As I exited and headed down the steps, she approached. Clearly angry she yelled, “How could you do this to us? How could you! I will never forgive you!” Stunned, I could only muster, “I am sorry you feel that way.” I finished my descent and walked away. Maybe I had been wrong, and the dream should have been put in the recycling bin. Never to be acted upon.
But I get ahead of myself. As chairman of the rector search committee at our Episcopal Church, I was able to select members of the committee who were diverse, representing each distinct faction of the parish. I wanted a unanimous vote in support of our candidate. I trusted each of the members, and like a jury, I expected them to talk out differences until we had an agreement. That was before I muddied the water.
At the very end of the selection process, I concluded that one part of the church was not represented: the youths. A majority of the committee responded by saying that a high school student would be too immature to make a meaningful contribution to a community-changing decision. Others simply said, “The kids should not have a voice in this.” I, of course, disagreed.
So it was that I appointed a young woman, junior in high school, whose father was a local lawyer and active member in the church community. After a brief furor erupted, the committee embraced the kid, and our work began in earnest.
As anyone who has served on a search committee knows, the process is complex and tedious. Marketing the position, looking at resumes, weeding out candidates, checking references, narrowing the list, making visits to see the candidates in action, narrowing the list further, inviting finalists for interviews, verifying credentials, and interviewing members of their current church. Weekly meetings at night, traveling on weekends, and sharing viewpoints with each other.
As fate would have it, one young woman from the Baltimore area, where our daughter was in school, really impressed the group that went to see her in the pulpit. By chance, I knew one of her parishioners, who spoke with the highest esteem for her talents. And she moved to our finalist list and came for a visit. The committee was impressed.
As the committee began discussing the two finalists, the schism became obvious. “We have never had a woman rector,” flatly stated the editor of a local paper, “and we shouldn’t start now.” Others chimed in on both sides. My dream of a unanimous vote seemed fractured beyond hope.
And that is when she spoke. Our high school student looked around the room crowded with educated, intelligent adults and looked deep into our eyes, “My entire life, all of you have told me to dream, that I could be anything that I wanted. A doctor, lawyer, teacher, or governor. If you are now saying that she cannot be our rector because she is a woman, you have been lying to me.” “My dreams are shattered,” she concluded.
In a most poignant and moving moment, my dream of a unified committee voice was fulfilled. We called a woman to be rector for the first time in the church’s one-hundred-plus years of existence. The vote was unanimous. As noted, not everyone was thrilled. But change is hard.
To our young high school hero, I simply said, “Thank you. Dream on!”