One final Message from the Rev John Ohmer

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)

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