It was "Visiting Days 1981". I don't think they have them anymore. Visiting days, I mean.
I was keenly aware that my bishop was adamantly opposed to my attending EDS. Indeed, he had voted against the ordination of women and I was the third woman he had allowed to go through the process in the diocese. I would be the fifth and last woman he ordained before he retired.
He wanted me to attend General Theological Seminary, AKA "The Seminary" (a title for which GTS vied with VTS, Virginia Theological Seminary), AKA, "The General" where he (and, at one time, his wife, I seem to remember) was on the Board of Trustees.
He said to me, and I repeat, "You will have enough difficulty having credibility in the church as a woman. You need to make certain that your academic credentials are impeccable."
If that had been true, I would have applied to Harvard.
Anyway . . ..
There was this minor problem with GTS. When I called to make reservations for Visiting Days, I asked about housing. Specifically, I asked, were they able to accommodate my family of two women and six children?
I heard a soft but unmistakable gasp at the other end of the line. And then, a muffled cough. And then, the throat cleared and said, "Well, that would present . . . some . . . . difficulty . . . because, you see, we . . . prefer . . . actually . . . it's very, very important . . . very important . . . required, actually, I think . .. that you live on campus."
"And," I said, "you can not accommodate my family. Is that what you're saying?"
"Well, my dear," said the voice at the other end, "I doubt any seminary could. Not in The Episcopal Church, anyway."
Well, EDS could. And, did. Not without some . . . drama. And, to be sure, there's always some sort of drama going on in seminaries. Somewhere. The geography or year or denomination or spirituality or anything else doesn't matter, really. There's always drama going on in seminaries.
The drama du jour upon our arrival at EDS had to do with the one available apartment in married student housing over at Kirkland Street in Cambridge that would accommodate us.
Oh, by the way, only three years later, there would be high drama around the selling of that property to Harvard (AKA, "The University that ate Cambridge"), but that's another story for another time which has many of the same overtones of the current conflict.
So, the problem was that the seminary family living there, in that one apartment that would accommodate our family of eight, included the seminarian husband, the wife and three children, one of them a newborn.
A perfect, wholesome, all-American family right? Well, except the seminarian husband had just come out as a gay man - while his wife was pregnant, I seem to recall - and he had moved out to a single apartment on campus leaving his wife and three children in their old apartment.
Remember: it was the early 1980s. The AIDS pandemic was just beginning, but at the time it was called GRID = Gay Related Infectious Disease.
The students - and some of the faculty - were up in arms about the situation. It wasn't that he was gay, and it wasn't THAT he came out, it was HOW he came out, you see. WHEN he came out, actually. He couldn't have figured this out sooner? Like, maybe, before the third pregnancy? What were his wife and children supposed to do now?
So, you might begin to see that, when two lesbians and their six children were about to displace the straight woman and her three children who had been "abandoned" by her "newly" gay husband . . . well .. . . it might cause a bit of .... well . . .. drama.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to that first visiting day, when I decided to go to EDS.
I should mention that, when I arrived, my application seemed to have been misplaced. So, there was no room for me on campus. There was some distress and a wee bit of drama about that but one very well mannered and delightfully gay man took matters into his own hands and set me up in a room for the night at the Sheraton Commander, right around the corner.
The Sheraton Commander. I had never before stayed in a hotel. Only motels. Certainly, nothing that looked quite like The Sheraton Commander.
I was starting to feel waaay out of my league. Especially when I saw the unmistakable frown on the the very polite and delightfully gay man's face when he went to hang up my dress. It was not in a proper garment bag but, rather, covered by a black, heavy duty, leaf bag. It was all I had.
Cambridge practically reeked of the smell of "old money". It was home to "The Established". People with "history". Additionally, there resided some of the best minds in the world who studied or taught at Harvard and Radcliffe and MIT.
And then, of course, there was Boston.
I couldn't imagine how this daughter of "Mill Girls" from Fall River, MA was going to fit in to this place where the sons and daughters of The Established came to learn how to lead others to worship the God of their power and glory.
