Unlikely Stories

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

For some, it is the loss of salad bars.  As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

A casualty of the pandemic, the days of the salad bar are gone for the foreseeable future.

…[T]o devotees, the banishment of buffet bars signifies the closing of a cherished chapter in childhood memories. Salad bars, mirages of healthful eating, provided free choice for kids. Affection for the set-up often carried into adulthood. 

“Salad bars are fantastic because the combinations are limitless. You can go through like 30 ingredients and not eat the same salad twice for years,” said Steve Hughes, a 35-year-old structural engineer. He calls them “one of the most delightful epicurean experiences I for one have ever had.”

Who knew salad bars would become the locus of some people’s sense of loss, in the midst of this year of multiple crises and dislocations?


Several accounts have detailed the difficult transition from silent films to “talkies” almost a century ago.  The growing pains were obvious in the moment, and skeptics of the transition were legion—in ways that seem quaint through the lens of hindsight.

What could not have been predicted – at least entirely – was where sound in film would get its traction.  Most of us could guess that musicals would lead the way.  But the other path-breaking genre?  Gangster films.  As one report describes:

The transition to sound was carried on the backs of two genres, the gangster film and the musical. Gangster films were already in vogue, thanks to the success of Josef von Sternberg’s “Underworld” (1927), but they flourished when sound introduced the sensational elements of chattering machine guns, screaming tires and, most important, the varied timbres of contemporary American speech, bursting with vivid idioms (“Aw, go slip on the ice!”) and filtered through every accent known to (humans).

Chattering machine guns, screaming tires…and speech bursting with vivid idioms.  Who could have guessed this would be the path to the acceptance of sound in movies?


In an almost-impossible-to-predict response to the pandemic, some airlines have begun selling tickets – and selling out – for seats on “flights to nowhere.”  Last week, one news article noted:

Qantas announced a flight to nowhere over Australia. That flight sold out in 10 minutes.  “So many of our frequent fliers are used to being on a plane every other week and have been telling us they miss the experience of flying as much as the destinations themselves,” Alan Joyce, the chief executive of Qantas Airlines, said in a statement this week, when that airline announced its seven-hour flight in October that would depart and land in Sydney.

Tickets for that flight ranged in price from $575 to $2,765. It will take travelers around Australia and land in Sydney a few hours after it took off from that same airport.

Nostalgia for salad bars.

Gangster films – and their noisiness – that ushered sound into movies.

Flights to nowhere.

None of these stories could have been guessed before they happened.

For church boards, the wisdom we share is this:  you are working so hard, so faithfully on getting your church back to “where it was” (or something close).  In-person worship, the way people can safely greet one another, creative approaches to adult education and youth groups – these are all well-intentioned efforts to be the church and offer what churches offer.  The thing is, that is only half of the story.  The other half is:  What will people want coming out of this crisis?  What will they have missed most?  What will they have discovered and want to keep enjoying? Will they prioritize the same things they did last October?  The painful answer:  We don’t know.  None of us know.

The last several months have been arduous in every way for congregations and their leaders.  And the next several months are going to take resilience, careful listening and sensitive discernment to forge a way forward that connects what churches can offer with what people want and need.  It may – or may not – look like that what we counted on before.  We don’t know.

If we are not careful, church boards will plan “flights to nowhere.”  Same plane, same pilots, same amenities, same in-flight service, but it ends up getting us nowhere.

One of the best mission statements for a church board right now is:  we’re not sure, but we are listening. And above all, we are listening for unlikely stories.



Thinking specifically about the people you are seeking to serve and lead:


  • What is the “salad bar” they are missing and longing for, unexpectedly?


  • What is the “flight to nowhere” they will pay an outrageous amount for that won’t get them anywhere?


  • What is the “gangster film” experience that may be changing the way they want to worship or gather?
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