Chaplain Megan Collins-Moore explains how she links up with her students on their own territory – in a pub – at Canada’s Renison University College.
Students in the Ministry Centre enjoying 'Tea & Questions'
Every second Thursday afternoon during term time, I put on my coat and walk across campus to Molly’s, a pub frequented by many students. Inside, a table is set aside, and students sit there waiting. I join them, order drinks, and engage in a lively discussion on the topic of the day – perhaps, “Love and sex” or “Mental health: the myth of the mad artist” or “Ghosts & spirits.”
Fermented Faith is underway for another session!
I have been running Fermented Faith for over a decade now. The pub is well used to our presence. Regulars seated at the bar will stop watching the soccer game on TV and join in when the discussion gets particularly interesting. Student participants are from all faculties and levels, and from every faith background or none.
The quotes I hand out represent a wide range of thoughts on any given topic, including some scripture verses. No one will agree with them all. People take turns pulling one from the basket and reading it out loud to the group. That person gets to comment first before it is opened to the wider group. I act as a referee, moving us on to the next quote when the dialogue becomes too heated or we are just going in circles. From time to time, I also step in and offer my own view as an Anglican priest.
I run a similar group on alternate weeks, Tea & Questions, which takes place in the Ministry Centre outside my office, offering tea donated by a local store. Both groups are important vehicles for religious growth among students, though most do not identify it in that way. I work at Renison University College, the Anglican college at the University of Waterloo. UWaterloo is known for its engineering and math faculties. It is primarily a pragmatic school.
Fermented Faith and Tea & Questions are a way of helping students reflect and ask big questions. We live in a world which increasingly does not understand traditional religious language, and there is an urgent need to learn how to translate Christian concepts into words which can be comprehended. There is a hunger among young adults for deep conversation. But it cannot be seen as preaching or trying to give already determined answers. Instead, it is about asking questions, telling personal stories, letting dialogue and experience teach wisdom, and trusting that God will act in all of this.
For instance, at a recent gathering focussed on Mental Health, quotes included such statements as “A force as of madness in the hands of reason has done all that was ever done in the world” (Thomas Carlyle). This prompted a response from students who said that they did not want to be “mad,” that their medication was necessary to cope with a clinical diagnosis. And yet, what does that mean about their “real” identity? An earlier session on Adulthood pondered a line from LeGuin, “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” This led to a conversation on how difficult childhood can be, versus the sentimental version we often see portrayed.
The young people I work with are inspiring. They ask hard questions and they want to change the world. Whether or not they use that language, it is clear God is already active in their lives. It is such a gift to be allowed to accompany them for a little while on this key part of their journey.
A New President for Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Labor economist Joyce P. Jacobsen has become the first woman to serve as President of the two paired historic colleges, in upstate Geneva, New York.
CUAC General Secretary Jamie Callaway joins Hobart & William Smith’s new President, Dr Joyce P. Jacobsen, and its new Chaplain, the Revd Nita Byrd, at the Inauguration. Dr Jacobsen wore a pair of handknit mittens with the Colleges’ colors for the chilly outdoor ceremony.
Dr Jacobsen brings to the job a Harvard A.B., a London School of Economics M.Sc, and a Stanford Ph.D., plus many years as provost and senior vice president at Wesleyan University. She posed the question, however, in her Oct. 18 inaugural address, of whether a career in higher education was a “safer bet” than working in other fields. Absolutely, she concluded, and a lot more interesting!
Here are some highlights from her speech:
My mother isn't the only person to have greeted the news of my current career choice with some reservations. Indeed, people regularly ask me why I, or anyone, would want to be a college president in these difficult times. The general view is that Higher Education, particularly the liberal arts sector of it, is in crisis.
If you want to see Real problems, go back and look at the American higher education system in the 19th century and early 20th century.
Indeed, numerous colleges started before the civil war perished before the civil war, and others were unable to survive the war era.
Similarly, people often assume that students used to be better prepared for college entry, better behaved, more dedicated to their studies. But just as there was no golden age of solvency, there was also no golden age of student diligence and studiousness.
In contrast, the signal strengths of the US higher education system have been and continue to be threefold: a great diversity of options, wide access to the system, and student-centered pedagogy. And the US system has also generally had a clearer link to occupational outcomes, whether it be to train clergy in the earliest days of the college system in the US, or the comprehensive land grant college approach to train people on all sorts of practical concerns, ranging from engineering to nursing to education to business, even as the bedrock of the college education has been, and continues to be, the liberal arts and sciences.
