By Emily Glory Peters
Meredith Ross and Reverend Wendy Smith ’68
Reverend Wendy Smith ’68 and her wife Meredith Ross first met when a friend asked Ross to join her for a visit to St. Thomas, a local Episcopal church. Finding Smith a fascinating preacher, Ross eventually joined a Bible discussion group led by Smith. The rest, Ross says, is history.
This connection through faith is just one reason the couple has chosen to leave a planned gift of $1 million to endow the Reverend Wendy M. Smith Religious Studies Scholarship for future Scripps students. Interested in religion since she was in high school, Smith says she was drawn to the discipline because she was “seeking the meaning of life.”
“I wanted to find out if there was more,” she says. “I thought religious studies would offer me the combination of history and theology within the context of contemporary issues.”
Offered in collaboration with the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges, the religious studies major at Scripps consists of 10 courses and a senior thesis. Today, students in the program not only enter careers in religious work as clergy, educators, and church leadership, but also professions in law, medicine, business, journalism, education, government, social services, and many other specialized fields. But this wasn’t always the norm.
Breaking Gender Barriers in the Clergy
Fueled by a longing to help others find their spiritual paths and life goals, Smith ultimately completed her master of divinity at Harvard University and a PhD in counseling psychology. Even with these achievements, she notes, faith-based career options for women were scarce at the time.
“In the 1960s and early 70s, few denominations allowed women to be ordained. It appeared to me there were only two possible career avenues for women in religious studies: book writing and religious leadership,” Smith explains. “Rather than being an academic author, working with people in religious leadership was my preferred choice.”
So she persevered and soon accepted a chaplain position at Stanford Memorial Church offered by her former Scripps’ professor of religious studies, Reverend Robert Hamerton-Kelly. When the time came for her ordination, a female objector unknown by the church stepped forward in protest: Smith was a woman, and consequently shouldn’t be in church leadership.
“The bishop listened—and said that, in spite of the objector’s beliefs, the Episcopal Church does not recognize gender as an impediment to priesthood,” Smith recalls. “When the Bishop asked the congregation if it was their will for me to be ordained, the resounding response of ‘yes’ almost raised the roof off of the chapel.” Smith would become one of the first women in the nation to be ordained by the denomination.
A Philosophy of Giving: Modeled by Family, Moved by Faith
In choosing to leave this planned gift to Scripps, both Smith and Ross credit their families for modeling that giving back isn’t a one-time act, but rather a lifestyle. Smith’s parents gave their time, money, and expertise to local organizations, and Ross shares that her years moving with her family around the world as an “army brat” engrained in her the virtue of supporting your community.
“Sometimes the need was monetary, sometimes home repair work, sometimes just someone to listen; but all required someone to step up and help with whatever resources could be spared,” she says.
A first-generation college student, Ross herself relied on the generosity of donors whose scholarships and grants helped her complete her undergraduate degrees, MBA, and PhD in industrial and management systems engineering. Without their education, she notes, neither she nor Smith would have had the opportunities afforded them.
While both Smith and Ross agree it’s important to give back to higher education, their emphasis on supporting religious studies through their planned gift is key. Exploring the histories, philosophies, traditions, and global impact of different faiths reflects the multidisciplinary value such study lends to a liberal arts education at Scripps.
“Religious studies propose significant answers to troubling questions people face, such as ‘Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Who needs my help? When should I speak up about a difficult situation and when should I keep silent? How do I help my community live in peace?’” says Smith. “I want to enable students who come after me to receive the same opportunities to pursue their interests in religious studies and to support the religious studies curriculum, which has been so important to me.”
Planned gifts ensure future Scripps College students lack nothing as they pursue their academic ambitions. To learn more about how you can leave a gift, visit scrippscollege.planmygift.org and contact us at [email protected].