Every year since 1959, members of the Perkins School of Theology community have gathered for Advent worship. That’ll happen again this year on Thursday, December 5, but with one key change: There will be just one service, at 6 p.m., rather than two services as in the past.

“People’s schedules are very different than they were in 1959,” said Marcell Silva Steuernagel, Assistant Professor of Church Music and Director of the Sacred Music Program at Perkins. “The 6 p.m. time gives us the best of both worlds – late enough for those who want to come after work, and early enough that senior attendees can get home at a reasonable hour.”

The December 5 service will mark three milestones: the 60th anniversary of Perkins’ Master of Sacred Music (MSM) program, the 80th anniversary of the Seminary Singers and the 60th anniversary of the Advent service itself. Advent was first celebrated in Perkins Chapel in 1959, a tradition continued every year since.

The single time slot makes it logistically easier for participation by visiting ensembles and musicians, including three choirs led by alumni of the MSM program. Each will perform at least one anthem, plus there will be a joint performance of all three choirs. The choirs, all from Dallas area churches, include Northaven United Methodist Church (choir directed by Stephanie Rhoades, M.S.M. ’96), University Park United Methodist Church (choir directed by Mark Pope, M.S.M. ’99) and Grace Avenue United Methodist Church of Frisco, Texas (choir directed by Laurie Hanson Roberts, M.S.M. ’90, and Bill Roberts, M.S.M. ’92). The worship will follow the classic Lessons and Carols format, with five lessons from Scripture and five carols, plus a reading of one of Martin Luther’s sermons.

“This service will focus on the legacy of the Advent worship here at SMU,” Steuernagel said. “This legacy revolves around the idea of a community gathered to ‘await together’ the coming of the one who is Emmanuel. As we wait, we sing our expectation together. Because of this the service is not a ‘concert’ in presentational format, but participatory. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear anthems performed by MSM alumni and to sing several classic Christmas hymns as well.”

Steuernagel also plans to incorporate a piece by composer Jane Marshall, who passed away in 2019 and had many ties to SMU and Perkins. He is also composing an original piece for the occasion.

The Advent service was instituted in 1959 by Professors Grady Hardin and Lloyd Pfautsch and is closely tied to the development of Perkins’ Master of Sacred Music program. A forerunner to this tradition was established in 1948, when Perkins Professor Fred Gealy led the Seminary Singers, a nonauditioned ensemble of theology and sacred music students, and the Perkins community in a program of Christmas music during the last chapel service of the fall semester.

Worshipers should allow ample time for parking. Parking for the Advent service will be in the Meadows Parking Center located across the street from Perkins Chapel.