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Day 98: Princeton Gratitude...Kind of...

I don’t know if this fits neatly into Princeton Gratitudes, but it’s an appreciation impossible without Princeton. Let us be thankful for difficult, even paradoxical things.

I was in a celebratory meeting on United’s campus a couple months ago, enjoying table fellowship with mostly staff. We moved to the chapel seating for the various presentations and celebrations to be spoken, one of which was me! We’d successfully soared through an HLC accreditation visit for which I had served as a co-chair of a Criterion (argument, documentation, presentation, etc.). The team for the next round, ATS, was being announced. Then, as has become community tradition, the President, Kent, got up to speak to the various initiatives and development work in which he and our VP of Development, Callie, had been engaged.

When Callie got up to speak her various celebrations—of which we have been recently blessed with many, in her/their giftedness—she also spoke from the heart, leading us in prayer. Tears streamed down my cheeks by the time she finished. I was stunned, touched, transported even… In my nearly thirty years involved in theological education, I’d never heard anything like it. A paraphrase, from (an assuredly faulty) memory:

“God has been so very gracious to us here at United. We celebrate and give praise in all glory to God. Now we face new challenges for which we should be in prayer together. It’s so easy when gifts arrive to forget to depend wholly on God, that everything we receive is from God. So let us pray together to remember, to continue to depend wholly on the Lord, to surrender all we are to His purposes, His leadings alone.” I have no idea what words she used in the prayer itself. Tears flowed…

Maybe it’s a Methodist thing, or even an Evangelical Methodist thing, when I come from heady, egghead Presbyterians. Maybe it’s a freestanding seminary thing, when I was trained in an establishment seminary, “the flagship of the PCUSA,” with an extraordinary endowment and culture of entitlement.

I have heard development officers speak the centrality of God in their work, but often it feels like a plausible formality while networking, gladhanding, and doing the “lady of the night” work required for school philanthropy and development (nod to bemusing words of Fran Scoble, retired Head of School from Westridge School, Pasadena CA). Maybe it’s because my own sacred journey dances so fully now with the mysteries of surrender in ways impossible to will, to consciously choose. Possible only in community, in this case, prayer.

The wave of gratitude I feel even now is huge—to have been there for this moment, to have received such a crucial teaching for theological educators. It would not have been as intense if Princeton’s hierarchies and entitlement-culture were not present within me, with such ambivalence and sadness. Maybe it’s simply gratitude to be at United, facing the sacred work before me there, away from establishment seminaries whose rhetoric rarely touches my soul in this way.


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