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Friend of The Falls Church Episcopal, As I wind down my ministry here with you -- with November 1 being my last day as your Rector, and Sunday, Oct. 27th being our last Sunday together (click here if you missed my original announcement and here if you missed the follow up letter from your wardens) -- I thought I'd use the last three or four of these weekly e-new's to express my gratitude, by giving thanks. I know the expression "I want to express my gratitude by giving thanks" is a bit wordy. But I use it on purpose, because there's a huge difference between "feeling grateful" and "giving thanks."  (And guess what, there's no better Bible story for making the distinction between "feelings of gratitude" and "actions of thanksgiving" than the Gospel story assigned for this upcoming Sunday, that of Jesus curing ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). In that passage, Jesus cures ten lepers of their disease, but only one returns to actually give thanks!) So, starting with this e-news, and continuing over the next two, I want to express my gratitude by giving thanks for The Falls Church Episcopal's (recent) past, present, and (near) future. I'll cover the past in my message below, today. Next week, I'll cover the present, and the future, the week after that. 


Giving thanks for our (recent) past: a message from Rev. John

Thank you, as an important part of our recent past, to the people of the so-called "continuing congregation." This is the group of folks who, at the time of this church's split in 2006, decided to remain in The Episcopal Church and keep The Falls Church Episcopal going. (For those of you unfamiliar with that chapter in this church's history, at risk of over-simplifying a complex history, here's a one-sentence summary: In 2006, the vast majority of Falls Church Episcopal parishioners (over a thousand of them) choose to break away from the wider Episcopal Church, largely in opposition to the wider Episcopal Church's stance to include open gays and lesbians in all aspects of church life, including becoming bishops -- while also voting to attempt to hold onto the Historic Falls Church Episcopal (and the rest of the campus and other resources) as their own, while a much smaller group voted to remain...and a yet-smaller group of those voting to stay Episcopalian decided to keep gathering and worshipping as The Falls Church Episcopal, first at the home of Bill and Robin Fetsch, and then, from 2006 to 2012 (while the litigation over ownership went on), as guests at The Falls Church Presbyterian. It's not an overstatement to say that if it were not for the faithful, prayerful witness and tenacity of that continuing congregation -- led by many folks, but at whose nucleus were folks like the Hudsons, Goodrich's and Fetsch's -- and supported by area churches such as St. Mary's Episcopal, and backed by the Diocese of Virginia -- there would not be a Falls Church Episcopal today. It was that relatively small group of Episcopalians (80 to 100 on a Sunday, led by the Rev's Michael Pipken and then Cathy Tibbetts) who had just gotten their property back in 2012 who called me to be their new Rector. I'm forever grateful. There are many special characteristics ("charisms" is a more accurate word) of The Falls Church Episcopal. I'll say more about them next week when I reflect on the "present" Falls Church Episcopal, but among them are

  • 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.

But here's the thing: as much as some well-meaning people sometimes try to give me credit for some of these characteristics or charisms, ALL these characteristics or charisms are -- each and every good thing about The Falls Church Episcopal is --inherited. They are gifts passed down to us, the current generation of The Falls Church Episcopal, from the "continuing congregation." (They, the members of that continuing congregation, would in turn be the first to acknowledge that they were only standing on the shoulders of those who had come before, because this faith community traces its roots not only all the way back to pre-Revolutionary years on this site, but to the Protestant Reformation in England and beyond, and for that matter, all the way back to the Book of Acts (and of course even before that to the original failed, flawed, faithful twelve apprentices of Jesus). Thanks be to God for the faithful in this and every generation, who put, sometimes at great cost and risk, the first and greatest commandment -- to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves -- above all else. Next week: giving thanks for the present. Faithfully yours, John

Friend of The Falls Church Episcopal,

All Sundays are special, but this Sunday in our faith community is extra-special. 

First, this Sunday morning at both services, we inaugurate our “singspiration” initiative to strengthen congregational singing. 

