On 20 May 1996 Stanley Mattson sent out a new fundraising message from his C. S. Lewis Foundation in Redlands, California. The large envelope said “Postmaster, Do not bend.” Inside were:
a single-spaced letter, two pages long
a detailed full-page response sheet including “Stan, I have enclosed a check in the amount of $_______ to purchase the items I have checked above….”
a handsome poster-brochure 17″ x 22″
no mention of a future C. S. Lewis College
The letter said that over forty people volunteered to participate in the final phase of the restoration of the Kilns in the summer of 1996, beginning June 24, and that $180,000 was needed for materials and furnishings alone. Among the needs for furnishings, Mattson lists $1,050 for desks, $1,500 for a dining room set, $4,200 for rugs, $4,500 for sofas, $4,800 for chairs, and $6,250 for lamps. He also lists $4,575 for basic kitchen appliances (stove, refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, washer/dryer), and $5,900 for computer equipment.
Not counting the $9,575 needed for computers and kitchen appliances, the household furnishings Mattson calls for in 1996 total $27,200. It should be noted that the Kilns is a modest house in a modest neighborhood. Its furnishings and decor in Lewis’s day were inexpensive and shabby. The Lewis brothers would no doubt be amazed at the idea of “restoring” their home now with furnishings that cost donors $36,775. What is the purpose of “restoring” the Kilns with rather lavish accouterments? Who will own and use these furnishings? Mattson is remarkably vague about how and when his Study Centre will function.
“Located not far from one of the world’s leading and most prestigious universities, the C. S. Lewis Study Centre will serve as a place of prayer, reflection, research, writing, instruction and even lively debate as Christians from around the world are received and sent forth, encouraged to assume leadership in the pursuit of truth upon returning home. “The Kilns will be a place where people from all walks of life can visit to become more intimately acquainted with the life and work of C. S.Lewis and, through him, come to know ‘the deeper magic’ of life in Christ…. “The restoration of the Kilns is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say ‘Thank you, Jack!’ — to say ‘Yes!’ to Lewis’s vision for the Christian mind and imagination — to do something concrete, for this and future generations, to insure that Lewis’s robust faith, his creativity, his courage to speak on the record as a Christian intellectual working within the academy, continues to challenge us, and all those who follow, well into the twenty-first century.”
The implication is that the Kilns might resemble Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri in Switzerland, where (mainly American) college students used to visit to learn evangelical doctrine from Schaeffer at his home. But L’Abri ended when Schaeffer’s personal ministry ended. Who intends to live and minister at the Kilns? Who intends to select, receive, instruct, and send forth Christians from around the world? That is the big mystery.
The best guess is probably Paul Ford, an ex-Benedictine monk who founded the Southern California C. S. Lewis Society and published Companion to Narnia. He is a Roman Catholic professor of theology, a personal friend of Walter Hooper, an active leader in Mattson’s foundation, and a co-manager of the Kilns since 1984. He is an experienced and enthusiastic leader of retreat workshops. If serving as Founder-Director of the Kilns Study Centre is his ultimate career goal, why is that plan withheld from the public? Merely as part of a good fundraising strategy? (After all, Mattson is a professional fundraiser and knows his craft.)
No one is suggesting that Lewis would disapprove of Paul Ford establishing a (necessarily small) retreat center at the Kilns and teaching there. But Lewis might not approve of some of the less than forthright fundraising techniques employed to that end since 1984. Surely Lewis would not want prospective donors to be misled with unrealistic impressions and expectations, which has too often been the case.
According to a July visitor to Oxford, flowers were blooming at the Kilns, the interior was neat and clean, and the two summer renters were females. There was no sign or mention of any 1996 work crew, which suggests that it may not have materialized.