Kerry A. Robinson, "Imagining Abundance" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen: Now and Then. Our goal at the Society is to extend the rich, spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. We invite you to share these podcasts with your friends and family. Because we’re new to the world of podcasts, taking time to give us a review or a thumbs up will mean a great deal to us and will help us extend our reach to more people.
This week my guest is Kerry Robinson. Kerry is the author of a wonderful book called Imagining Abundance: Fundraising, Philanthropy, and a Spiritual Call to Service. Some of our listeners may say, “I’m outta here, fundraising doesn’t interest me”. Wait just a moment. This book is so good and so inspiring that when I finished it, I immediately ordered three copies to give as gifts.
You’ll understand when you meet Kerry Robinson. Let me tell you a little bit about our guest. Kerry Alys Robinson is the Executive Director of the National Leadership Round Table on Church Management. This is an organization dedicated to promoting excellence and best practices in management, finances and human resource development for the Catholic Church in the United States. Kerry Robinson has been described as one of the great women in the Catholic Church today.
Kerry, I am so delighted to have this opportunity to speak with you about your book, Imagining Abundance. You bring a wealth of experience having served both as a representative of the Raskob Foundation, and also as a very successful fundraiser. These seem like opposites, but as I read in your book I can see how they have come together as two sides of the same coin in your life. Now I want our audience to know a little bit about your history. Can you tell us about your family’s commitment to philanthropy?
Kerry Robinson: Well, it is such a pleasure to be with you Karen. Thank you so much for this invitation to talk about these themes that are so near and dear to my heart. My family on my father’s side has a 76-year history of serving the Catholic Church throughout the world through the instrument of a private family foundation that was established by my great-grandparents John and Helen Raskob. They had two intentions: the first was that all of their resources would be used to support faith-based initiatives and ministries across the globe. And their second was that their children and descendants would be invited to serve as volunteers in a non-remunerative manner, working together as a family, determining the allocation of philanthropic investment in the church and the church’s many ministries. So we were brought up from a very young age to see philanthropy as service to the broader church and the common good.
Karen: So how old were you when you started to work for the Foundation? I’m curious.
Kerry: Well, I was brought to the meetings from a young age, younger than I can even remember to be honest and my love of that experience and particularly as a child, listening to women and men, ordained religious and lay who were doing extraordinary things with their lives and often in very wrenching social conditions. Their lives were often in danger. They bore witness to the worst of what humankind can do to one another and to our common home, our earth. And yet they were determined out of faith, to alleviate human suffering, to provide education, healthcare, to advance justice, to lay the groundwork for peace, to foster reconciliation. And this activity, this ministry brought tremendous purpose and determination to their lives. But I remember as a child marveling at all of that, barely understanding it and yet noting that these childhood heroes and heroines all seemed to have a tremendous amount of joy. And I just grew up thinking this is what I would like to be. And they seemed to have a kind of the secret of life. And so I started formally working with the Foundation at the age of 14. And from that point on, I have always been an active member of the Raskob Foundation.
Karen: Well, I found it so fascinating and I think people will find–what I’ve found so impressive was the training in this that your family envisioned. In other words, they raised you all to understand how generosity could impact the world and make you people who would be wise and exceedingly generous, obviously. I mean, that’s what it’s so striking and that I love, that this book– by the way, Imagining Abundance is not just a book about fundraising — it through and through tells me your story. I feel it woven throughout it and I enjoyed that so much. I see the love and the kindness that was sowed into you through your parents and through this deep, deep tradition of philanthropy in your family. And one can’t help but admire it and can’t help but be inspired by it. One of the things you also mentioned at the beginning of your book is that you acknowledged that Henri Nouwen had inspired you. I’d love to hear just a little bit about that. And then we’ll kind of dive into the book.
Kerry: Yes, I was so fortunate to meet Henri Nouwen. And I think everyone who had the great joy of meeting him feels that way. What occasioned my first meeting with him was a big celebration in New Haven, Connecticut and on the campus of Yale University. And this was the Special Olympics which was going to be held in the city of New Haven. And it happened at a time when I had just completed my studies at Yale Divinity School. And Henri Nouwen and Sister Margaret Farley, a religious Sister of Mercy who was on faculty at Yale at the time and was my mentor, my advisor, and my teacher, she had told me that she and Henri Nouwen had joined Yale’s faculty on the same day of the same year so many decades prior to this meeting. And Margaret had stayed as a faculty member at Yale, but of course, those who know about Henri Nouwen’s life know that he moved on from Yale and yet they retained their close friendship.
