Strangers on a Plane

The setting. Tuesday. I had already been in airports or on the first of two planes for 7 1/2 hours after being on the road for 3 days. This flight was running 90 minutes late because US Air could not get a crew to fly a plane that was sitting on the ground waiting to bring me home. I had 3 more hours to go.

Just as I found my aisle seat, a pleasant, averaging looking man in his sixties informed me he had the window. He took out some papers to work on. I took out my iPod. All I wanted to do was vegetate and be on my way home.  Not sure who started talking. Topic was something polite. Small talk, gag me. Next thing I knew the plane was landing at O’Hare and I had one of my top 10 , if not top 5, plane conversations of all time.

He works for the Lutheran Church, the national organization. Works on development/growth. From what I gathered this means both the personal development and growth of the senior pastors of Lutheran  churches through education and training  as well as growth and development of the church through fund raising. He had 51 people working for him scattered across the U.S. Qualified for this role by once having been a pastor but also running his own business.

We talked about what we do and how we do it. At first he asked questions about my work such as how I built consensus among business leaders, what were the traits of the CEOs I work with and what did I like about my work.

I learned about his passion for helping the senior pastors improve by giving them the skills to be more effective at achieving their mission. He felt strongly that while pastors were usually excellently trained in theology they were missing the basic skills to run an organization. Some of his thoughts:

  • churches too often accept mediocracy rather than strive for excellence
  • many church suffered from a wealth of opportunities to do good things. Leadership lacked priorities, focus and and the willingness to give up some things in order to be great at few things
  • the best churches have senior pastors that involve their lay leaders and strive for excellence
  • there are material differences between Lutheran churches in different regions across the country
  • there is evidence that the heart follows the money rather than money follows the heart (At first this went over my head. What he meant was that while for some, degree charitable giving follows what the person is passionate about, you will become passionate about the cause to which you give your money.)

 With the possible exception of this last point, I found many direct parallels between the world of Church and the world of Business. We went on to discuss family, charitable giving, the value to one’s self of helping others, our parents that had suffered from dementia, raising children to become good people–he has 6 , I but 1. He asked me if I considered myself a man of faith. I am pretty sure that no one had asked me this before on a plane.  There were times the conversation lagged and I thought it was over. A part of me hoped it was over but then one of us would ask a new question and on we went.

As the plane began its decent, he shared two last things. First, he had taken out papers with the intention of pretending to work in order to avoid conversation. He then shared that the last time he did that on a plane he was in a row with 5 black people all obviously family. Being tired he avoided conversation most of the flight.  Finally, in order to not seem prejudiced, he asked what he believed to be an innocuous question of the father next to him. “Are you leaving home or going home.”  The man’s reply was that he had no home. He was a refugee and this was his first day in America after seven years of living in a camp in Africa. My companion then relayed that the conversation just got better and better.

Much the way I felt about mine. I never would have had this gift if my day had gone well to begin with.

About 48facets
What you read is what you get.

2 Responses to Strangers on a Plane

  1. Frank Roche says:

    That is a beautiful story. You never know…everyone has a story to tell…this was a beautiful one. I’m glad you talked to him. That conversation has repercussions to those of us you shared this story with. NIce.

  2. 48facets says:

    thanks Frank. There was so much more depth to the conversation than I could convey. I never did ask his name. I thought about it as we were leaving but I felt it was more poetic to not. It just never came up.

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