Faculty Friday: Bill Catling, MFA — Connection, Learning, and Life Happen in the Spaces in Between

by Megan Wilhelm

At the start of each semester, Bill Catling, MFA, asks himself, “How can I use these 16 weeks to change my students’ lives for the better?” Catling, who teaches in Azusa Pacific University’s Department of Art, believes in an open-ended educational experience. He hopes students fall in love with the learning process and come into their own. “I treat my classes as community environments of independently motivated learners, not students,” Catling said. “They want an answer and I always want to give them another question.” Rather than asking questions with black-and-white answers, he hopes to foster reflection and deep thinking among his fellow learners. “If all of us just paused for a second, before we do something we love, we would discover a deeper love of life and people and things,” he said. “That motivates me in the classroom a lot.”

Although Catling has taught at APU for 32 years, his career began in his hometown of San Francisco, where he taught high school for 10 years. While he enjoyed teaching high school, Catling felt a strong calling to teach at the collegiate level. However, after three years and 33 applications, he was still in the Bay Area. An opportunity finally arose when he attended an art show at Biola University with other Christian artists where he was offered an opportunity to teach a class for one semester at the college. Taking a leap of faith, Catling and his wife moved down to Southern California. After a short time at Biola, he accepted a full-time position at APU and has invested in the school and its students ever since.

Catling’s most meaningful and memorable moments are found in authentic connection with others. Whether students are a part of his ceramics class, freshman year seminar, or graduate level courses, Catling hopes to open the door to learning both in class and through the spaces in between. “Some of my favorite moments are when I’m with one or a small group of students, we’re drinking coffee out of ceramic mugs, and we’re sitting outside talking about art, life, and God,” he said. Catling, who senses there is a hunger for meaning throughout APU’s campus, is happy to provide a space where students can reflect, learn, and grow in unstructured, organic ways. “I’m hoping the idea of ‘spirit of place’ grows and we can slow down, sit around tables, and connect more."

For Catling, “spirit of place” at APU alludes to the work of the Holy Spirit among students throughout campus — a way to experience God moving amidst the minute and mundane. “We only have moments, and if we’re not paying attention, we miss our life,” he said. Catling encourages students to live in the present, being mindful of what is in front of them, whether a person, a place, or an experience. “Paying attention requires a focused intentionality. It’s the most difficult thing to do but the most powerful because Christ is present in each moment with us,” he said. “If we miss those moments, we miss our Christ relationship. If we’re not paying attention, we miss the voice of God whispering through the trees, through our conversations, and through life.”

While Catling has taught at APU for longer than most of his students have been alive, his love for education, community, and art has not faded — a truth evident in his intentionality, his wisdom, and his life’s work.

Megan Wilhelm '23 is a public relations intern in the Division of Strategic Communication and Engagement.