There are many excellent reasons for attending CUAC’s Melbourne Triennial in July, but one of the most compelling is the opportunity to spend some time with Dr Esther Mombo, the Kenyan theologian who has played a leading role in making women an energizing force in African Christianity. Along with the Triennial’s two other lead speakers – the Aboriginal rights activist Pastor Ray Minniecon and eco-theologian Revd Dr Jeremy Law – her presence will guarantee that the gathering spotlights the deep involvement of Anglican higher education in the challenges of our times.
Reached by Zoom in Limuru (Kenya) last week – at a time when the Pope’s visit to Congo made headlines for the unexpectedly huge crowds turning out in celebration of African Christianity – Dr Mombo said she would use her talk on “deepening learning” to explain her “transgressive and transformative vision for the Church in Africa,” a process which she described as an act of “un-learning.”
“It’s going against the grain, against the dominant theologies and methodologies. They don’t give us room to grow.” She used the image of a completely full bottle – “you take away a bit of what it contains then add something new.”
Christian higher education in Africa not only needs to fight disease and poverty, she added, it needs to overcome the fact that it is not accessible to many, especially in theological studies, and especially for women. “I ask myself how to create a safe environment for my students, how to bring into the center the marginal voices and give them a sense of agency.”
Climate crisis has worsened an already difficult situation: the dry areas of Kenya are suffering a fifth year of severe drought, while the normally wet areas are flooded because of too much rain. “There are children in parts of the country who have grown up having never seen rain, and others for whom flooding has brought hunger and disease.”
Death of animals has brought misery to pastoralist communities, she said. “Having to walk miles looking for water every day – what has this done to women’s lives? What do they have to give up?”
“In both extremes, lots of people have experienced the pain of climate change. It’s interesting to discuss the causes, but what do we do now? Because it’s often the women and children who are suffering the most.”
Women have had leadership roles in some Christian communities in Africa for some 40 years, Dr Mombo said, “but the patriarchical structure is still there” – a situation summed up in the phrase “men in the pulpits, women in the pews.” While still youthful, African Christianity has created from its colonialist roots “a faith that links the realities of joy and pain.” She defined it as a religion that focuses on real life issues, incorporates multiple expressions of spiritual practice, and welcomes a variety of indigenous responses.
Dr Mombo, who has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and an honorary doctorate from Virginia Theological Seminary, is now a professor of theology at St Paul’s University, which she has helped to evolve from an Anglican theological college into a large ecumenical university. Religion, she said, plays an important role in Kenya in shaping how people discuss a wide range of topics. The sheer diversity of Christian belief – one way it differs from Islam in Africa – means that educators must be especially sensitive, even cautious, yet always creative in creating dialogue. “In the same classroom you might have people who do not believe in the ordination of women and women who are bishops in their own churches.”
So what is she especially looking for in Melbourne? The opportunity “to look people in the eye” that has been so difficult to achieve in the COVID era, to enjoy a lively and open space where people involved in Anglican education can travel again and exchange ideas. Zoom works well in many contexts – as CUAC’s online seminars have proved – but it is no real substitute for face-to-face conversation.
Early bird rate expires on 10th of February
We are well on our way with registrations for this year's Triennial conference with delegates from 15 countries so far. We do hope you can join us. CUAC needs your wisdom and unique perspective!
Dr Sean M. Decatur, who has been president of CUAC-affiliated Kenyon College in a small Ohio town for almost a decade, as accepted the presidency of the American Museum of Natural History, which is on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, overlooking Central Park.
The size of the two organizations is roughly the same -- Kenyon has an endowment of $180 million, the Museum, $186 million; Kenyon has a staff of 600, the Museum, some 1,000 -- but the new job puts Decatur in the midst of the controversies involving race, class, and gender faced by most of the world’s great museums.
Kenyon, with its 1,670 students and 200 faculty members, is – in the words of its website – “a bit off the beaten path.” The Museum is in a relentless media spotlight.