With thanks to those of you already coming early, everyone please make a special point to come at least five minutes early (8:55 or 11:10) this Sunday October 6, because as we’ve shared in last week’s e-news (click here if you missed that announcement or see below), our own Scott Tucker will review some hymns before the service begins, to get you more comfortable and confident with singing out. There will also be more singing a cappella -- without instrumental accompaniment -- so you can get a sense of what your voice is capable of producing when united with others’ voices. 

Singspirtation” is one of several ways we are following up and delivering on this summer’s wider initiative of a renewed emphasis on all three aspects of a vibrant Ministry of Music: excellence in choral music, excellence in organ music, and robust congregational singing. (If you missed our earlier communications about our Ministry of Music, you can read our July communication which contained a detailed summary of our summertime congregational Listening Sessions here, and you can read our August communication summarizing the entire summer’s discernment process here.)

The second way this Sunday is special is that at 5:00 pm, we’re holding our annual Blessing of the Animals service.

This event is a not only a fun time to bring your dog, cat, or other pet to church, but is a great opportunity to share your excitement about your church by inviting a few neighbors or work colleagues (and their pets) to church as well.

The service is outdoors, near the front steps of the Historic Church.

Come early--the always-popular “Squeals on Wheels” petting zoo will be set up at 4:30. Vials of blessed water with take-home blessing cards will be available for those who cannot or prefer not to bring their pets out in public.New this year: this service is also a time when those who are grieving the loss of a beloved pet can bring a photo or other remembrance to Rev. Kelly or Rev. John and receive a quiet blessing and prayer of thanksgiving for the pet's life.

See you Sunday!

Dear Friend of The Falls Church Episcopal,

I only ran two seasons of track -- my senior year in high school and my freshman year in college. I was never very fast, and certainly never anything close to a track star. 

But one “life lesson” truth of running in a relay race has stuck with me, and that’s this: 

The ideal time for a runner who is finishing one leg of a relay race to hand off the baton to the next runner is when he or she is at, or near, full speed. 

I’ll leave it to others to judge if I am at, or already past “full speed” in my Rectorship here at The Falls Church Episcopal, but I have discerned that the time has come for me to hand off leadership to your next leader, whomever he or she may be, and respond positively to a call to a new and different race myself. 

And so I write to you today to announce that I have accepted a call to become the Interim Dean of The Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, North Carolina. My last day here as your Rector will be November 1st. Our last Sunday together will be Sunday, October 27th, and my first Sunday at All Souls Cathedral will be in mid-November, after Mary and I move to Asheville. 

This letter is not goodbye, but it does start the last chapter of our ministry together, which is one of teaching each other how to say a “good goodbye.” 

With the guidance of the Diocese of Virginia, and under the leadership of your wardens and vestry, we will spend our last five weeks together celebrating what we have, by the Grace of God, accomplished together since 2012. We’ll make a point to grieve and give thanks together. 

I love this faith community: I love our staff, I love your vestry and other lay leadership; I love you.

I believe that by the Grace of God, three seemingly contradictory things can be true at the same time: One, that I was exactly the right person to be the Rector of The Falls Church Episcopal in the 2012 to 2019 time frame; Two, that God is now calling me to a new and different ministry with and among the people of All Souls, and Three, that God is already stirring up a sense of call in a gifted priest -- exactly the right person -- to be your next Rector of The Falls Church Episcopal. 

Again, this is not the last you’ll be hearing from me, or about this transition! There will be more later -- beginning tomorrow (Friday) with a written communication from your wardens. We’ll begin Sunday morning’s Adult Forum with a Q&A session with me, Rev. Kelly, and the wardens. And in November and onward, you’ll hear more from the gifted and faithful folks at the Diocese who are charged with steering congregations through transitions. 

But for now, please know that this decision has been arrived at through prayer, and is a step taken in faith: faith in you, faith in your leadership, and most of all, faith in the Living Son of the Living God: Jesus, the Christ, alive and active in the world today. 

You’ve heard me say it many, many times, and you’ll hear me say it more, every chance I get: “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 3:20-21)

With love,

Faithfully yours,

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