And there are three additional distinguishing features of the US higher education system: the emphasis placed on residential college life, and on co-curricular experiences, often in a rural or semi-rural setting. For many US colleges, dormitories are not just convenient housing close to where students have their classes, they are integral parts of the whole educational project. We want students to stay on campus after class hours and on weekends so as to participate in the full educational experience that an immersive setting offers.
And also, I didn't want to be President of just any college. It is this particular pair of colleges, Hobart and William Smith, founded in 1822 and 1908, that I am serving as their president. Spunky, scrappy colleges that have survived numerous existential threats over their years and nonetheless just keep on keeping on, hustling and marketing and serving the community in which they are embedded. Aspirational colleges that contribute to keeping the light of learning alive, that keep on trying to get better, but that don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, or the good enough become the enemy of the great.
A college still provides the single best bet for having a positive transformational experience that lays the groundwork for a successful adulthood. I know that college transformed my life and laid the intellectual foundation for where I am today.
CUAC 10th Triennial International Conference
Saved by Technology?
The promise and danger of technology for Christian Higher Education
Register Now at CUAC.org Earlybird Pricing Ends February 14th!
Quire at Westminster Abbey
Do students still need teachers? Or would a machine work just as well?
Do students still need classrooms? Or is social media world enough?
Do students still need other students? Or could we learn just as well in isolation?
Helping us sort out the answers will be the following keynote speakers:
Prof Timothy Wu, Professor of Law, Science and Technology, Columbia University (USA)
Dr Karen O’Donnell, Centre for Contemporary Spirituality (UK)
Dr Christianna Singh, Principal of Lady Doak College, Madurai (India)
Prof Timothy Wheeler, Vice Chancellor of the University of Chester (UK)
June 29 - July 4, 2020
University of Roehampton, London, UK
'It Takes a Village to Install a Chaplain'
At the Institution of Nita Byrd as Dean of Spiritual Engagement and Chaplain of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, conducted by Bishop Prince Singh at the Diocese of Rochester Convention’s meeting at the colleges, CUAC General Secretary Jamie Callaway presented her with a Compass Rose plaque from Jerusalem, with the words: “Nita, receive the Compass Rose as a sign of your global family as part of the Anglican Communion.”
Nita and her presenters -- Christian, Muslim and Jewish -- From left: James-Henry Holland, Grace Bott, Jamie Callaway, HWS President Joyce Jacobsen, Chaplain Nita Byrd, Bishop Prince Singh, Etin Anwar, Nan Arens, and Julianne Miller; front, Kevin Byrd, Esq.
India Chapter Turns To WhatsApp To Keep Connected
Meeting on Nov. 29 at Women’s Christian College (WCC) in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, the 19 attendees (including eight principals, many of them new) heard Dr Spurgeon Maher describe CUAC’s progress since its 1993 founding and the importance of its global Triennials, the most recent of which was in Chennai in 2017. He encouraged them to attend this summer’s London gathering. WCC Principal Dr Lilian Jaspar was host of the meeting, and Dr Mercy Pushpalatha (former principal, Lady Doak College) gave the devotional. Attendees discussed how to use WhatsApp to keep in touch and to facilitate exchanges of students and faculty.
Renison Celebrates 60th Anniversary
On the occasion of Renison University College’s 60th anniversary, CUAC General Secretary Jamie Callaway presented the Archbishop of Canterbury’s certificate of congratulations to Dr Wendy Fletcher – President and Vice Chancellor of the College and its Professor of Religious Studies and Social Work – and to Board Chair Matthew Griffin. The College is an affiliate of the University of Waterloo.
Canon Callaway also complimented Dr Gail Cuthbert Brandt (Renison’s sixth President, 1992-2002) – who was wearing a vintage pink dress that her mother had worn in 1959 – and the Archbishop of Algoma, the Very Revd Anne Germond, who had just been made an Honorary Senior Fellow.
The Revd Prof Dr Francis Renta Nishihara – “Renta” to his many CUAC colleagues around the Communion – faced a difficult choice this year. Should he accept the great honor of being elected Bishop of the Diocese of Chubu (mid-Japan)? Or did his loyalties lie with his students and colleagues at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, where he is Vice Chancellor and Dean of the College of Arts, as well as a faculty member at the Central Theological College and board chair of the Association of Christian Schools in Japan?
As he later wrote, “Once having been called to the priesthood, episcopacy is also in its very nature a one-way call from God, one that I felt it would be impossibly arrogant to refuse.” A long period of reflection ensued. Then the Diocese came up with a solution: appointment of a “Bishop’s Assistant,” rather like a British archdeacon, to help with the administrative chores. So he accepted the appointment and will be consecrated and installed on March 28, in the Cathedral in Nagoya, as Bishop of the Diocese of Chubu (mid-Japan).
