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What Restaurant Waiters Can Teach Leaders: Toward a Vision for The Falls Church Episcopal



(If you're reading this from being re-directed from the Falls Church electronic newsletter and want to jump directly to the continuation of the article, just scroll down to the waiter illustration.) 

Last Sunday, we heard about the miracle of Jesus’ turning water into wine at a wedding feast.

These weeks we’re also hearing a lot from Paul about what it means for us to be a part of – a member of – a church, the body of Christ.


And with last week being the Annual Meeting of the Falls Church Episcopal – the first such meeting back home – I want to share here some of the vision for the Falls Church Episcopal that I shared Sunday in my sermon and at the annual meeting.


I started my sermon not so much on a serious theological note but by wondering aloud if Episcopalians – not known for opposing the use of alcohol, as opposed to Christians in some other denominations – are more inclined to be fond of the fact that Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John is changing water into wine!


And not just a little wine: the amount described, if you do the math, is changing lots of water into lots of wine. Those water-now-wine jars held, all total, at least 150 gallons…so Jesus created the modern equivalent of over 750 bottles, or 64 cases of wine.


That’s a lot of wine.


And not just any wine: we’re told (in what’s a good example of humor in the Bible) that when the steward tasted the wine, he calls the bridegroom over and says, “everyone serves the good wine first, and then after people get drunk [and can’t tell the difference,] they bring out the cheap stuff – but wow, you’ve kept the good wine until now!”


Well, keeping in mind that Jesus was God incarnate, I don’t think it’s reading too much into this story to conclude that God’s desire for us in this life is not just survival and mediocrity, but abundance and excellence.


Or to put that more accurately, theologically speaking: when we put matters in God’s hands, we go from a shortage/mediocrity mentality to an abundance/excellence mentality.


Which leads me to how I believe God is at work here at the Falls Church Episcopal.


As you all well know – just pick up the paper or turn on the t.v. – we live in an era of polarization, division, and distraction.


This is true not just in the world of politics, but so often in the church as well.


I think the antidote to polarization, division, and distraction is to have a compelling vision, something big and unifying that we’re all focused on.


One of the very first things I did with the vestry when I started in September is shared my “what restaurant waiters can teach leaders” story.



Ever watch an experienced waiter carry a hot cup of coffee?



The way you carry a hot cup of coffee without sloshing it all over yourself is to focus NOT on what you’re carrying, but on where you are going.


Waiters know that if you look at what you’re carrying, you’ll slow down, over-correct, and still end up spilling what you’re carrying…but if you look at the horizon, where you’re headed, you can walk as fast as you want, your hand will automatically make the minor adjustments necessary, and you won’t spill a drop.




There are a lot of hot button issues and things that we as a church need to carry. They can create polarization, turmoil or distraction. They can polarize or threaten to divide us, or at least distract us from our mission to be “a welcoming group of believers whose message is trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ, love for one another, and service to the community” – and those of you who have been members of this church for the past several decades know this all too well. 


I’m betting my Rectorship – my entire ministry here – on the fact that people find a vision like ours – love of God and love of neighbor – to be compelling and attractive, and that if we spend the time necessary to flesh out our vision into tangible three-to-five year goals that are revisited periodically – if we keep our eye on where we’re going – then we can carry, without burning anyone or slowing us down, all the hot divisive polarizing things we need to carry, and we can be a place of both diversity and unity, variety and sameness-of-Spirit.


I'm not making this stuff up; it's not some recent innovation: Paul, in today’s epistle (1 Corinthians) talks about “variety AND sameness.”


There are varieties of gifts, Paul says, but the same spirit. There are varieties of services, but the same Lord. There varieties of activities, things that go on in a church, but the same God who is behind them, activating them, all.


In other words, Paul is reminding us that “variety” and “sameness” are not contradictory.


That means that diversity and unity are not in conflict with one another.


As Paul reminds us, the Body of Christ, like our physical bodies – is diverse. There is diversity of function, diversity of appearance, diversity of importance – all built in.


And yet there is unity. NOT uniformity of opinion or function but unity…God creates the unity by knitting together all the diverse functions:


Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. … Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.


On Sunday, I also shared again a quote from the author John Eldredge where he asks,


If you had permission to do what you really wanted to do, what would you do?


Don’t ask how – “how” cuts desire off at the knees. 


In the beginning of asking yourself what you want to do, asking how you’re going to do it is faithlessness. “How” is God’s department. He is asking you WHAT.


What is written in your heart?


What makes you come alive?


If you could do what you’ve always wanted to do, what would it be? (A clue: those times you found yourself loving what you were doing.)

                            -John Eldredge, Wild at Heart


The reason I like that quote is that too often churches tend to be only need based – going out and telling you what the needs of the church or community are, and trying to recruit more volunteers or money to meet those needs. But there’s another approach that I think is far more biblical and in the long run, far more effective: to ask the questions being asked here:



What makes you come alive?



What’s written in your heart?



If you could do what you’ve always wanted to do, what would it be?



That’s the first question to ask ourselves.



The second question to ask has to do with our vision…what we as vestry and clergy feel God is calling us to be and do, as this specific faith community in the next three to five years.



And so I also shared some preliminary findings, some outcomes from the vestry’s prayer time together.



Our mission is this:

"We are a welcoming group of believers whose message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ, love for one another, and service to the community."  

How does that mission get lived out in a vision? That work is in progress, but so far, these are areas where we've begun to identify where we feel God is calling us to live out our vision. In no particular order:

  • Congregation knows who vestry members are
  • The Falls Church Episcopal (TFCE) shows people/congregation that God is Love
  • Our space is busy and (its use) fruitful
  • We are known for our ministries (including affordable housing, partnering with other churches, education to non-native English speakers, job training, supporting a living wage)
  • The ‘myth of indispensability’ is released
  • TFCE is a place of bright lights, a beacon
  • “less Martha, more Mary,” more learning and less simply going through the motions
  • TFCE brings the unchurched in to nourish, inspire, and change lives
  • TFCE is known as a healing environment, spiritually, emotionally, and physically
  • We put problems in God’s hands – let go, turning to small groups and ministries
  • TFCE is a place to let others lead and show off talents, not always run by the same individuals
  • We are good stewards of our finances and material goods
  • Every person who so desires is part of a ministry, and is ministered to

I invite you, now reading this, to re-read take the quotes from I Corinthians and Eldredge in one hand and the vision prayer work that the vestry has started in the other hand and read them through, and see what, if anything, jumps out at you. See if there is a connection point, an area you find yourself drawn to, or curious about.  



Frederick Buechner has said your calling in life is where your greatest passion and the world’s greatest needs intersect.



The Eldredge quote helps you to discover what your greatest passion is, the crafted prayer exercise is a start at identifying not necessarily the world’s, but this particular church’s greatest needs.



Find that connection point, and let me and/or Rev. Cathy know about it. 



Because with enough people connecting their passions to the church’s needs will result in more and more people in Falls Church and wider to say – just like the steward in today’s story –



“Wow, you have kept the good wine until now!” –



Because in God’s hands, diversity and unity come together, and there is abundance, and excellence.



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