And so, because the Special Olympics was taking place and because Margaret was so friendly with Henri, she invited him and a core member from L’Arche to speak at Yale, and then to have a private dinner following this event with the Catholic community that was studying at Yale Divinity School. And I was enormously pregnant with my first child at the time and I just was mesmerized and enchanted by Henri and all of his wisdom and just the sheer force of his personality and really was drawn to his message. And one of the things he said to us that evening was that the fundamental purpose of our lives is to really truly know that we are unalterably loved by God. And he says, it seems simple, but we spent so much of our lives arguing with that fundamental truth, disbelieving it, saying it can’t be true in my case, doubting it.
And he says, but every now and then you know with absolute conviction, that that fundamental truth is in fact true, that God loves you just for being you. And when you fully appreciate that in that moment, you are filled with a kind of joy and yearning, you yearn to love God back. And he likens it to falling in love and realizing that the person you are in love with loves you in return. And that is a moment of just sheer and utter gratitude. And he said to us, but how do you love God back? And his answer was, we love God back by being fruitful with our lives. So he had me up into that point and I was kind of hanging on the end of my seat. And I raised my hand and was called on. And you know, the visual there of me enormously pregnant. I said I understand the ‘be fruitful and multiply’ part, but what do you really mean by being fruitful with our lives? And he said that one way to think about being fruitful with your life, especially out of the sheer gratitude for all that God has given us, and especially God’s love, is to love all that God loves: each other, the earth, creation itself. That that is a way of having a disposition of fruitfulness and returning God’s love. And I have never forgotten that. And that was, now I think my son is 26, so that was 26 years ago.
Karen: Wow. Well, you met Henri interestingly enough, you must’ve met him just before he died. That would be the year before he died. Amazing. It’s interesting because I feel the power of what you just said throughout this whole book. I’m very struck by it. Here we are talking about fundraising. We’re going to be talking about some wonderful experiences that you have lived through, but what I find infuses this book and why it inspired me so much is this wonderful understanding of what God has given you in this, in a sense of joyful gratitude that permeates it. And I felt like the book constantly, page after page – I found myself being personally inspired because I feel your ‘yes’ to God, speaking to me. One of the things that you say near the beginning is you call your audience to see themselves as agents of change. And that’s where I think this is even broader than just speaking to fundraisers, because we all have the potential to be agents of change in the world. Maybe would you just expand a little bit more on what you see and how you call people forward and in a way empower them?
Kerry: Well, I think as humans we spend a lot of time complaining about the way things are or lamenting all that is wrong with the world, with the church, with our lives, with our countries. And that’s one way to spend time and certainly bringing an intellectual critique to what we are observing and living and participating in is important. But I think for people of faith we are called not just to note what is wrong, but to fix what is wrong, or to lay the foundation for new life. And especially in the context of alleviating human suffering or advancing justice, the core gospel values that we’re enjoined to live out. And so I think of this as an opportunity for us to be part of the solution as people of faith; to have confidence in the future and confidence in Providence, confidence in grace that surrounds us and the task before us. And it’s really an invitation to every one of us is to recognize the grace and the potential before us, to have clear and good intentions and to move forward in as bold and innovative and creative and life-giving a way as possible.
Karen: It really struck me, your call for us to so hope. And I was thinking about the years we’ve just lived through, the pandemic experience we’ve just lived through and it can be discouraging. And the idea that as people are Christ followers, to bring hope into situations that have brought such discouragement.
Kerry: Yes. And I think we always have this choice, every day we have this choice, a choice to give up and despair or a choice to be part of the solution. My wonderful friend who is now deceased, she died young of breast cancer, but she was full of life and joyful purpose when she was alive. And she had this great thing which is, we celebrate what is right in order to find the energy to fix what is wrong. And I think that disposition has been a guiding source for me. I would so much rather be part of the solution than to simply lament what is a hardship or unfair or unjust.
