Friend of The Falls Church Episcopal,


At this past Sunday’s farewell service and reception, after all the speeches and presentations and the slide show, I was asked if I had anything more to say.


Because I had already said a lot in my farewell sermon (if you missed it, you canlisten to it here or read it here), all I could think to say was, “Anne Lamott writes that the three essential prayers are ‘help, thanks, and wow,’ and that is all I can think of to say right now -- help, thanks, and wow! 


So for this, my last e-news message to you, let me unpack those three things, in reverse order: 


First, WOW. Everything about Sunday wowed me: 


  • Wow, the fantastic turnout (about 400 of you!); 

  • Wow, the combined Children, Gideon’s Trumpet and Historic Church choirs singing so wonderfully; starting us on the right foot with Teresa of Avila’s “Christ has no body on earth but yours”

  • Wow, the group photo (look for that to be shared shortly)

  • Wow, the potluck

  • Wow, Jeanine Bonds and the decoration crew for the wonderful “all crew, no passenger” theme! 

Second, THANKS. My heart is so full. 


  • Thanks, everyone, for braving the torrential rainstorms to attend Sunday’s special combined service 

  • Thanks for your sustained ovation after my sermon -- I’ll admit it’s odd and even awkward to hear applause after preaching, but given the circumstances, I realized what you were doing in applauding was giving thanks to God for our seven years of ministry together, and for that, I am so grateful.

  • Thanks, Elizabeth Bass (your 2013 Senior Warden), for affirming that when it comes to church governance, the “German model” of governance (“that which is not allowed is forbidden”) does not work as well as the “French model” of governance (“that which is not forbidden is allowed!”). And thanks for gifting me back the green light bulbs I’d given to you at my installation as Rector, and in so doing, blessing my going-forth from here;

  • Thanks (and wow!) for the fingerprint prayer-poem done by the children of the church!

  • Thanks, Paul and Mark, for your heartfelt, touching, and affirming speeches;

  • Thanks, Kelly, for the reduce-me-to-sobbing remarks you made. You “get me” better than any colleague I’ve ever worked with. I thank God every day that God arranged for us to minister together these beyond-special years;

  • Thanks, Lauren Breeden, for the touching slide show (and for setting it to one of the wow-i-est songs of all, Sara Bareilles' Brave;

  • Thanks, people of The Falls Church, for the gift of a financial purse -- it is so appreciated as we make this move and settle in to a new home in a new city;

  • Thanks, staff, vestry, other lay leaders, and people of The Falls Church for being both friendly and authentic, both courageous and trusting, both tenacious and patient, both rooted-in-deep-history and forward-thinking-entrepreneural, both pastoral-to-one-another and outward-facing. It takes that kind of both-and thinking to be the dynamic parish you are. 

And third, HELP. The third essential prayer is “help.”


Please help your church grow during the season you’re about to enter, which is the time between my departure Sunday and the arrival of your new Rector.


The first and most important way you can help is by praying, daily, for those in leadership positions during this season: pray for the Interim Rector, for Rev. Kelly and the staff, for your wardens and vestry and other lay leadership, and for the members of the search committee. Help your Interim by extending the same gracious welcome you gave me and you give newcomers. 


A second way you can help your Interim Rector (and in turn the entire faith community of The Falls Church Episcopal), is by avoiding the vice of “comparison” and instead practice the virtue of gratitude. 


“Comparison” robs us of joy. Whether it is comparing your seat in Coach to the seat in Business Class, one church to another church, the (supposed) past to the present, your current self to your former self, or your actual self to some mythical “perfect” self, “comparison” is an insidious vice.


Comparison puts blinders on us, blocking our view of the good things that we DO have NOW. 


So, please, people, if you find yourself falling into the habit of comparison, stop and switch to the opposite habit of gratitude. 


Ever notice how it is nearly impossible to engage in an attitude of comparison and in an attitude of gratitude at the same time? One or the other must give. 


So if you find yourself comparing, ask yourself: “what can I be grateful about NOW, and about what I DO have?” Then dwell -- concentrate, focus -- on that. 


