At church and in the halls of St. Mary’s Episcopal School, no one is much surprised at the chortles and general good humor that tend to precede Head of School Albert Thockmorton and Rector Sandy Webb.
Because they both love jokes, they’ve been racing each other to the pun and punch line for more than three years. But the sound of their laughter has come symbolize a deeper reality: Without their easy back and forth, the largest capital campaign in the church’s history would likely still be on the shelf.
“We are sharing energy, momentum, a vision and the same direction,” Albert said. “We are also just very compatible souls.”
While Sandy is younger, the two have a peer status that Albert credits to Sandy’s leadership.
“He is very wise, and he suggested a ground rule from the very beginning - before we had anything on the table,” Albert said. “If there was anything that was any concern, we would bypass all the staff – all other ways of communicating – and talk directly to each other, face to face.”
If “it’s just chicken” – their code for minutiae - the details are worked out down the chain. When it’s not, there’s an impromptu summit between Albert and Sandy. When the office doors reopen, they have a plan, and the two go back to their jobs, often with their goodbyes echoing down the hallway.
“I think it started when we first met,” Sandy says. “We just hit it off immediately. It was a great conversation,” he said, noting that he said, “what if we talk about our gym, rather than your gym or my gym?
“There’s no doubt that Albert’s principal interest is St. Mary’s and my interest is Holy Communion, but we can see that that we are going to be strongest together when both are strong independently.”
For years, the school and the congregation have known they needed a new gym and wellness center. The problem was, the church didn’t feel strongly enough about the facilities that it could ever imagine building an entire capital campaign around it.
With Sandy and Albert’s friendship and the trust that has come of it, each side has been able to contribute from its strength – which from the church, includes land and a timeline.
For both institutions at the corner of Perkins and Walnut Grove, the campaign is the first time they are raising money together and will be expanding both of their footprints.
“The relationship between Holy Communion and St. Mary’s has always been strong, but it is great now,” said Emily Woodside, senior warden. “We are working extremely well together. We’ve always cooperated, but it’s a more positive, energetic cooperation now. We have always shared well, but now, there’s a coming together and an excitement on both sides.”
For two institutions that share a city block on one the busiest thoroughfares in the region, the partnership looks like it was ordained. It hasn’t always been.
“The long and short of is, nothing had happened,” said Ben Adams, a longtime church member and a co-chair - with Bill and Carmine Vaughan - of the church’s campaign. “The leadership cycles for the two institutions and the leadership through the process have not been in synch.”
This time, early in the process, Bill Vaughan had a sense it was going to happen.
“To me, it was the first time in about a dozen years that I really felt like we had a very good chance of making it a success,” he said. “Part of it has to do with the church’s and the school’s relationship. The relationship Sandy and Albert have forged, before the campaign ever came up, it was clear to everyone on both sides that these two leaders were in synch. It’s amazing how collaborative they have been on everything. The first question for both is: ‘How is this going to affect the other institution?’”
Both Albert and Sandy say the circumstances that created their harmony would be hard to duplicate. For one thing, they both came to their positions within a year of the other.
“We didn’t have the opportunity of leveraging seniority over each other. We were in it together,” Albert said.
“Both us knew that in accepting these jobs, our leadership expected a project to get underway quickly,” Sandy said.
To symbolize their partnership, Sandy has a seat just behind Albert during St. Mary’s daily chapel in the church.
“That is not something rectors have traditionally been offered,” Sandy said. “When I sit behind Albert in my seat, that was the gift that was offered to me as a sign that St. Mary’s was grateful for the relationship I was promoting on the church side.”
“And the gift you offer in return,” Albert said, “is that you actually use it.”
The soon-to-be built gym is the symbol of their willingness to consider what was best for the other.
“If you look at the campus as a map, the school’s buildings march along Perkins Extended, and the church buildings run along what we call “little Perkins,” Albert said. “The gym is the handshake – the school’s program spaces reaching around to join the church program spaces.
“To me, it’s not a handshake: It’s a clasping of hands.”