WES Blog — Searching for Amanda

Some of you may have wondered how Amanda Poppei came to WES.  The story of the Search Committee offers one narrative of how Amanda came to be our Senior Leader.
When Don Montagna retired after serving as Senior Leader for 34 years, WES had undertaken three new initiatives:  testing out a dual affiliation with the UUs as well as the AEU, taking on a building renovation and vastly higher mortgage, and conducting a search for a new leader.  None of us really could have understood what we were in for when, individually, we – Cayo Gamber, Anna Gillis, Christine Parcelli, Susan Runner, Perry Saidman, Craig Thornton, and Bob Wentworth – were elected to a position on the Leader Search Committee (that is, except for maybe Craig who had been part of a search at another congregation).  One of our first efforts was to meet with a UU consultant who walked us through the search process and helped to set our expectations.  We learned that:
  • we would choose one candidate or no candidate as our consultant explained that bringing in more than one candidate could fracture a community if the members became divided between/among options.
  • a candidate probably would not come to WES if she or he did not receive over a 90% vote from the congregation to call her/him to lead WES.  of the seven of us, the probabilities were that one of us would leave WES at the conclusion of the search process.
There was a great deal more that we learned about our responsibilities to WES, to the candidates, and to one another, but those first three prognoses were daunting enough.
As all of you know, whether you have been a member for a week or for many years, WES members and WES staff always engage in due diligence.  Before we ever embarked on the search, various Leader Transition, Affiliation, and Growth task forces had gathered information about how best to prepare WES for a new leader.  That said, there was a great deal we had to learn as a committee from engaging the rather simple liturgical language of “calling” a new leader to discovering what WES would prize in a new leader.  As a result of conducting 27 in-depth individual and group interviews, members of the Search Committee met with all the members of the staff, the Board of Trustees, and all of the active committees at WES in order to ask the following set of questions:
  • What goals to do you have for WES over the next five years or so?  What do you think WES can do to achieve those goals?
  • How would you describe WES to a prospective senior leader?  To prospective members? To a close confidant who was not a member?
  • Looking back, after our new leader has been with us three years, what will be your measure of success?  What achievements will make you say you’re glad the leader is here?
  • How can the new senior leader best support the mission of your group?
One of the vital results of those meetings:  a ten-paragraph (!) profile that became part of our advertisement of what we sought in a new leader.
And then there were multiple, often weekly, meetings among the seven of us as we sought places to advertise for a new leader, reviewed applications, developed a list of questions for phone interviews and our in-person interviews, met with the individual candidates.  One of the interactions we now see in a different light was Bob Wentworth’s phone call with Amanda to invite her to be in our pool of final candidates. After the call, Bob remarked that she didn’t sound as excited as he expected her to be. We later learned that Amanda took the call in her hospital room not long after giving birth to Marcella.
When we narrowed down the search to a small group, we attended services the potential candidates offered at neighbouring UU congregations.  It was particularly interesting for all of us to go UU churches in order to hear our top candidates speak. When we arrived at the different services we would scatter in the hopes that we wouldn’t make it obvious that we were a search committee and in the hopes of preserving the confidentiality of the search process.  Of course, in spite of our best efforts, it was obvious to some that the seven new faces were in fact members of search coming to see the visiting speaker deliver a talk. After seeing Amanda deliver an excellent talk and also observing her handling a “time-for-all-ages” (i.e., reading a story to the children when they returned from Sunday School) at two different services, a couple members of the congregation sidled up to Christine Parcelli to whisper “if you all don’t hire her, you are out of your minds.”
We not only worked hard, we laughed a great deal.  At many meetings, Craig Thornton would try out one of the new Ethical jokes he had developed.  As he tested out one which potentially blasphemed Felix Adler all of the electricity went out. And at one of the candidate dinners, Cayo Gamber’s bad cat burrowed into one of the living room chairs and tumbled out from between Craig’s legs as if Mr. Boo (the bad cat) had just been birthed.  Another time, during a meeting in a classroom in GW’s main library, the committee was laughing so hard that students in an adjacent room came to shush us. The photo at the bottom, in many ways, captures the spirit of our committee.
There was so much work and so much laughter.  In case you are thinking about how exhausting that work must have been for us, we also came across this Candidating Week Schedule that we had developed for Amanda we thought we should share:
The Senior Leader Search Committee
is pleased to invite you to
Candidating Week (April 26 through May 4)
We hope everyone will be able to participate in the various opportunities offered to meet our Candidate and the Candidate’s family during this exciting week.  These meetings will provide an opportunity for the Candidate to get to know us and our areas of interest and concern and for us to meet and get to know him/her.
A brief (and preliminary) schedule of the week follows.
Saturday, 26 April, Dinner at WES for the Seder
Sunday, 27 April, Deliver the platform, after-platform coffee hour with membership
Monday, 28 April, Dessert and coffee with membership, 7-9
Tuesday, 29 April, Dessert and coffee with membership, 7-9
Wednesday, 30 April, Dessert and coffee with membership, 7-9
Thursday, 1 May, Dessert and coffee with membership, 7-9
Friday, 2 May, Community Potluck at WES, babysitting provided, 6:30 pm
Saturday, 3 May, Morning Coffee with membership 9 am
Sunday, 4 May, Deliver a platform, after-platform coffee hour with membership
Sunday, 4 May (early afternoon), WES members meet to vote whether to appoint the Candidate as the new Senior Leader
All of us would agree with Anna Gillis when she said that “I still consider the Search Committee among the most important pieces of service I have ever done.”  And it all concluded with our great success, the members of WES called Amanda Poppei to be our new Senior Leader.  Our thanks to every member of WES in 2008 who participated in this process and our most heart-felt and bountiful thanks to Amanda for being willing to answer our call.
Here is to our ongoing journey together!
Cayo Gamber, Anna Gillis, Christine Parcelli, Susan Runner, Perry Saidman, Craig Thornton, and Bob Wentworth