I had not anticipated how deeply I would become engaged with the media coverage of the papal transition. Like the throngs that kept returning to St. Peter's Square, I kept tuning in, first to John Paul II's funeral, then to waiting crowds during the conclave, and finally to Pope Benedict XVI's inaugural Mass. As a new Catholic, I found myself identifying with the pilgrims in Rome. As a historian of American Christianity, I appreciated the mostly informed and evenhanded commentary.
As a governance wonk, I became fascinated by the drama of leadership succession. Thinking about In Trust's tag line, "where faith and governance meet," I noted their spectacular intersection in these rites. The spectacle depended on a tradition of prayer that provided the script, set the timing, assigned the parts, and dressed the players. Formation programs in Catholic seminaries received an unexpected boost as seminarians joined the church's leaders in praying for John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
The public respect accorded these two popes by other Christians and world leaders reminded me of the value of unabashedly religious ceremony in our times. Ceremony creates public space for grieving and rejoicing in the context of faith. It teaches central beliefs. It dramatizes the passing on of the mantel, thereby honoring the gifts and offices of both old and new leaders. And it can link leadership to the biblical narrative of how God gathers his people.
In Trust Inc.'s position is to recognize and respect the variety in polities, rites, and customs, including differences in art and language usage, in North American theological education. We promote unity but not homogeneity. Our vocation is to share information and to encourage conversation about spirited governance across all lines. We believe that schools can be more faithful to God's purposes when their leaders in governance are explicit about structures, practices and -- perhaps most importantly -- their own assumptions. In Trust's stories and reports raise awareness by comparison; our meetings allow for even more interaction.
Which brings me back to one question that the recent Vatican liturgies raised for me. Do theological schools do enough with religious ceremony in governance? School leaders know how to dramatize the academic and presidential aspects of governance in religious ceremony -- witness recent graduation and baccalaureate exercises. Presidents, deans and faculty members don their academic robes, hoods and hats to process in and usher out the school year, or to inaugurate a new president or a full professor.
But ceremonies sometimes fall short of including other partners in governance. Board members in particular, for lack of time or tradition, are often not present as a body at these major events. Since today many are neither ordained nor academics with official regalia, their ceremonial presence is all too often confined to dressy fundraising dinners and building dedications. But when board members process as themselves at major ceremonies, however motley their attire, they witness to the partnership of shared governance and its ties beyond the school in church and community.
And, too, each theological school can draw from its own traditions of worship to welcome new trustees and recognize their service. At some schools, it may be appropriate to call new trustees forward for public acknowledgment and include them in community prayer. At others, students and faculty may lay hands on new board members during a prayer meeting. At still others, trustees may process into chapel behind the choir and be blessed by a bishop. As we can see on the cover of this issue, when Elizabeth and Mary greet each other, they honor God present with them.
In Trust knows from research that religious motivation is the wellspring for board service. Acknowledging the vocation of trusteeship during worship makes public the full story of how our schools are led and linked to their wider communities. And that's something very appealing to me -- as pilgrim, historian, and governance wonk.