And speaking of gratitude, as I said in my sermon, biblically speaking, love is not so much a feeling as it is a series of concrete, tangible actions. And so a third way you can help during and after the interim period is -- unless you are already giving 10% of your post-tax income back to God in thanksgiving -- by doubling your pledge.


If everyone did that, The Falls Church Episcopal would not only be “in the black” by mid-2020, it would explode in mission, ministry, and outreach possibilities. It would -- y’all would! -- quite literally transform the community and wider world. 


Giving back to God in thanksgiving -- letting go of the false god of wealth by giving more of it away -- is not only good for your church, it is good for your heart, mind, and soul. 


A fourth way to help is by stepping up. If you’re not already involved -- connected to a ministry -- get involved, get connected to one.


Make a point to say to Rev. Kelly, the Interim, any staff member, or any vestry member, “I’m doubling my pledge; how else can I help?


And -- a word of tough love here! -- during the Interim period and beyond, decide to lead, follow, or get out of the way of those who are leading and following. If you cannot (or decide not to) give more financially and/or step up and offer help, then you can help best by considering yourself self-disqualified from uttering or writing a single word of complaint, or even of concern. Please tell yourself what many people wish they could tell you, but no one (expect a departing Rector!) will tell you, which is, “if I am not voluntarily increasing my giving and my involvement, then I am voluntarily forfeiting my ability to verbalize or put in writing any complaint or concern -- it’s my decision.”


Over the next several months and well into 2020, lots of newly energized people will be stepping up and asking how they can help. Be one of them.


FINALLY: You can help -- you must help -- your interim and new Rector, and me, (and yourself!) by moving on and making space.


Part of “moving on and making space” means that while I will always carry you in my heart and in my prayers, now that I am no longer your Rector, I can no longer be your pastor or priest. “Moving on” means that for very good reasons, it is simply not allowed for me to provide any pastoral services (baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.) for you or anyone connected to The Falls Church Episcopal; you and I both need to make space in our hearts and lives for the new pastoral/priest/parishioner relationships we are about to begin.

And “making space” means that while you and I can have friendly conversations about non-church matters (go Nats!; North Carolina-style barbecue really IS the best; no we’re not going to miss DC traffic; how are the kids?), it is the custom/a requirement (again, for very good reasons) for departing Rectors to not have conversations (whether in person, by phone, text, email, etc.) with former parishioners about anything church related. Again: while I will always carry in my heart, and deeply treasure, and pray daily for The Falls Church Episcopal and all associated with it, from tomorrow (October 31st) forward, The Falls Church Episcopal is quite literally none of my business; it is your business, and it is your current and your new leaders’ business...and best of all, it is God’s business! So let go, and let them, and let God! 


Help.


Thanks.


Wow.


It’s been a great ride. 


May the Peace of the Lord be always with you.


John

O God, our help in ages past,

  Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

  And our eternal home:

Under the shadow of Thy throne

  Thy saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is Thine arm alone,

  And our defense is sure.

(Isaac Watts, Hymnal 1982 #680)

Friend of The Falls Church Episcopal,


Today I want to wrap up this three-part “giving thanks” series by giving thanks for seven specific things about the future Falls Church Episcopal. 


  1. for the continuing numeric, spiritual, and financial growth that will happen here over the next few months and years;

  2. to those of you currently sitting on the sidelines who will respond positively to the call (which you may already be sensing) to step up and help out in new ways over the next few months and years;

  3. for the new lessons and growth-in-faith your vestry, lay leadership, and the entire congregation will experience between now and the arrival of your Interim Rector;

  4. for the new insights, spiritual gifts, expectations, work (and-worship and pastoral and preaching) perspectives and styles your Interim Rector will bring;

  5. for the (yet-newer and yet-again different!) new insights, spiritual gifts, expectations, work (and-worship and pastoral and preaching) perspectives and styles your eventual new Rector will bring;

  6. for the new ways this church will be good news to the poor, least, lost, and vulnerable -- while at the same time healing the divides our wider nation is experiencing; and most of all, underneath it all, 

  7. for the bumper-crop growth-in-faith and the other fruits of Holy Spirit you and the entire faith community will experience.*

Thanks be to God for all those things! 