He was impeccably dressed in a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows, a light pink stripped French-cuffed shirt with gold cufflinks and a red bow tie, and, on his feet - I'll never, ever forget - black penny loafers with a nickle in the slot.
I remember thinking, right then and there, that it must be so that, if one were to be a "real" Episcopal priest, one must dress very well and always, always, always wear black penny loafers on one's feet. With a nickle in the slot.
In fact, Ms. Conroy didn't even have to ask what she should get me as an ordination present. I rarely wear them anymore, but I do still have that same pair of black penny loafers in my closet.
As I said, my interview with Dean Guthrie left me deeply shaken. I smiled my best smile and practiced my best manners in my best Jonathan Meyers suit (which I had gotten at a thrift shop just for this occasion), but there was something about the man that made me nervous.
It was as though he could see past my best performance self and right through to the real, nervous, anxious, insecure me, who wanted very much to please so she could be "accepted" - in more ways than just into seminary.
I was, after all, a Postulant. I had been accepted in my diocese. But this . . . this was different.
We exchanged pleasantries, the Dean and I, and then he invited me to sit down in a real red leather chair. He looked me straight in the eye and said words that I'll never forget.
"Well," he said, "let's begin. We don't have much time. I'm sure you have difficult questions to ask of me about how this school will prepare you for the realities of ordained ministry. I have difficult questions to ask of you about how your bishop and diocese and congregation and family will support you while you're here."
He smiled kindly and then said, "The world is too dark and broken a place for us to play polite, political games with each other. So, let's begin."
In that moment, I knew that this was the place I needed to be in order to learn and grow and become the priest I knew God was calling me to be.
At the same time, I was scared to death that I wasn't good enough for this place - for The Episcopal Church. It didn't have anything to do with my sexual orientation or the size and shape of my family.
It had everything to do with class status.
That was confirmed for me when I walked into the reception that was being held for visiting students. In the Tyler Reading Room. I mean, imagine having enough class status and enough affluence to have a room - a whole room - dedicated to a place where you could read! Just, read! With the library just across campus! Imagine being the person who had that room named after you.
It was hard for me to imagine.
To make things worse, as I walked into the room, The Tyler Reading Room, I noticed that there were tables tastefully decorated and offering large platters of cheese and crackers and red and white wine. No paper plates here. Glass and crystal, knives and forks, thank you very much. And, everything impeccably done in green and cream and engraved with the school logo in gold.
The music playing in the background carried the unmistakable sound of a Viennese waltz.
I wanted to crawl out of the room before I had to open my mouth, but someone greeted me and pulled me over to a group of women who were standing along the outer perimeter of the room. Our introductions were interrupted by the approach of a man - an odd looking little man, to my eyes anyway, wearing a tweed jacket and a red bow tie and sporting a handle bar mustache. He bowed deeply to all the women and said to us, indiscriminately, "May I have this dance?"
Just as I could feel myself break into an anxious sweat, I heard the woman standing next to me say in a rather loud, decidedly Texas drawl, "Well, shoot! If it ain't got a "hee-haw" in the middle of it, I can't dance to it."
We all laughed and the little man went away and, after my conversation with those women, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I could, in fact, "fit in". That I could, in fact, learn here - and not just how to "behave" in order to be "acceptable".
This was a place where even the Dean, a man who had just returned from rehab for his alcoholism, understood that the brokenness in the world couldn't - wouldn't - be healed with perfection, but rather by the brokenness of those who knew their own brokenness perfectly well.
The world is too dark and broken a place for us to play polite, political games with each other.
Turns out, so is the church. So is the seminary. All seminaries. But, these days, especially my beloved seminary of The Episcopal Divinity School.
If you've somehow missed it, you can find lots of pieces to fill in the blanks at Episcopal Cafe. There's also a commentary by Tom Ehrich and a report in The Living Church.
Bottom line: As we head into the 2014-15 Academic Year at EDS, there is no Admissions Officer (and the turnover in that position has been enormously high), no professor of Church History, and no Dean of Students - who recently resigned amidst much distress by faculty and students alike.