Karen: I think we’re going to go down to a path now, which probably was why this book got written. I mean, you could have stayed in that arena of the philanthropist but you got called over to the other side, you got called into an enormous task, and I’d love you to share with us just exactly what that was. How did you find yourself in the role of fundraising?
Kerry: Yes, so I was completely persuaded by the activity of philanthropy through my voluntary work with the Raskob Foundation. And later as I was in my twenties, I also worked with many other family foundations and philanthropic foundations who shared an interest in supporting faith-based initiatives. And I just saw so much potential in that. And I remember thinking that after divinity school perhaps my life’s work would be in the field of religious philanthropy. And it’s true that you should not tell God your plan or it will always just be a starting point. But shortly after I gave birth to my first child, I was actually pregnant with my second child and I got a phone call from the Catholic chaplain at Yale University, Father Bob Boulogne. He was a diocesan priest from the archdiocese of Hartford who loved parish ministry, but the Archbishop had asked him to leave parish ministry and become Catholic chaplain at Yale responsible for Catholic campus ministry at this great university. He had resisted it and resisted it and finally he agreed. And when he got there, he noted that twenty-five percent of the student body at Yale was Catholic, but very few were coming to Mass. Very few were participating in Catholic life. The chapel which had been built 60 years prior, was in dire need of renovations and kind of a fresh look. And he realized much to his, I think, chagrin, that a capital campaign or a serious fundraising effort was going to be necessary, particularly as he was going to bring about a vision for vibrant Catholic life on campus.
And he spent his first three years basically making his case to his predominantly lay board. And they finally realized that he was right and they sort of gave in and said, okay, we agree that we need to raise money and you have our blessing to conduct a capital campaign, a major fundraising drive. They actually said to him, how much do you think the goal should be? And he blurted out without really thinking about it and certainly without a feasibility study, $5 million and they gasped collectively and said, $5 million! We thought you would say $1 million, and we’re not sure you would even be able to raise that. And so he knew right from the beginning, what he was up against.
He also realized that he had no real experience raising money himself. He knew he had to do it, but he didn’t know how to go about it. And so he began searching and interviewing various fundraising companies, and none of them were exactly the right fit. He didn’t get the right vibe that he was looking for. So to make a long story short after seeking and seeking the right solution for this and not wanting to lose the momentum of the board’s encouragement, he prayed. And he called me and said, Kerry your name came to me in prayer. Now I did not want to do this job at all. I had even less experience in fundraising than he did. I knew a lot about what donors were looking for in terms of making an investment, a philanthropic investment, but I had never asked anyone for money myself. So I felt like I was in this terrible position because I had to say, no, I really did not want to do this, but I wanted to let him down gently. And I said to him, “Father Bob, thank you for thinking of me in prayer. I am pregnant with my second child.” And there was this long silence on the phone. And then he said, “Congratulations, I’m so happy for you and your husband. This is wonderful news. You can work from home.”
So he said, “Listen, I know I’m springing this on you, this invitation to work with me and raise this $5 million. But if you would just pray about it for five days and call me back, whatever your answer is in prayer, of course I’ll accept.” So I jumped at that chance because I knew after five days of praying my ‘no’ would be extremely eloquent and convincing. And of course the end of that story is that after five days of truly praying about this to my absolute astonishment, I found myself saying ‘yes’, and it was among the hardest things I’ve ever done with my life but the most rewarding, I learned so much in the process of working with Father Bob modeling lay-clergy partnership and collaboration, bringing to fruition a vibrant Catholic intellectual and spiritual center at one of the world’s great universities. And in so doing, raising the bar of Catholic campus ministry across the field. And that led to the writing of this book in fact.
Karen: I was so impressed because as I read this, I realized this is the moment where it kind of expands out to every single one of us that when there’s a call on our life, sometimes we really feel like we’re being dropped in at the deep end of the pool. And we don’t know what we’re going to do, but we try to learn to swim while we’re doing it. And I’m sure you had a lot of learning to do. I look at that– $5 million seems like an enormous amount– but that’s not where it stopped. It got bigger and bigger and bigger. And I mean, I think so many of us would just respond with fear. What did you do with the fears that would come, you must have asked yourself, can I do this? And well, how do I do it?
