[Episcopal Divinity School press release] Citing a strong record of human rights activism and pastoral leadership, Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) announced Nov. 18 that the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, bishop of Southern Malawi, will serve as a presidential fellow for six months beginning January 2014. The fellowship was made possible with the support of the Episcopal dioceses of Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“I am very pleased to offer Bishop Tengatenga this presidential fellowship,” said EDS president and dean, the Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale. “His dynamic faith, moral leadership, and commitment to justice are values that have long defined EDS. We look forward to his work and witness among us and are delighted that our students will have the opportunity to learn from his wisdom and experience. We are thankful to the dioceses of Connecticut and Massachusetts as well for their support and counsel in helping to facilitate Bishop Tengatenga’s appointment as a presidential fellow.”
The presidential fellowship comes just three months after Dartmouth College rescinded Tengatenga’s appointment as dean of the William Jewett Tucker Foundation, after a student group alleged he was homophobic. In an open letter to Dartmouth, Ragsdale, along with other Episcopal Church leaders, academics, LGBTQ advocacy groups in Malawi, and other human rights advocates, disputed the student group’s claim and described Dartmouth’s actions as “a gross injustice to an individual who would have made an ideal person to provide moral and ethical leadership at the college.”
Tengatenga’s long record of support for LGBTQ rights in his native Malawi and across Africa was a decisive factor in inviting him to EDS as a presidential fellow. In 2007, Tengatenga opposed a move by church leaders in Africa to cut ties with the U.S. Episcopal Church because of its support of LGBTQ clergy, and in 2010, together with bishops from Central and Southern Africa, wrote a strong counter-statement to an anti-LGBTQ communique from church leaders at the All-African Anglican Bishops’ Conference.
“I thank Episcopal Divinity School and President Ragsdale for this honor and opportunity,” said Tengatenga. “I look forward not only to using my time at EDS for writing, reflection, and prayer, but also as an opportunity to enter into the life of a seminary that is a moral and intellectual leader in theological education. I hope to share my experience of close to thirty years of ministry in Malawi with EDS students, and to both ask and answer questions about the important work that God has set before us—the work of alleviating suffering and inequality, of promoting ecumenical cooperation, and of building a more just society.”
“EDS has a long history of embracing those relegated to the margins of society,” said Ragsdale. “Whether it’s the hiring of the first women priests in the Episcopal Church in the 1970s, our commitment to teaching liberation theology, or the welcoming of LGBTQ clergy in the last two decades, EDS has long been at the forefront of progressive Christian movements. Bishop Tengatenga’s time here will strengthen that work and give our students the opportunity to learn from one of the great global leaders of faith in our time.”
Tengatenga will join a seminary with an increasingly international reach. EDS students come from six continents to study in both traditional and low-residency distributive learning degree and certificate programs. Over the last several years, EDS has implemented student exchange programs with seminaries in Asia and has expanded its popular Foreign Study Seminars to South Africa and to China.
“All members of the EDS community share a commitment to intellectual engagement, progressive social action, and to respecting the dignity of every human being,” said Ragsdale. “Bishop Tengatenga’s leadership in the Anglican Communion in Africa, his human rights activism, his HIV ministry, and his work on behalf of ecumenism in Malawi make him an ideal presidential fellow.”
Tengatenga will be in residence on the school’s historic Brattle Street campus from January – May 2014 to write, to worship with the community, and to make himself available to EDS students seeking consultation or guidance in academic or spiritual matters.
About The Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga
James Tengatenga was born in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, on April 7, 1958. In 1979 he began theological training and priestly formation at Zomba Theological College in Malawi after which, in 1982, he continued theological training at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest at Austin, Texas, where he earned a master’s degree in divinity.
In 1998 he was consecrated bishop of Southern Malawi.
He has a Ph.D (Church and State Relations) from the University of Malawi, D.D (honoris causa) from Episcopal Theological Seminary of the South and a D.D. (honoris causa) from the General Theological Seminary in New York.
The bishop has been involved in HIV ministry as a member of the Malawi National AIDS Commission which coordinates the national response to HIV and AIDS. He is currently a member of the executive committee of the Malawi Partnership Forum which is the forum for the government and all partners in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
He has been involved in many mediation talks among political parties in the country and during the 2004 elections he chaired the church leaders committee that facilitated the multi-party talks that led to the Mgwirizano Coalition.
Tengatenga and his wife Joselyn have nine children, six of whom are adopted from deceased sisters.
About Episcopal Divinity School
Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) is a progressive seminary and theological graduate school for lay and ordained leaders of all denominations. Committed to a mission of social justice and inclusive education and grounded in the Anglican tradition, EDS awards Masters’ degrees in Divinity and Theological Studies, Doctoral degrees in Ministry, and Certificates in Anglican Formation; Justice, Reconciliation, and Mission; and Christian Spiritualities for the Contemporary World.
EDS graduates serve as lay and ordained ministers of the Episcopal Church as well as in other Christian denominations. They are also leaders in a variety of professions and industries, including non-profit executives, mental health professionals, social workers, community organizers, academics, artists, and writers, often in addition to their work as clergy or church leaders.
EDS is a member of the Boston Theological Institute, a consortium of 10 eminent theological schools, seminaries, and departments of religion in the Boston area.
A seminary for the Episcopal Church, Episcopal Divinity School is grounded in the Anglican tradition and committed to growing in relationship with other Christian and faith traditions. Episcopal Divinity School is an academic community of biblical, historical, and theological inquiry that respects students as responsible learners with valuable experience, supports spiritual and ministerial formation, and provides tools for the life-long work of social and personal transformation.