Decatur, a biophysical chemist, is the Museum’s first Black leader. He succeeds Ellen Futter, its first woman president, who held the post for 30 years. A graduate of Swarthmore College with a PhD from Stanford University, Decatur has been praised for his skill in leading Kenyon through the COVID crisis and as a successful fundraiser for the prestigious liberal arts college.
Dr Jeff Bowman has succeeded him as interim president while Kenyon searches for its 20th president. “I have spent my career committed to access and opportunity for students and also to an understanding of science,” Decatur told the New York Times. “This feels like a natural evolution.” The Museum not only welcomes millions of visitors each year, it also grants graduate degrees and serves as a major scientific research institution.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Decatur grew up visiting the classroom of his mother, Doris Decatur, who for nearly 40 years taught math and science in the local public schools. At age six, he memorized the Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“He was this little guy,” Doris Decatur told the Kenyon Alumni Magazine in 2013. “He got up and did that speech from beginning to end, without stumbling or forgetting it. Everybody knew him — the little boy who does the Martin Luther King speech. He talked about the red hills, and, oh, they had a fit. It was one of those things that brought tears to your eyes.”
Under his leadership, which began in 2013, Kenyon joined the American Talent Initiative, a coalition of colleges working to expand access and opportunity, and inaugurated the Kenyon Access Initiative to increase diversity and foster inclusion.
“Sean is a rare leader who is able at once to hold deep compassion and strategic pragmatism in delicate tension, said Kenyon’s Episcopal chaplain, the Revd Dr Rachel Kessler. “We no doubt have him to thank for the relative health of Kenyon coming out of the challenging pandemic years. On a personal level, I am grateful for the respect Sean held for religious life within a secular liberal arts institution, and for Sean's ability to see the gift offered to Kenyon through the relationships embedded in CUAC and the Association of Episcopal Colleges.”
Save the Date
29 March 2023, 12 noon GMT (90 min)
CUAC Past, Present and Future: Celebrating the First 30 Years
Blessed with eyewitnesses, the Seminar moderated by Dean Jeremy Law of Canterbury Christ Church University, will have three sections, Past, Present and Future. Beginning with the Past, panelists, CUAC’s 1st Board Chair, Dr David Peacock, former Principal of Whitelands College, London, 2nd Chair, Dr Gail Cuthbert, former Principal of Renison College, Waterloo, Canada, and 3rd Chair, Dr Nirmala Jeyaraj, former principal of Lady Doak College, Madurai, India. With Dean Jeremy Law laying the solid footing of CUAC’s Identity and Character Declaration of Ideals, the focus will turn to members to report on CUAC’s present and share hopes and dreams for its future. So present members, we need your input!
CUAC Climate Crisis Action Reports
The American College, Madurai, Tamil Nadu (India)
Principal Dr M. Davamani Christober reports that the College’s goal is “to sensitize every student about climate crisis” while working to make the campus green. Planning is underway for an extension course titled Green Culture in which students will be trained then sent into communities to teach about sustainability.
India is chiefly an agrarian society, he added, suddenly experiencing rain-deficit monsoon seasons and excessive unseasonal rain, devastating crops and negatively affecting biodiversity in general.
University of Chester (UK)
Administrators are working with Prof John French to gain a better understanding of the University’s carbon footprint and identify the most inefficient buildings among the University’s properties. The target: a net zero carbon footprint.
Steps taken include:
A review of fleet vehicle use and business travel and parking policies
Carbon Literacy Courses teaching the science behind climate change and the concept of climate justice
A Sustainable Tourism module
A Sustainability Fair last November designed “to ensure attendees leave understanding the level of urgency needed”
Storyhouse Climate, a one-day event linking academic research with interactive workshops for school children.
Canterbury Christ Church University (UK)
As part of its Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the University produced in October probably the most ambitious climate conference held by any CUAC member to date, titled Social and Environmental Justice for a Sustainable Future.