Revd Prof Dr Francis Renta Nishihara
When was the last time a college head was elected bishop? In the Philippines, The Revd Ernie Moral, president of Brent Hospital and Colleges was elected bishop in the nearby Episcopal Diocese of Southern Philippines, over leaping a degree of separation between the church and academy.
The Revd Anna Brooker is part-time chaplain of St. John’s College, Durham. Already a tutor at Cranmer Hall, she had been priest in charge of three ex-mining villages, helping to lead the East Durham Mission Project. She was drawn north in a sabbatical focusing of Celtic spirituality which led her to Scotland. St. John’s principal, the Revd Prof David Wilkinson, comments, “We are immensely privileged to appoint someone of Ann’s experience and expertise to this post. She already knows the College and will be a great chaplain – her pastoral skills combine with imagination and care in leading worship and preaching.” She enjoys reading, walking (preferable with a dog) and time with friends and family over a cuppa or a good meal.
From the General Secretary’s Desk In the last decade, since the global economic recession, there has been a growing drumbeat questioning whether higher education as we know it is sustainable. The longer you are familiar with higher education, the more likely you are to recognize its economic fragility. With the exception of rare streaks of growth, such as in post-World War II America, colleges and universities usually cope on a pretty thin financial edge. How perilous is their future?
This fall I was in Geneva, New York, for the inauguration of Joyce Jacobsen as president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. With her family seated in the first rows, she shared the reactions of family and friends to her taking on the leadership of a small liberal arts college in these times.
While higher education is often at the edge financially, thanks to vigorous backing from leaders and supporters colleges and universities have historically been remarkably resilient, as Jacobsen, a seasoned economist, detailed. Leaving aside the politics of government funding, the value proposition of higher education is that the precious time and money it requires prepares for a lifetime enhancement of the lives of graduates. While some measures, such as initial income and indebtedness are tricky, the long-term benefits are substantial, she concluded.
Even though liberal education doesn’t prepare students for any job in particular, there is hardly any occupation left that does not require critical thinking and eloquence in person to person expression. But for Anglican colleges especially there is something deeper, something that transcends the economics. As President Jacobsen said, “Because for all the doubts about the college system, about what the value is of college, about whether it is worth its cost… a college still provides the single best bet for having a positive transformational experience that lays the groundwork for a successful adulthood. I know that college transformed my life and laid the intellectual foundation for where I am today.”
So while sustaining colleges and universities is and probably always will be demandingly labor intensive, the rewards of glimpsing changed lives provides the energy to persist.
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
A trip back to 1953 offers a moment of calm
We live in such a time of turmoil – in post-election Britain, in pre-election USA, in Modi’s Hindu nationalist India, in fire-ravaged Australia – I think it’s just a normal human instinct to seek some reliable safe space, some refuge from the noise. The other day I found one: the BBC’s pioneering television coverage in 1953 of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Three cheers for YouTube, where such treasures await late-night prowling!
The film lasts three hours and moves at the slow yet ineluctable pace of honey flowing from a jar. You can fall asleep at 1:29:05 and awake half an hour later and nothing seems to have happened. The sepulchral voice of Richard Dimbleby occasionally breaks the long silences. Courtiers and choristers perform their ritual dance. The young monarch seems frail yet at the same time steely. The celebrants speak in ecclesiastical accents of such rich plumminess, you wonder if you could buy a jar of it at Fortnum & Mason’s. There had not been a coronation since 1937, and the Abbey was so full of ermine and lace, it must have reeked of moth balls.
Viewing such a thing, fresh from having watched Netflix’s The Crown, is a strangely moving as well as comforting experience. You know how some of it turned out. I recall that it was the very first thing I can remember watching, aged six, on a very small television set indeed. I was especially impressed that one of my fellow viewers on the sidelines of the ceremony was someone named Prince Charles. Some of my friends have accused me of never having got over that.
In this new year of 2020, remembrance of extravagances past just might help us prepare for the deprivations to come. The sheer beauty of Anglicanism goes only so far, but perhaps far enough to remind us how this beauty – this link of present and past, this patient stateliness – illumines the world of Anglican higher education as well, across borders of time and place.
Compass Points is published by GENERAL SECRETARY: The Revd Canon James G. Callaway, D.D. EDITOR: Charles C. Calhoun PUBLISHER: Julia DeLashmutt