Heather Cetrangolo: Caux Scholar

Heather with fellow participants at Caux
Image credit: IofC Switzerland

Heather Cetrangolo: Caux Scholar

Friday, October 25, 2019

Identifying as a Peacebuilder

Upon arriving at Caux and meeting the other scholars, I initially felt as though I was a fish out of water and wondered whether I was the right fit or even deserving of being in the program. Unlike many students in the program, I hadn’t lived in a conflict zone, hadn’t personally experienced political instability or extreme poverty in my home country and hadn’t studied or worked in the context of community development or global politics. I also wasn’t sure whether my identity, as a Chaplain and an Anglican priest, was relevant to my being in the group and to the context of the program.

However, as the days and the conversations unfolded, I began to see that the heart of peacebuilding is about developing trust between people from different backgrounds, different experiences and ‘sides’ of history, and I realised that this has always been a part of my story and an instinctive action for me. I began to see the political, social and spiritual significance of the work that I am currently doing with international students, enabling bridges to be built between their worlds and mine, and local Australians. I saw the skill in it, the need for it, and the lack of it in my home context. By the end of the first week of the program, I felt confident in adopting the term and the identity; “I am a peacebuilder.”

Identifying as a Chaplain and an Anglican Priest

Heather Cetrangolo at CauxImage credit: IofC SwitzerlandRecently I have pondered whether it would be wise for me to put down my role as a Chaplain and be ready to embrace a purely secular role as a teacher or researcher, in order to pursue this calling to be a peacebuilder from a more neutral platform. Being a Priest could remain a part of my life, but would no longer be what I am employed to do. My time at Caux Scholars taught me that this would not be my most authentic self or my best peacebuilding practice.  

At the start of the program I wasn’t sure whether I should introduce myself as a ‘Chaplain’ or a ‘Pastor’. I wondered whether it was simply irrelevant to my being in the group and to the context of the program. Should I bench this part of me, for the sake of the program? I found my answer.

By identifying myself as a Priest and as a Chaplain to the group, I gave permission for a series of peacebuilding conversations to take place, for people to ask about faith, religion, Church history, inter-faith dialogue, and to seek healing from me in a range of ways, sometimes through sharing their story and sometimes through asking for prayer. I was able to witness an inclusive, sisterly love with my Muslim, Hindu and non-religious classmates. One evening I embraced a Muslim student in the group, and she cried in my arms about trauma she had been through in her life. One student commented that it was powerful for him to see a Christian Priest embrace a Muslim in this way. I learned that my priesthood is core to my identity and calling, and is not something to hide, but to place on a lampstand for everyone to see.

Changing my Theory of Change

The academic content throughout the Caux Scholars Program challenged my previous assumptions about how change happens. In one class we were asked to consider the relationships between culture, Heather (right) with her roommate at Caux, Saba Gil. Image credit: IofC Switzerlandidentity and power. I saw that my understanding of how to make positive change happen has always focused on identifying with the ‘grassroots’ experience of the marginalised and disempowered. In my volunteer work and ministry, I have gravitated towards working for change from this basis. Carl’s teaching challenged this, when he spoke of how research and experience has demonstrated the need for change to occur at three levels, in order to be effective: grassroots, executive and legislative. I understood that working for systemic change through legislation, policy development and activism goes hand-in-hand with community development and self-determination strategies. These are not opposed, but rather work together.

Sharing my faith

Finding healthy and appropriate ways to share faith identity and spirituality in a secular or multi-faith context, is complex and delicate. Increasingly, I see Australian society and the education system abandoning such efforts and isolating theological literacy to private faith or religious devotion. I see myself as stepping onto a platform that will enable peacebuilding between people of different faiths and of none, to reach beyond tokenism, and enable conversations that are sensitive but important.

The most significant change for me personally at Caux was the shift in how I perceived my identity as an Anglican Priest and how this intersects with being a teacher and a peacebuilder. Embracing these multiple aspects of who I am and allowing each to inform the other, has given my work a depth and a courage that I am beginning to step into.