Washing Windows: A Message from District Lay Leader and Coeur Team Chair, John Townsend."

I got to wash windows. I know, the phrase “I don’t do windows” has been around for a long time. It’s even part of song lyrics.

But I got to do windows. And that was a big deal. The relatively small town where my family lived had one gas station when we moved there. Burk’s Sinclair was owned by the Burk brothers, John and Morry. A few years later, Art Tidwell opened a Texaco station. My parents split their business between the two stations, as I imagine most of the town did. I had worked at both by the time I graduated from high school.

My first paycheck came from Art Tidwell. I had hung around the Texaco station so much as a pre-teen that the older guys who worked there put me to work. I claim it was my second job – my first being an entrepreneurial independent contractor. In other words, I had a newspaper route. For the morning paper. And that’s why I hung around the Texaco station. Keeping my Schwinn bicycle in top condition. So, the older guys figured if I was going to hang around, I might as well be put to work.

Back then, you didn’t pump your own gas. Rather, you pulled into the service station, where you were immediately surrounded by people providing service. One fellow came up to your window and asked, “Fill it up with Ethyl?’ while another opened the hood of the car and checked the oil. Yet another started checking the tire pressure. And the fourth guy (yes, they were all “guys”) washed the windows.

Washing the windows was an important part of the service. And the part that could turn an otherwise satisfied customer into an unhappy one. Checking the tire pressure and adding air if needed was easy. Checking the oil (and other fluids as those came into being) wasn’t hard. Pumping the gas required some skill, as there were no auto-shutoff nozzles. You had to listen carefully for the sound of the tank filling up.
But streak the windows? That was something you did not want to do. Washing windows was not the first job they gave you. When you got to do that, it meant they trusted you to do a good job. At least to my pre-teen mind, that is what being assigned to wash the windows meant. The guys, all older than me by several years, trusted me to get it right. To get the windows clean and not streak them in the process.

That memory came back to me several times during Annual Conference. In Bishop Bridgeforth’s opening worship service sermon, he spoke about “mirror talk” and “window work”. (If you have not heard Bishops Bridgeforth’s Annual Conference sermons, you owe it to yourself to do so. Especially his sermon to our Annual Conference about Lay Ministry Enhancement.) It occurred to me, as I initially listened to that sermon, and as I have listened to it again, that doing good “window work” requires that we wash our windows.

Back when I got to wash windows for customers of Art Tidwell’s Texaco station, most cars did not have a window washer feature, even though they had been an option for General Motors since 1946, with Chrysler and Ford introducing them a few years later. Why pay for that option when someone was going to wash the windows every time you got gasoline?

If you have ever driven with dirty windows or hurriedly washed the windows while you filled up at your favorite self-service station and driven off with not really clean or streaked windows, you know how important clean windows are.

If you have ever lived in a house with a “lot of glass” designed to bring the outside in, you know the remarkable difference when the windows have been cleaned. We don’t see the dirt on the windows; it just accumulates. We don’t intentionally streak the windows; it just happens. But either way, it dims our vision. It interferes with the clarity we need to be safe or reduces the connection of the inside to the outside – which is why there is a lot of glass in the first place.

Our ability to love our neighbor, to go and do likewise, is like that too. Doing our window work is impeded when those windows are streaked or have become slowly dirty. Analogous to the boiling frog metaphor, we collect dust on the windows incrementally, so we don’t notice it. Or our windows have been streaked so long we think it’s textured glass (must be Tiffany!)
Doing our window work will be much easier when our windows are clean and un-streaked. But washing the windows will take work:

  • getting rid of years of “we’ve always done it this way”,
  • realizing that, guess what, having compassion and caring for the congregation is not a task limited to the pastor,
  • seeing a need in the community (or in the church) and acting to address it without forming a committee to study it,
  • coming to the realization and acceptance that “all music was new once”, even those favorite old hymns – so maybe there is something to this new “praise” music,
  • letting go of a ministry that has run its course and putting our shoulders to the wheel of the non-profit that does whatever that ministry is way better than we ever did it anyway.
The list can go on. But you get the point. If we are going to do “window work”, we’ve got to wash the windows. Washing the windows was an important part of providing service to those customers at both Burk’s Sinclair and Tidwell’s Texaco in my hometown. Washing windows is an important part of our ability to do the window work of going and doing likewise.

There isn’t a lot of room for “I don’t do windows” if we want the church to be relevant. It’s time to quit the “mirror talk” and start washing, to be accepting of opening ourselves up to listening for what God is calling us to be and to do. Then getting it done.
Reportedly, there was a late 1960’s advertisement with the line, “I don’t do windows.” Which was followed by “But Windex does.” *
Be the Windex.
John Townsend
Inland Missional District Lay Leader
P.S., If you have not seen and listened to Bishop Bridgeforth’s “M.I.L.E. Annual Conference sermons, you can find them at:
*Windex is a registered trademark of SC Johnson & Son, Inc.
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