Keynoter Simon Hood (Runnymede Trust) addressed the links between environmental emergency and systemic racism, saying that climate-related struggles of people of color across the globe “have repeatedly been ignored by those in positions of power.”
The more theoretical presentations were balanced with some real-life case studies. Canterbury Christ Church student Kat Porter, for example, investigated fast fashion, “not only the environmental and social issues surrounding the throw-away culture but the consumer driven capitalism that drives the want to buy more.” Her anti-fast fashion campaign introduces a new way of thinking about clothing summarized as “Let’s work with what we have.” She provided a sewing table to fix existing clothes, a printing table to print new designs to restyle old clothes, and a swap area “where you swap an item of your clothing with someone else.”
The conference also explored “Religion, Sustainability, and the Common Good,” raising questions of how religious insights can contribute to contemporary environmentalism and how spiritual and mystical perspectives shape “how we see the natural environment and our pursuit of the common good.”
Compass Points welcomes further updates on climate activism from CUAC members. Please send them to [email protected].
News from Around the CUAC World
Dr Kwok Chun Wong, an alumnus of the “Second Floor,” has been appointed Master of St John’s College at the University of Hong Kong. He was Dean of the College from 1995 to 2022 and a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Land Economy of Cambridge University (UK) in 2009. He earned his BA and PhD from the Department of Real Estate and Construction of the University of Hong Kong, where he is now an associate professor.
Dr Robert W. Pearigen, who was for 13 years president of Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, has been elected 18th vice-chancellor and president of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. He is a 1976 graduate of the University.
Search committee co-chair Mary Claire Shipp Murphy said: "Rob Pearigen has devoted his entire life's work to supporting and empowering students... His leadership and reputation exemplify the values and vision that are inherent in a Sewanee education."
Dr Jeffrey A. Bowman has served as Kenyon College's provost and chief academic officer, since 2020. He is now also serving as the acting president until the search for the 20th president is complete. As provost, Bowman has been committed to educational excellence and has provided valuable support to faculty as they met the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. His research interests encompass law and society in the medieval Mediterranean, hagiography, and medieval women. His 2004 book, “Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000” (Cornell University Press), was awarded the American Historical Association’s Premio del Rey book prize. His recent publications have focused on the power of elite women in the 10th through 12th centuries.
- IN MEMORIAM -
Canon Peter Ng, formerly the Presiding Bishop’s Deputy for Anglican Global Relations, died on December 10 in New York City. He was a friend of CUAC, joining the Appeal Steering Committee in 2017, and a special friend of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, which made him a Lay Canon, and of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Manila.
Building on his Chinese heritage, Ng used his entrepreneurial gifts to create the Episcopal Church’s first Jubilee Center for an Asian congregation at the Church of Our Savior. The ministry addressed housing, employment, health, and technology access in New York City’s Chinatown, financed through a printer and computer refurbishment business operated by recent immigrants trained at the Church’s employment center. Named by Trinity Church Wall Street in 2004 as an inaugural Trinity Transformational Fellow, at age 56 he travelled to China to learn Mandarin.
It was a skill he put into practice at the Episcopal Church’s Partnership Office for Asia and the Pacific, where he developed a breakthrough rapport with China’s National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement and its chair, Elder Fu.
“Peter’s making Asian lives matter helped build a richer, more inclusive church globally,” said CUAC General Secretary Jamie Callaway. “Above all, he was a wise mentor, companion and friend, who left his mark far and wide and challenges us all to follow in his footsteps.”
From the General Secretary’s Desk
After ten years as General Secretary of this educational network, I’ve been reflecting on what a network is, what it offers to strengthen its members, and what it takes to sustain it.
