“Check out the attached picture,” Associate Professor of Religion Derek Nelson ’99 wrote to me in an email last Friday. I opened the attachment to find what you see here: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in liturgical vestments, standing with a group of Indiana pastors from the Wabash Pastoral Leadership program.
So what are they doing in South Africa? (Other than receiving Holy Communion from one of the most famous peace activists on the planet, that is—and on the same day this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners were announced.)
That’s pretty much what everyone I told about this photo has asked. Apparently the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program—one of the College’s four Centers of Distinction—is also one of the College’ best kept secrets.
Time to get the word out.
Funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and founded in 2008 by Professor Emeritus Raymond Williams H’68, the program selects up to 18 Indiana pastors who in their first five to ten years have demonstrated high potential for significant leadership. They participate in a series of meetings, conversations with outstanding leaders, and two study tours over a two-year period. I have photographed a few of the sessions here on campus. I have seen the safe space and remarkable support, guidance, and inspiration the Center provides these gifted and dedicated servants of their congregations, and that they give one another.
They express their gratitude for the program in testimonials on the program’s Web site that capture well the deep need the Center is meeting: “I had been told plenty of times that I needed to be a good leader, but I was given little space or time to reflect on leadership,” one pastor writes. “Part cloister and part think tank, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program has been a tremendous gift in my life that has created a community for theological and practical reflection on leadership.”
“The Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program was the greatest opportunity to grow as a pastoral leader I’ve ever been given,” writes another.
The current group is the second immersed in a study tour of South Africa, and Associate Director Libby Manning says “the trip has tied together so many of the community issues we have been studying with the pastors. We’re learning about the ways that education, conflict resolution, economics and immigration play into the health and well-being of our communities, and the place that the churches have in that ongoing process.”
The pastors toured Robben Island on Monday, guided by a former prisoner there and cellmate of Nelson Mandela, Eddie Daniels.
While most of the visit is carefully arranged, the encounter with Desmond Tutu was “mostly a case of being in the right place at the right time,” says Nelson, who in 2013 was named the Center’s director. A colleague of Derek’s was hosting the pastors at Stellenbosch University at the same time the school held a conference with Bishop Tutu. “So the pastors were on his radar screen, and the dean of the cathedral in Cape Town invited them to daily Mass.”
The pastors are blogging about their experience in South Africa at the Center’s Web site, where you’ll see one way the College’s original mission—”the training of teachers and preachers”—is being lived out in new, important, and unexpected ways.