Journey to the East
Dr. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan installed as first Asian American dean of a United Methodist seminary.
In a ceremony filled with spirit and symbolism, Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan was officially installed on Friday as dean of Drew’s Theological School. The Craig Chapel service followed an afternoon of events celebrating the first Asian American to lead a United Methodist seminary.
“I stand before you today keenly aware of the enormous honor and task that the communities of faith and higher education have conferred upon me,” said Kuan, who described his path from Malaysia to California to Drew as “a journey to the East.” And just as he has crossed continents to answer his calling, he said his hope for the Theological School is that it will “increasingly become more global in its orientation.”
“[By] expanding transnational teaching and learning relationships, I hope we can explore together what progressive Christianity and progressive religion can look like in a global context,” he said. “I am very confident that Drew Theological School’s pioneering legacy will help move us in our journey of theological education.”
The service included a performance by Drew’s Korean Men’s Choir; a special hymn, “We Abide,” composed for the occasion by lyricist Laurie Zelman and the school’s music director, Mark Miller; and the presentation of gifts from the Methodist church and Drew faculty, staff, students and alumni.
On behalf of the faculty, Professor Melanie Johnson-Debaufre presented Kuan with an oil lamp dating to the era of Herod the Great and found near Jerusalem. “A symbol of your office, the lamp represents the search for the light of wisdom and the tending of the flame of prophetic vision,” she said.
Director of Theological School Admissions Kevin Miller presented Kuan with a gift from the staff—a painting by M.Div. student Boram Lim of a Korean quilt. In explaining the image’s symbolism, Miller said its brown colors represented not only “earth as the soil of life” but also the “various skin tones of the people of this community.”
Eventually Kuan sees his journey eastward coming full circle and leading him to where he grew up, though he realizes both he and the place of his birth will have changed significantly in the intervening years.
“Likewise,” said Kuan, “Drew Theological School is hardly the same school that began 144 years ago. In our respective and intertwining journeys, I hope that we’ve been changed for the better and that we’ve been changed for good.”—Dave Muha