The Association of Episcopal Colleges (AEC) was founded in 1962 to strengthen Episcopal colleges in common fundraising and resource sharing between more and less established institutions that included three HBCUs and colleges in Liberia and Philippines. Over the years, a visionary Executive Director, Dr Linda Chisholm, came to recognize that a signal strength of Episcopal colleges was their potential for relationships with their global peers. She gathered a group in March 1993 in Canterbury that, with the support of Archbishop George Carey, inaugurated the Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion, with the AEC continuing as the American chapter. So CUAC will celebrate its 30th anniversary next month.
Just as working in concert requires building community, networking requires significant time, attention, and resources. It has to overcome deep pressures of inertia and the human proclivity to go it alone. While the pandemic’s threat to residential education made support from a network all the more vital, it also threatened finding the time and money needed for the network to survive.
I have been continually struck by how CUAC’s constellation of over 160 Anglican colleges on five continents binds our global family together, while recognizing the fragility of their Anglican identity amidst the market forces shaping higher education. As John Hall, the recent Dean of Westminster, whose background as Chief Education Officer of the Church of England included church colleges, observed: “Anglican universities have to flourish on their distinctiveness,” which it is CUAC’s underlying mission to foster. While colleges and universities participate in the network for collaboration and learning, we have a bit of a Border Collie’s role in keeping our sheep faithful to the values of their Anglican foundations. Yet our challenge is building a greater critical mass for our long-term future.
Our principal challenge in sustaining a vibrant network is building awareness and support beyond our dues-paying members. Being under-resourced takes a toll on our edge of creativity. Yet, it is far easier to raise support to assist struggling members than for the network itself. Our Board of Trustees, recognizing that dues and other income weren’t sufficient for CUAC to be proactive, has begun seeking support from the broader church community.
Raising support, of course, has to begin with raising awareness of Anglican higher education in general and the vital role for our CUAC network in particular. Initiatives to raise further endowment will be a significant step in guaranteeing CUAC a creative future. Networks succeed when they to assist their members to thrive.
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
How Does a Network Work?
What does a network do, I once asked a very wise friend. It networks, he replied. It exists by doing things with others, in defiance of barriers of time and space and going-it-alone. Yes, an effective network needs things – an office, personnel, a website…a newsletter! But these things exist simply to enable an idea to flourish, and if the idea is not a compelling one, all that hardware will soon be on its way to that ever-growing landfill where extinct organizations sit and rust in the rain.
CUAC, it seems to me, has been a very successful network indeed.
Founded 30 years ago next month, it emerged from a world that seems so innocent, almost Edenic, compared to our current mess. Try to imagine a world where COVID did not exist, where everything had not been politicized, where authoritarianism and police violence were not on the rise, where a European war seemed impossible, where people had attention spans of heroic length and spoke in complete sentences, even paragraphs! Perhaps I romanticize…but it is a very different world today.
Yet CUAC has survived: only a handful of its small colleges have vanished, and all the survivors have emerged from the pandemic maybe battered but still unbowed. This is a major achievement.
As for what the next 30 years will look like, ask your in-house A.I. chatbot. (You don’t have one? Just wait: they’ll soon be as common as parking meters.) My feeble human brain does see three major challenges ahead:
The planet is teetering on a brink of some sort. Many CUAC members are in flood zones, for example; all of us will be impacted by climate chaos and the waves of immigration growing out of it
The mainline churches and their claims to authority are shrinking; young people in the West at least have little taste for organized religion, much preferring a vague “spirituality” or free-floating agnosticism
There won’t be all that many youngsters, anyway: the population in the developed world is getting older and older.
CUAC institutions, large or small, rich or struggling, can’t solve these problems. But they can prepare for them, calling upon reserves of faith and resourcefulness that I know are there. Higher education can’t be purely transactional: if it is, the bots may as well replace us.
So happy birthday, CUAC! Many happy returns of the day…
Compass Points is published by GENERAL SECRETARY: The Revd Canon James G. Callaway, D.D. PUBLISHER: Julia DeLashmutt EDITOR: Charles C. Calhoun PRODUCER: Francis Rivera