Kerry: It was absolutely terrifying. And honestly, the amount didn’t matter. If it was $25,000 as a goal or $25 million, it was all the same terror from my perspective. And what I think we did here was we were determined, truly determined to make the most of this opportunity and that we were very clear about our motivations. So for Father Bob and me, several things were absolutely sacrosanct. The first is that we deeply believed that these bright, brilliant young adults coming from all over the world to Yale campus, who identified as Catholic, deserved to have an adult mature life of faith. They deserved to have a religious vocabulary that was capable of discourse at the university level. And we believed that not only was it incumbent upon us at this particularly important moment in their life, you know, 18 to 26, it was incumbent upon us to make sure when they graduated from Yale, that they graduated with an adult life of faith, because they would be leaders. They would be heads of state, they would be executives in all kinds of sectors. They would make something of their life the consequence of which would impact and affect many others. And so the church and the world from our perspective need its future leaders to be people of faith. And that Catholic social teaching would be by extension a part of the equation. So we conquered our fear by keeping in mind what our purpose was, why we were doing this. And secondly, we really had a sense that we only have this one life, and we all only have so much time in which to exert our energy and bring all of our capabilities to bear on something meaningful. So if we were going to spend this one life doing this, we wanted to aim as high as possible and be as comprehensively excellent as possible. Even when we felt like, as you said, we were learning how to swim as we were diving into the deep end of the pool.
Karen: Well I know that the book keeps coming back to the mission, keeps coming back to this wonderful vision that you are imparting. Not just the moment you’re in, but way into the future. It’s almost like you were building something that had a future for future generations. And I was very touched by that. And sometimes I think we need to take our eyes up from the floor where we’re kind of just walking along in a track that we think, this is what it’s all about and look into the future and realize, why are we doing this? What is this all about? Why will the world be better if we do what God is calling us to do?
I love your verse. You and Bob shared the verse: John 10:10, and you said, well,’
“I’ve come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.” Jesus said that. And that seems to me to have woven the two of you together at the beginning with a great sense that the mission would be abundant. I love the fact that it even works itself into your title, Imagining Abundance. It’s very nice. By the way, you skipped forward from being asked to raise $5 million to $25 million, how much did you ultimately end up raising? I’m curious.
Kerry: Well, it’s quite funny after those initial five days of prayer, when I called Father Bob back at the appointed hour, and I told him, yes, I will in fact do this with you. Immediately the next day after he had informed the Chair of the Board, Judge Guido Calabresi, former Dean of Yale School of Law, the goal overnight became $10 million. And Judge Calabresi’s rationale for that was, well, if we set it at $10 million and we come in at seven, that’s still more than five. This is how that works back then. And so, you know, that just increased my anxiety about the whole thing. But in the final analysis, we raised $75 million; $25 million of that was for building the 30,000 square foot Catholic Center on property that Yale University leased us for one payment of $20. That in and of itself extraordinary. And then $50 million was for endowment and the endowment has allowed for an expansion of program and expansion of staff and the ongoing care of the facility.
Karen: It’s interesting because one of the things I sensed was that as you were birthing this thing you were realizing this can impact campuses all across America -and in fact, all around the world, I’m sure. But the idea, the vision for giving students an adult faith, having them leave campus with a faith that fit them and not that they would drop out of their life and commitment to the church, but that they would be more engaged than ever, because in a sense, they were equipped for that. I thought that was exciting to see.
Kerry: Yes, I’m so glad that you picked that up. That really was a driving motivation for us, the world and the church need well-rounded, grounded, intellectually curious, confident, humble, faith-filled leaders of integrity and honesty and vision and compassion.
Karen: I was struck throughout the book that the habits of the inner life are so essential for this kind of service. And I think that’s what made this book come alive to me. In a way, it also reminds me very much of Henri’s book The Spirituality of Fundraising. It’s rooted in our belief that God loves us and it then goes out from there. But I just found that you constantly turn back into, in a sense, what’s the groundwork that has to be going on inside of you to take on a big mission. And I think that’s why in a way, I want to encourage people to go to this book, because what you see is this impossibly big mission. All of us are called into something. It may not be to raise $75 million, it may be something that at the same time may make us gasp with the enormity of it. The sense that can we do this. And I found in this, I found in your writing so much truth and encouragement to take on what God has given you to do. Here’s a quote that I loved. It’s from you. You write you offered a prayer that you have prayed daily “Empty me of all that stands between you and me, that I might be filled with your imagination, desire, love, and will. Help me to be an effective instrument of all you have intended.” It’s a beautiful prayer. Inspires me.
