It was interesting to recently read of the death of Harry McWatters, who co-founded Sumac Ridge, the first estate winery of the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, Canada. When he got into this business, this part of the world was not known as a wine growing region. So he was a bit of a pioneer. He is known now as the grandfather of BC wines notably because it was through his initiative that VQA – the Vintners Quality Alliance – was formed in 1990. There were many factors, of course, that led to this area of BC producing some very fine wines. But this cannot be explained apart from those who were committed, like Mr. McWatters, not only to their own business or operations, but to the industry as a whole.
Then also I recently heard that the president of the University of Alberta said something to the following effect to the senior leadership team of the university – that, as it was put to me about what was said: “90% of our future wins will be at the system level with the remaining 10% will accrue to individual organizations.” This is quite remarkable a statement coming from someone whose university is a massive 38000 student body compared to the small institution that I head up. And it represents a high level of commitment not only to one’s own institution but to the industry or, using the language that we use about higher education, “the system” which in my context means the post-secondary universities and colleges of this province.
This is for me a reminder that institutional thinking always means industry thinking: that is, that we are not only concerned with our own individual institutions or organizations or, in the case of congregations, our own individual churches. We are, rather, also invested in how the “industry” of which our particular institution is a part.
For many years, I have served in some form of leadership within graduate theological education. And this meant, for me, a high commitment not only the seminaries where I have served, but also to the Association of Theological Schools with which these schools were affiliated. This took time and energy; and it was not always evident how and where and in what ways there was tangible benefit to the seminary where I was serving at that time. However I have always struggled a bit with leaders of system theological seminaries who always felt they did not have time to serve on a committee or participate in an accreditation site visit. What I felt was simply this: they wanted the benefit but were not prepared to invest in the very “system” or in this case the association without giving back.
But what we learn from both the wine industry and the world of higher education and perhaps from the best in all industries, is that the best kind of thinking includes attending to the quality of the industry itself: asking the question, within the world of one’s own sphere of work and influence, where and in what ways can I contribute to the well being of the associations and affiliations of which I am a part. We do have a primary obligation to the organization that employs us and issues our paychecks. Of course. But there is much to be said for the indirect benefit that comes to our organizations from the collective and thus it only makes sense that we invest some time attending to the ways in which that collective might be strengthened.