EDS Books Donated to Anglican Seminaries in Central Africa

Kapya John Kaoma '03More than 40,000 theology books from Episcopal Divinity School’s library will soon be on their way to Anglican seminaries in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe thanks to a chance meeting at book sale on EDS’s former campus in Cambridge and the generosity of the Diocese of Massachusetts.

When EDS’s board of trustees voted to affiliate with Union Theological Seminary and move to Union’s campus in New York City, it raised the challenge of what to do with more than 70,000 books in EDS’s collection that duplicated those in the Columbia University Library system, to which EDS faculty, students and alumni/ae have access. 

Enter the Rev. Dr. Kapya John Kaoma, a native of Zambia who lives near Boston. He strolled into one of several books sales EDS held during the summer hoping to find a few good bargains and discovered that almost all of the seminary’s theology collection was available to a new home.

“We had an arrangement with a company that provides theological materials for seminaries in developing countries, but they had to pull out,” said Aura Fluet, EDS’ librarian. “That kind of left us not knowing what to do with this very large collection.”

Kaoma, a former adjunct faculty member at EDS, had an idea.

“I have been singing about getting sound academic literature to Africa, and this was an opportunity,” said Kaoma, who has published several books and articles on the influence of theological and politically conservative organizations in the United States on theological education in Africa.

Organizations that oppose welcoming lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people into the churches of the Anglican Communion supply books advancing their views to African seminaries, but organizations that hold different views do not, he said. Perhaps, he thought, EDS could help change that.

Kaoma got in touch with several bishops and seminary principals in his home province, the Church of the Province of Central Africa, which comprises Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. “One of the principals in Zambia called me back right away,” Kaoma said. “He said, ‘Wait a minute. Is this real?’ and then he said, ‘We need those books!’”

But getting 40,000 books to central Africa is not cheap. Enter Bishop Alan Gates of the Diocese of Massachusetts, a 1987 graduate of EDS, who agreed to have the diocese pay for the shipping.

“As a graduate of Episcopal Divinity School, I am grateful to know that the books will be in places where they will be used,” Gates said. “As a bishop in the Anglican Communion, I am hopeful that this corpus of contemporary theology and classical Anglican scriptural approach will help bridge some of our divisions.”

When Kaoma and other volunteers finish packing several hundred boxes, the books will be on their way to the Leonard Kamungu School of Theology, Zomba, Malawi; St. John’s Seminary in Kitwe, Zambia and Bishop Gaul School in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Fluet said Kaoma’s suggestion was “the answer to a prayer.”

Kaoma, whose forthcoming books are “Christianity, Globalization, and Protective Homophobia: Democratic Contestation of Sexuality in Sub-Saharan Africa” and “A Scramble for African Values: Ubuntu, Christian Foreign Forces and Politics of Homosexuality,” hopes it is the beginning of a campaign.

“Books are expensive,” he said. “Subscriptions are expensive. It really is a crisis. This is something I have been hoping that seminaries in the western world will take on because I know that many have books rotting on their shelves.”