But, you might wonder, how do we give thanks for something that has not yet happened? 


There’s actually a one-word answer to that question: 


Faith


Faith is being assured of what you hope for. Faith is being convicted -- convinced, down deep -- of the existence of something you don’t see. 


So, let me leave you with a question:


what do you hope for, for The Falls Church Episcopal and your role in it? 


What would you like to see in The Falls Church Episcopal’s future, but don’t see yet? 


Faith is being assured of those hopes. 


Faith is being convinced that just because you don’t see those things yet (or at all) doesn’t mean they don’t exist. 


And in fact, faith is being assured that they do, in fact, and will, in fact, exist. (If you don't experience that kind of faith, here are some additional thoughts too long for this article.)


God is the one doing the convincing, and God is the one giving the assurances. 


So glory to God. Glory to God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine! Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. (Ephesians 3:21-22).


See you Sunday (and remember, a combined 10:00 service of leave-taking and farewell, with a potluck brunch to follow).


John


*As outlined in Galatians 5, the fruits of Holy Spirit are the attributes of a person or community who live animated by Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you see those virtues/characteristics in an individual Christian’s life or in the life of The Falls Church (or any other church) they are abiding in Christ/following Jesus. If you see the opposite vices/characteristics (among them, enmities, strife, sexual malfeasance, jealousy, bursts of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness) see the full list here,) then that person or church is living apart from Christ/is not following Jesus, and they (like all of us) need to repent/reverse course/turn back to abiding in Holy Spirit/following Jesus. Seldom are things as simple as that. But there you have it. 

Note from Rev. John: I want to express my gratitude by giving thanks for The Falls Church Episcopal's (recent) past, present, and (near) future. I covered the (recent) past in my message last week (click here if you missed it). Today (below), I cover the present, and next week, I'll give thanks for the future


Friend of The Falls Church Episcopal, 


One of the questions asked as part of the Diocese of Virginia’s extensive “exit interview” questionnaire is “what are the top five strengths of the church?”


Having given that question some thought in preparing last week’s newsletter, I answered the question by writing, “I think ‘charisms’ is a more accurate word than ‘strengths,’ because ‘charisms’ recognizes that these characteristics (like all good things in life) are gifts -- gifts given to us from God the Holy Spirit. And so when I reflect on the top five charisms of this church, I think of:  


  • a sense of wide-open-welcome hospitality and inclusivity;

  • an "outward facing" mentality of service to the wider community;

  • a reverent-yet-not-stuffy/concise-yet-not rushed, worship style;

  • a relevant-yet-not-headline-chasing sense of dedication to social justice, and

  • an "all hands on deck," "all crew, no passengers" sense that each and every one of us is needed to fulfill our church's mission.

If someone were to ask you


“what are the strengths of The Falls Church Episcopal?"


what are the first two or three words (or phrases) that pop in your head? 


I asked that question of a few people. Here are some of their responses: 


“Authentic hospitality and invitation”


“Youth, optimism, and history”


“Rooted in tradition, yet not worshipping traditions”

 

“Rituals, not rules”


“A congregation willing to take risks to resource the recruitment of stellar staff” 


"Love and compassion, people! It’s where it’s at!!!!"


“Courageous”


“Rooted in history without feeling like a museum” 


“Community, welcoming, and fun”


And -- perhaps my favorite --  


“God is love, and where true love is, you will find God there.” 


There’s an expression, “There are two gifts we can give our children: one is roots, and the other is wings.” 


When I give thanks for the present Falls Church Episcopal, I give thanks for all the above, because through those gifts, we are giving ourselves, and our children, both roots and wings: roots of a deep and rich history, and wings to take off in the new directions which God’s holy and life-giving Spirit will take this faith community.  


Thanks be to God! 


See you Sunday, 

John

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