Southern Adventist professor to be resident director at C.S. Lewis home

Debbie Higgens is about to trade in her job as English professor at Southern Adventist University to become a resident director.

She won't be disputing fights between roommates, checking rooms for alcohol and monitoring dorms, though. Her residents are on a bit higher plain.

Higgens, beginning in August, will serve for two years as the volunteer resident director of The Kilns, home of the late Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, in Oxford, England.

"It is my wish to bring honor to God and to have him glorify himself through me in this position," she said.

As the home's fourth resident director but first from the academic world, Higgens will oversee the program that allows scholars working on their doctoral programs at Oxford University to stay at The Kilns. She also will be an ambassador for the life and works of the author to the community of Oxford and to those who visit the home.

It's not as if she is going into the situation blind, though.

Higgens wrote her doctoral dissertation, "Anglo-Saxon Community in J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings'," while living at the house in 2007.

She said she first encountered Lewis when she took an undergraduate class on the Gospels and read the author's "Mere Christianity."

"I fell in love with C.S. Lewis at that point," Higgens said.

Having attended Oxford seminars on the author since 2002, she kept in touch with personnel at the home, then continued the connection after her six months there in 2007.

The most exciting thing about living there, Higgens said, is "the ambiance. You can feel the magic (because) what Lewis wrote about was right around him."

Eventually, she was offered the director position, which carries only a small stipend.

It will be Higgens' job, she said, "to keep the community going in the house," to gather residents together periodically, to network with the Oxford community and to be "an ambassador of Christ."

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of the C.S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga, said the home is several miles outside of Oxford in what used to be but is no more a rural setting. He said the home, originally built in 1932, had fallen into disrepair but was refurbished between 1993 and 2001 by the California-based C.S. Lewis Foundation.

"It's not large," he said. "The original gardens are still there from when the Lewises were there."

He said a pond once owned by the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and adjoining land that is now part of a nature preserve are nearby, and the church Lewis attended is still open and is within walking distance.

Higgens said Lewis lived in the home at least 20 years and resided there at his death in 1963.

The Scholars-in Residence Program she will oversee runs from September through June, and Summer Seminars-in-Residence keep the home - and nearby bed-and-breakfasts - filled for the balance of the year.

According to the Lewis Society website,, a maximum of eight students can stay in the five bedrooms at The Kilns, which was named after the onetime brick kilns on the property.

"(Higgens) is the person on call," Beckmann said. "Tourists show up consistently, and she has to be there to greet them, show them around the house and hobnob about Lewis and Oxford."

She will take a two-year leave of absence from Southern Adventist to be the director.

"It is a very busy place," Higgens said. "The position will be a challenge, but I also hope to carve in time to work on my own research and publication."

Jan Haluska, head of the English department at Southern Adventist, said she should do well in the position.

"Debbie Higgens is one of our top teachers," he said. "Her organizational ability is quite clear in working (as head of) the Writing Center. Her enthusiasm about Lewis is catching and, through him, (students are introduced to) the medieval period.

"She is well loved and respected, and we'll miss her for the next two years."

Beckmann agreed.

"She is a terrific lady for the job," he said. "She loves the place, and she knows about it."