Another source of information also includes a closed FB group called, "EDS Students, Friends and Family" which is a painful read, most days. It is rare to read a positive word there.
For most of the people who post there, the motto seems to be "Anyone who doesn't agree with us 110% must be against us."
There is no suggesting - not even hinting - that there might be another perspective to the story.
And, forget the words "reconciliation" or "resolution". The only words that seem to be approved for use are "bullied," "oppression," and "violence."
When I have tried to ask questions that assume joint responsibility for the present crisis, it was suggested by two women that, perhaps I was looking to be named Interim Dean of Students. Another student said that, in his experience, those who sought 'reconciliation' were 'conflict avoidant'. Another informed me, flat out, that I was clearly not "one of the little ones of Jesus."
As Tom Ehrich said, "You can tell this isn't going to end well."
My take? And, it's just my take. I'm not professing to have an answer, much less THE answer. It's just my take and it's this: This is, essentially, a conflict of cultures.
The cultural conflicts I experienced 30 years ago at EDS still exist, just in a different form.
EDS has become a richly diverse community - ethnically, racially, and religiously. It is one of the approved seminaries for the MCC, Metropolitan Community Church. It is also geographically diverse - especially now with the advent of "Distance Learning" students, who are only physically on campus for a week, twice a year.
The faculty are also very diverse - in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. I must say that I am very, very proud of my seminary for making a commitment to live out of and into the diversity and full inclusion of all of God's people at every level of seminary life.
That diversity, however, does not come without tensions and challenges.
In order to live within the tensions of this the students and faculty, to their credit, eat, sleep, eat, drink and live out the VISIONS/FOUNDATIONS program. You can follow the link and read more about it, but it is an excellent program - not without its own limitations, of course - which addresses the differences in various cultures, in part, by creating a culture and language of its own.
Part of that language includes "transparency", "shared governance" and "power analysis".
Here's the problem - well at least, as I see it: Near as I can figure the President and Dean and Board of Trustees are not similarly immersed in the VISIONS/FOUNDATIONS program. If you read the letter from the President of the Board of Trustees, you'll see that he speaks the language of "Best Practices" from the Association of Theological Schools.
Part of that language includes words like "authority," "decisions" and "finances".
Is it any wonder, then, that these groups keep talking past each other?
When you add the clear power imbalance between the administration and the faculty, you can begin to see why the issue of tenure is so explosive. Add to that the power imbalance between administration and students and you see why the issue of the change in status for the housing of Distance Learners added fuel to an already raging fire.
Anyway, that's my take and, bottom line, I don't suppose it really matters what I think to most of the people "on the ground". Indeed, I don't think, in the final analysis, my "take" is going to make a difference in terms of the final outcome.
I think Tom Ehrich's latest post, SUGGESTIONS ON SEMINARY CONFLICT offers a way forward to both sides who seem entrenched in the need to be "right" and the need to be angry.
"Some of these steps might already be under way. But I would suggest the board of trustees assert their authority, bring in a trained corporate mediator (not a fellow or former seminary dean), agree on terms of a mediation, name them as binding, and then follow through with accountability. I would give it two months, then bring the conflict to a close. Anyone who can't accept the mediator's plan should be invited to leave, including tenured faculty and administrators."
Maybe that's part of the problem. We in the church who think we have the corner on the market of 'reconciliation' are really the worst when it comes to the practical applications of that wonderful, life giving concept.
One thing is certain - We seem to be going nowhere fast by just allowing everyone to spin their wheels in the mud of conflict.
It might mean the end of the EDS, but if something doesn't happen soon to find some resolution and reconciliation, I fear the school will simply implode.
I fear the seminary which was once such a bright beacon of justice and hope to me and so many others over the years has, itself, become too dark and broken a place for us to play polite. political games with each other.
The brokenness of the world - or the church or the seminary that educates and trains the ordained leaders of the church - will never be healed by perfection, but rather by the brokenness of those who know their own brokenness perfectly well.
We don't have much time. There are difficult questions we need to ask one another so we can make difficult decisions.
So, let's begin.