Impressions from a New Member of the Board of Trustees

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The Rev. Dr. Molly Dale Smith

Member, Board of Trustees of The General Theological Seminary

On October 22, 2015, I arrived at the campus of The General Theological Seminary at 8:30 in the morning to attend my first meeting of the Board of Trustees. I have been asked to give my impressions, as a brand-new Board member.

Hospitality: Each person, from Board members to faculty to staff to students, was warm and welcoming. The true hospitality and the generous spirits I encountered made for a great beginning to my new relationship with the Seminary.

Truth Telling: Honesty and humility prevailed throughout. I met a Board that was ready to move forward, yet was not dismissive of the pain of the past months. Consistently I heard the message, we must be transparent. We must move forward using what we have learned. How can we reach out to alumni? How can we support students? And, how can we be realistic about the work of a 21st century seminary?

Community of Learners: This Board is engaged in active learning and formation. Two large blocks of time were spent in small group work. Richard Blackburn of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center reminded us of key principles that are operative when dealing with differences. Working in small groups, the Board continued the discussion of these concepts. On the second meeting day, Board Members, the Rev. Ellen Tillotson and the Rev. Michael Bird led the Board in an experience of “integrated curriculum.” Both exercises gave us Board members an opportunity to examine informally topics that are important to the ongoing life of the Seminary.

Spiritually Centered: Each work day began with Bible Study. Canon Constance White invited us to see how the day’s gospel intersected with the work of the Board. The lessons from the proper for St. James of Jerusalem inspired Bruce Garner to ask us to consider the topic “irksome restrictions” in personal life of the seminary and in congregations. In addition, Holy Eucharist each morning, with sermons on Thursday by the Rev. Elizabeth Geitz and on Friday by the Rev. Dr. Michael Battle, as well as Evensong on Thursday night, helped us live out the reality that worship is at the center of life on the Close. Both sermons provided spiritual grounding to the work of the Board.

Vision Focused: A clear vision of mission directs the work of this Board. The Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle named the three key guiding principles—financial sustainability, missional sustainability, and cultural sustainability—to help the Board maintain a clear vision of its mission. Dean Dunkle then described four pillars, which will be key in implementing the guiding principles. The Board supported the Dean’s goals and plans to accomplish these goals.

Business of the Seminary: The regular business of the Board was covered. New faculty and staff were introduced. Presentations by staff and student leaders kept the Board informed of the current state of the Seminary. Careful thought was given to the many aspects of the Seminary: finances, physical plant, as well as the various members of the General community.

October 22 and 23 were two long days, but they were also exciting and thought-provoking. I met people who are dedicated to the church and to the mission and ministry of The General Theological Seminary. This Board, as well as the entire General Seminary community, has experienced pain in the events of the past year. The Board I met this past week is ready to move forward. They are not denying or minimizing the pain of the past months; rather they claim the hope that God promises to all.