Monday, September 29, 2014

One Alumna's Prayer

I rather unexpectedly spent my afternoon at St. Peter's, Chelsea, at a meeting of the Faculty and Students. At first I wasn't sure I should attend, as I'm neither faculty nor a student, but as an alumna who loves the institution, and after speaking to a faculty member about what was going to happen, I believed that my presence could be helpful in communicating to fellow alums what is going on, at least from the faculty's perspective. I understand that Bishop Mark Sisk is hosting a meeting this evening at GTS, and wish I could be there, but I have a 5 year old who needs me tonight. I hope the events of that meeting will also be public.

I'm glad I went. The official correspondence between the Faculty and the Board were read aloud, and while I cannot say I have a complete sense of what is going on, at least I have a much better sense of it. I know and love and respect many faculty members, while some of them are strangers to me. One faculty member I know, love, and respect is not participating in the groups's actions. I know and love and respect many board members, and some of them are strangers to me. It grieves me that people I know and love and respect are in such conflict with one another.

What I walked away with was this: both the faculty and the board are now in positions that it will be very hard to walk back from. The faculty said that they would be unable to work with the present Dean, and the Board took them at their word and understood that as a resignation. I'm not a lawyer, so can't say whether the exact wording used in the letters constitutes a resignation. To me, it feels like both the faculty and the board have jumped off a cliff, with both believing that the other group pushed them.

Is there some way for someone to take charge and help both sides take a deep breath and climb back onto the cliff? Rowan Williams used the metaphor of Jesus writing in the dust when asked to pass judgment on the woman caught in adultery (John 8:6) as a way to create a breathing space in the midst of tension where people can reflect more deeply, step outside of themselves, and see a situation through another person's eyes.

Are there those among the alumni of General who can write in the dust of this trauma? Are there alumni who will care for the current students' needs? Are there alumni who will invite the community as a whole tomodel the virtues listed on the chapel floor? Humility could mean both sides backing off; Justice is listening to everyone; Love is putting the mission of the seminary (educating students) ahead of the investment in self that each side has made. Prudence, temperance, hope, faith, and the rest are wrapped up in this, too.

Are there alumni who will work to secure:

1) An immediate return to classes and worship by all faculty and students
2) A rescinding of the Board letter "accepting" the faculty members resignations
3) An agreement for the Faculty to comply with the investigation of their allegations by the law firm of the Board's choice
4) An agreement at the October Board meeting, for some sort of special conversation to happen between faculty and board, facilitated by a trusted and neutral party (not sure who this would be… a Bishop alum who is not currently on the Board? Martha Horne? Neil Alexander? The Presiding Bishop?) to allow faculty to be heard by the Board and the Board to be heard by the faculty. A small group at that meeting including all interested parties could be appointed (elected?) to come up with a process to develop and continue a formal process of reconciliation or recommendation.

Certainly alumni can be distracted by things like the change in chapel worship schedule and our own intractable and beloved memories of what GTS was like when we were there, and wanting to return it to our own particular golden era. But I don't see who else can take any action when the Board and Faculty and Dean have reached this point. And we, too, love General and are part of its beloved community.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks, Jennifer - was following your FB posting all day and was helpful to get your perspective. Like you I am grieved because I know and respect people on both sides. As my own son said to me, "Dad, you look sad." I replied, "Some of daddy's friends just fired some of daddy's other friends because of what those friends said." He said: "Huh?" I said, "Exactly."

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  2. Though you don't know me, I am a General alumna who was, like Tom, following your posts all day. Thank you for being there for those of us out here in the dark, hungering for information

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  3. Yeah… tough to know people on both sides and be baffled by how it could get to this point.

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  4. Thank you so much for writing this and for your posts earlier. There are people in the world who specialize in helping organizations through conflict and crisis, and often they come from entirely outside the system. This seems like a time to turn to help that may come from beyond the Episcopal Church. This is clearly a situation of conflict and crisis and would be helped by someone familiar with such systems, whether or not they are Episcopalian.

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  6. Thank you Jennifer. It has been so hard to be so far away and not be able to get an idea of what was happening there at General. It was shocking to first hear of the conflict in a declaration that things had gotten so far out of sync that people could not longer worship together. It is the very thing we fight against daily in the parish life we lead. Your ability to sit in the midst of this as a witness of the great cloud of alums and offer your insights and wisdom is something I greatly appreciate. Thank you so much.

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