kingdom — but our methods of demonstration and proclamation change over time. The gospel does not change, but our ways of being the church change as we adapt to a changing cultural environment. And the best way to do that in a time of rapid change is to simply start walking, to try new things and see where they take us. Solvitur ambulando.
RACHEL YOUNG is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, in Houston, Texas. She is married to Josh, who also serves on staff at Clear Lake Presbyterian as the director of contemporary worship and media.