Kerry: Thank you, Karen. Yes, I wrote that prayer the hard way, sheer in total necessity. But it’s true I find myself praying that every day, many times a day, and I think what it has helped me with – that prayer, is this sense of truly kind of emulating Christ by emptying myself and trying to rid myself of anything that would impede God’s love and encouragement and desire and imagination from reaching me and affecting me in the way that Henri Nouwen all those years ago pointed out to me. The task really is to clear the channel so that we can be swept up in relationship with God and God’s imagination and God’s goodness, and the sheer potentiality of new life that can come from that relationship.
Karen: One of the things that you mentioned earlier, as we were talking, you mentioned the joy that you saw in some of these people that came to Raskob presenting their missions and their commitments to work in the world and make a difference. Can I ask you what part has joy played in your walk and how critical is joy to the whole process?
Kerry: I would say it is absolutely essential. If you think about it in your own life every one of us is both a donor, a giver, and an asker. In fact, I think humankind’s birthright is generosity. But no one really is motivated to give to a dour supplicant. Joy is contagious, it’s infectious, you’re drawn to joy but it can’t be facile joy. It’s gotta be you. You know the difference when you are in the presence of somebody authentically joyful, you’re drawn to that and it doesn’t matter really what the conditions of the person’s life are. Any one of us can cultivate that inner life of joy because I think it’s a spiritual attribute. I love the quote that is often attributed to Teilhard de Chardin that, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
When Father Bob and I first started working together and we kind of realized the magnitude of what was being asked of us at those early months. It was a $10 million goal. We were in debt at St. Thomas More. So we weren’t even starting from zero. And it just seemed so audacious and enormous. And he gave me for Christmas that year, a plaque, beautifully, beautifully rendered plaque that said ‘It can be done’. And so I put it on my desk and I looked at it every day and I drew confidence from this. It could be, I knew that it can be done. That was uppermost in my mind, but a year later at Christmas, it was my turn to give him a gift. And I gave him a very similar beautifully rendered plaque. But this time it said. ‘It can be fun together,’ and held those plaques side by side as equally valid. And we’re committed just as we were committed to using this one life in this time, that’s been given to us in the most impactful, meaningful, selfless way. We were also going to make sure we enjoyed it a lot at every step because joy really is contagious. And it’s a sign that the Spirit is present.
Karen: Now, did you ever get discouraged? Did you ever get to the point you went, this can’t be done. Did you ever come to a kind of low point in this journey? Because it sounds like it went up right throughout, but tell me, was there a moment that you had to go, I’m going on in spite of this, did that happen?
Kerry: Yes, twice. In particular excruciating detail. The first was right at the beginning. I remember being given a tour of the Jewish Center at Yale, the Slifka Center, and this is just a beautiful building and a center of vibrant Jewish life on campus. And Father Bob and I were being given this tour by the Rabbi and the Development Director. So our counterparts, and with each step we took, I was more and more panicked that we would not be able to pull this whole thing off. And I was very inspired by their story and their example. And at the end of it I turned privately to the Development Director and I said, Robin what if we can’t do this? What if we aren’t successful? What if this doesn’t work? And she stopped in her tracks and turned to me and said, decide right now that it will be an absolute success. Be completely convinced of that. Never doubt it, never look back because if you believe it will fail or will succeed, you will be right. And I was really struck by that, that she was reminding me that if I didn’t have confidence that this would all come to pass, how could I expect anyone I was asking to join this effort to have confidence? So that was the first wake up call, the reality of taking on anything of consequence, especially when the goalpost keeps moving and when the vision keeps expanding. Of course, there are going to be these moments when you’re really terrified, because while we can have confidence in the ultimate fulfillment of a vision or a project, we can’t always determine how and when it happens. And so at different moments, there were multiple expectations around timing of gifts and just a whole panoply of considerations.
