Day 48: Conspiracy of Gratitude, Part Deux
That conspiracy of gratitude with Tom Gillespie as president of Princeton Seminary seeded a fascinating on-again-off-again companionship, which ultimately Spirit wove into significant moments I can trace in me today.
The morning after my dissertation defense—spring 2001—President Gillespie walked into the Center of Continuing Education where I served as a low-level administrator, the then part-time Program Director for Congregational Life. He asked for me at the front desk, which I heard because I was behind him getting coffee from the lower-level. He did not have an appointment, per se, but neither did he need one.
The cognitive dissonance here may be hard to appreciate. Gillespie was a builder, fund-raiser, which meant his gifts served the Seminary well. It also meant every one of us knew where we stood in the architecture of “community.” Rarely did Gillespie say a welcome “from all of us here at Princeton Seminary.” No, it was a formal greeting from the Board of Trustees, the Faculty, Administrators, Staff and Students of Princeton Seminary. Those of us who ‘crossed categories’ like I did felt the impertinence of crossing them. When he asked to come to my office…?!!? We walked in, me not knowing what in the world the President would come to see me for.
I was delighted. The Tom in this President had hidden a really good bottle of Scotch underneath his coat. He was returning the gift of gratitude to me as a newly minted PhD, old-boy style.
Years later, this connection meant that when I was outraged at a decision he and the Dean at the Center of Con Ed made, my fierceness made a decision no low-level administrator would have ever considered making. The Dean gave me the news that a big project we’d worked on for months was simply not going to be signed by the President. Furious, and I’d like to think in an act of prayer (???), I marched across campus to sit on the President’s couch until he would see me.
To his credit, he did see me; to my credit, I outwaited his sense of decorum and resistance. We renegotiated for a smaller-size proposal, and I returned to my office to work through the night, rewriting. A couple months later, we were awarded the grant! Great news, if unwelcomed by the Dean. In my impassioned advocacy for pastors (within my job responsibilities), I had yet politically “signed my exit papers” too. It was time for me to go anyway, having outgrown the space "allowed" me from "above."
I’m thankful my connections with President Tom, I’ll call him, shaped my life in navigating Spirit’s callings. A successful Lilly Endowment proposal can help you get a faculty job, for instance. But closer to home, Spirit opened a doorway for Tom to simply be human with me, in addition to our formal roles.
That has surely shaped how I now intuit the potential/struggles for white men in theological education today (whether student, staff, administrator, faculty or president).