Meet the Flipsters

Conversations on the Bridge

A Conversation with Bishop Alden Hathaway
(The complete Flip interview, with only minor edits, not found in the book)

Alden Hathaway, retired Bishop in the Episcopal Church of Pittsburgh, is the director of Solar Light for Churches of Africa (SLFCA; He is a visionary who has worked tirelessly to put his faith into action for the betterment of others. Alongside Uganda’s retired Bishop Masereka, now chairman of SLFCA, Bishop Hathaway has championed an ongoing effort to bring solar energy to orphanages, churches, and other facilities in Africa.

We wondered whether Bishop Hathaway had always felt called to a life of spirit and service or whether he had experienced a personal flip along the path. “I guess I’ve always had a rather philosophical or spiritual bent. I grew up in the church. When I was at Cornell, I went through an agnostic period. But I ran into a chaplain who took an interest in me and asked, ‘What are you going to do when you graduate?’ I really had no idea. Even though I enjoyed taking my courses, I knew I wasn’t going to go into agriculture. He said, ‘You know, I think you ought to go into the ministry.’ I told him I didn’t even think I believed in God. He said, ‘Well, God believes in you.’ I wrestled with the question for several years and finally decided to pursue seminary.

“I was a radical social activist in Detroit during some tumultuous times. Eventually, I came to realize that our best efforts to change the world and set everything right were all tainted by interests and complications, despite our best intentions. I also had several setbacks in my ministerial career that literally drove me to my knees. Early on, a Bishop from Pakistan had singled me out. He’d sensed that there was something stirring inside of me. I don’t know how he knew it, except that he had some intuition about my own spiritual dilemma and he prayed for me. When I was down and out, I finally just turned my life over to God and to the Lord Jesus, and things began to change. I was not in control of it. I was being led and guided rather than leading and guiding. Ultimately, I left my ministry and answered the call to become a Bishop in Pittsburgh.”

We asked Bishop Hathaway about the challenges of being in the ministry and being a social activist. “I’ve always believed in the fruit of good work. I believed in all of the great social issues that I was committed to in the sixties, and I still do. The only thing that I’ve changed my mind about is that we don’t do this by our own will and intention or accomplish it on our own.

“We used to have prayer when we were young radicals in the streets of Detroit and it went like this: ‘Oh God, we pray that we are right for we are very determined.’ But I realized that that wasn’t it at all.

“As you open your heart more to the power and love of God, you’re open to the things that God is doing and led into the care for the poor and care for people who are broken and torn by the world and also in the practical things, the opportunities that there are to really affect the things of God’s love in the world.”

We asked for an example of faith-inspired social action. “One great example is the solar project in Africa. I visited an orphanage that we had helped build there. As I stood admiring the building, it got later and later and the sun set and it got dark. Then I realized that this building had no electricity, no lights, and I could not imagine how in the world they could care for these children without any electricity.

“When I got home, I talked to my son who was an electrical engineer who understands solar technology. I said, ‘Could we put some solar power into that little school? It’s right on the equator.’ And he said, ‘Sure. Give me the dimensions of it.’ He put together an array of equipment that would give light and power to that facility. And it was going to cost about eight thousand dollars. We raised that money through the church.

“As I traveled around, wherever I went, I told the story about the orphanage – and how you can use solar for anything and the wonderful thing about it is that it generates on site the amount of power needed. You don’t need central generation and large transmission systems, so it’s immediately applicable to people in remote areas.

“At one of my early talks, back in 1997, I shared the podium with another Bishop from Uganda. The Bishop approached me afterwards. He said, ‘I’ve got an orphanage in my diocese with no light. I’ve got hospitals in my diocese with no light. I’ve got schools with no light. I’ve got homes. I’ve got clinics and all sorts of things. Why do you stop there?’ So, we got my son on the telephone, and he and this Bishop put together the beginnings of Solar Light for Africa. So far, we’ve installed about twenty-four hundred units in three different countries. Every summer we take a group of American young people over, and we train them alongside African young people in terms of missionary service and practical application by way of solar light. This brings fundamental services like refrigeration or cell phones or televisions or computers, whatever. It really gives them a leg up.

“And this is an exciting thing for us, because solar power makes the difference. And the kids see this and they become advocates of it and a lot of them are patterning their careers to follow it up with one thing or another. In fact, we’ve got a couple of the young people who have finished their schooling and have come back to work for us now—both African and American.”

Sounds like a great initiative to us; is it well supported? “I get frustrated in the Untied States because we haven’t received the support we could use. But little by little people catch the vision. I speak about it all the time and I’m continually gratified by the way people are drawn into it, especially these young people. Institutions are hard to change though, especially the aid industry – which is pretty well locked into bureaucracy and their way of doing things.

“We’ve tried to get our project picked up by one agency after another. I rather think it’s God’s will that we stay independent to keep this tension between the spiritual, the commercial, and the public. These three parties work well together in Africa. We don’t understand it in America. We’ve got this tremendous separation between church and state. And I don’t demean that. I’m all for religious freedom and the government not interfering in people’s spiritual lives. But in the other hand, what we see in Africa is this wonderful cooperation in these three basic centers of human enterprise in life; the spiritual, the commercial, and the public or the governmental—working together to transform a society.”

Bishop Hathaway left us with these final words: “We are to bear witness to the whole of life. And all of it is transformed by spiritual vision. A vision of following Christ who said, ‘I am the light of the world,’ and I believe he meant that literally.

“You don’t go to Uganda or any place and see poor people and say, ‘Oh yes, believe and have faith and things will get better,’ when you’ve got the flashlight in your pocket and people are living in the darkness. They need for you to get that flashlight out and turn it on and share it with the people.”


The Flip, by Jared Rosen and David Rippe, illuminates a clear path to a vibrant enlightened world where millions of people already live and thrive. It describes in vivid detail and real examples evidence of an upside down world in decay and a Right Side Up world of authentic beings bright with possibility.
The Flip is an owner’s manual for the twenty-first century full of insights, conversations with recognized experts, thought leaders, and visionaries, and actionable exercises and tips you can use to begin your own personal flip.

To read more about The Flip and additional interviews from other luminaries, experts and bestselling authors, please visit

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