And this all came to a head probably about two-thirds of the way through our campaign, our work together. I was working round the clock, I was feeling the enormous pressure of responsibility. We had already raised, I think, probably about $15 million. So we had already exceeded this arbitrary goal of 10 million anyway, but because people kept adding to the vision and it became a bigger and bigger and bigger project, we were still far short of the goal, and everybody had expectations now. And I just remember thinking, oh I’m not spending enough time with my husband and my children. And I’m traveling, I’m on the road. I have to be the face of confidence and joy. And it really issued in a genuine dark night of the soul where I came to the realization. I stayed up all night. It was my birthday. I remember my husband and children were asleep and I was in the living room and I stayed up all night, kind of an agony about a decision. And the decision as I saw it was, I could leave. I could quit end my time. And I knew if I did that, no one would begrudge me. They would all be pleased that I had raised far more than the original goal that we had achieved something significant. But that was not the faithful option. That was not seeing it through. That was reneging as I saw it on my end of the bargain with God, when I said yes to this invitation to begin with. So that was one choice.
The second choice was to stay and really empty myself of all kinds of expectations. So in the second path which was it seems to me the only faithful choice to make at the time. I spent all night naming the things that I felt I were sort of owed if you will. So and the deal as I understood it in prayer was God basically saying, stick with this, stay the course, see it to fruition. If you do this, and if you give up the things that are weighing you down, I promise all will be brought to fruition. And so the things I had to relinquish and give up, I had to name them and then renounce them or lay them down were things like one: ‘Kerry, you will never be compensated for the work you were doing in the manner that you believe you should be compensated for’. That was a tough one because I was, it was a matter of justice and all my friends were, you know, doing very well in their respective careers financially. But that was a fairly easy one for me to relinquish because I didn’t do it for the money to begin with.
Then the second one was, ‘Kerry you have to give up your desire to be credited for this. This is not about your work. Like you give this expectation of credit up’. So the list went on like this more and more kind of onerous for me, more and more difficult for me to give up. But I did with each of these, you know, in agonizing, excruciating, and kind of funny detail. And when the last one, when the last question was posed and I surrendered that, I felt this enormous relief. I mean, I don’t think I felt it ever since. I mean, it was sheer, total relief. Like this enormous weight had been lifted. And I knew that everything would be fine. I absolutely knew that in renouncing all of those things I felt somehow that I deserved, by giving those up, I found this incredible new freedom and new life, and I actually laughed out loud.
And then I said, essentially to God, ‘Okay, God, I’ve done my part. I don’t know how you’re going to solve this big colossal mess and make everything come to new life, but I’m going to go to bed now’.
And then the next day and from that point forward, I went about my work in the same manner as I had only I didn’t care about those things that I felt were a matter of justice. Every now and then I would be reminded of them and I would sort of observe it and laugh and carry on. And I think it gave me this new freedom that really allowed me to focus in an authentic way. I think of it as kind of Paschal, some things in me had to die. Now, the beautiful irony, or perhaps this is no surprise to people who are deeply spiritual and wise out there, but it was a sheer surprise to me. In the final analysis, all those things that I had been asked to give up in that dark night of the soul, I ended up getting. I ended up getting thanks from people and I was compensated and all of those things came to bear; only the hold that they had on my heart was no longer present.
Karen: In your book there’s a chapter on this. And I found it so powerful, so honest, but there’s a prayer in it that I just loved. I just share what you wrote, because I think it’s a prayer all of us probably need to pray at some point when we’re at that edge. You prayed: ‘God empty me of all that stands between you and me, that I might be filled with your imagination, desire, love and will. Help me to be an effective instrument of all that you have intended.’ And then in that same chapter, you go on, you kind of asked us as the reader, ‘What do we need to empty ourselves of to be filled with God’s imagination, desire, love, and will?’ And those are profound questions and your honesty about naming them all, letting them all come up and, and in a sense, have to die, your willingness to let them die, that speaks deeply to me. Kerry you’re somebody I really love and admire as a leader, you’re really called into leadership. Some of the stuff you have had to learn the hard way, there was so much that happened in your life through this experience. And obviously in this partnership with Father Bob, he became very precious to you and I sort of know kind of another chapter of this story. And maybe you’d like to just share a little bit about Father Bob and who he was in your life.
