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