Kerry: Well, when I first met Father Bob that was about 26 years ago, actually almost to the date. I recognized him and I was meeting him for the first time. He was talking and I was so distracted because I had this profound sense of recognition. I knew him and I sat there scanning my brain asking, Where could we have met? What was the occasion? Was it a conference? Had he been an applicant in the past to Raskob? Have you spoken at an event I had been at? None of that, none of that was true. None, none. I couldn’t land on how I recognized him or how I knew him. Then I started asking myself if he looked like someone or if he sounded like someone and I just came up with blanks. It was this profound sense of recognition. Now, years later, we would talk about that moment of meeting. And I became convinced that I recognized him in a futuristic way. Like I recognized him in this soulful manner that this person would be so important to me and to my life. So it was like a recognition into the future rather than a recognition from the past. It was a kind of wrinkle in time. That was my first clue, honestly, of the soulful or spiritual nature of our friendship. We became absolutely essential to each other and to the success of the project for a whole number of reasons. We worked together. We were each answerable to the board and kind of co-responsible. So we were equal partners and that mattered. The fact that we had very different life experiences, male, female, ordained, lay, you know I was a mother. All of that conspired to making a very compelling example of why we need each other in leadership in the church and leadership in the world.
And that this co-responsibility really does matter. And the diversity matters. We also had this enormous trust and affection and shared spirituality about us and a rock solid commitment to the mission before us. And I think that all conspired to make for joyful encounters with prospective donors, with anyone. And we believed everyone had a vested interest in the success of what we were building. We wanted to cast a wide net and include anyone who wanted to be part of this life-giving initiative and that joyfulness and that kind of deep mutual respect and affection that we had for each other was communicated whenever we encountered other people. And I think that just helped people trust us, trust our vision, and want to be part of what was energizing and fueling us so much.
Now he unfortunately died three years ago. So at the end of all of our work, we had this wonderful dedication of the new Center and the endowment is spectacular for this. And it’s just a place of enormous vitality with all kinds of diverse students and active participation every night of the week. So, big success story. And he was retiring after 25 years as Catholic chaplain at Yale when he was diagnosed with glioblastoma and from diagnosis to death was nine months. And so I helped his brother care for him. And fortunately, although it was brain cancer and very difficult, it affected his physical capabilities, not his intellect. And we had some exquisite months to talk about life and death and legacy and faith and the afterlife, the community of saints, vision and love. So I am profoundly grateful and I miss him every day. And I wonder how often he’s conversing with Henri.
Karen: I’m sure they are. You know, Kerry, it’s lovely. There’s so much about this story that I think can inspire others. God gave you, you know – Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. It was wonderful that there was a person to do this with. He was such a kindred spirit and could share a big vision. But I also think, to me I think the reason this book is so important, people have been given visions and sometimes they just need to have the courage to take the next step. They feel overwhelmed by it. And this book is full of inspiration to me, I know, and I know it will be to others really about how to take on something that in your own strength you know you can’t do, but with that grounding in God, and with that sureness that you’re loved and out of that expression of gratitude, you can do it. You have set an amazing, for me, example and I just want to encourage those of you that have been listening. I’m telling you here’s a treasure. You will enjoy it. I hope you come away from this interview with Kerry Alys Robinson, with a sense of possibility and vision for your own life and for what God is calling you to.
Thank you Kerry for your time, for the thoughtful way you have engaged us all. We’re learning from what God has sewn into you. Some of it the hard way, you know, the stuff that comes out of living it out and the challenges that you faced, but we are also grateful to be in your wake at this point, and to be inspired by what you’ve learned.
Kerry: Thank you so much, Karen. I’ve enjoyed every minute of this. Thank you, Karen, take care.
Karen: I hope you come away from this interview with Kerry Elise Robinson, with a new sense of possibility envisioned for your own life. What is God calling you to do? As I told you at the beginning of this podcast, I was so informed and inspired by Kerry’s book Imagining Abundance that I ordered three copies to give as gifts. We’ll post links in our notes to all the things we discussed today. Of course, a classic book you may want to get is Henri Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Fundraising. We have a special new workbook edition of this book co-written by Nathan Ball.
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