Until recently, leaders described Perkins’ Baptist House of Studies as a “spiritual, rather than a physical, house” for students from Baptist and other Free Church traditions at Perkins. But this fall, the Baptist House acquired its own space as well as a new full-time staff person: the Rev. Annette Owen, Coordinator of the Baptist House.
Owen, an ordained American Baptist minister, served in a variety of ministerial contexts before coming to Perkins. Perkins Perspective talked with Owen about her new position. Here are excerpts.
Perspective: What does your position entail?
Owen: I’m still figuring that out! I’ve been organizing social events and looking for ways to create community. I’ll write a newsletter, update the website as needed and travel to conferences to represent the Baptist House. I’m also setting up our new space. We have three rooms on the second floor of Selecman: a student lounge, an office and a conference room. I’m working on making that space inviting. We’ll use it to host events, meetings and Bible studies, but it’ll also just be an open place where students can gather to chill or hang out. You don’t have to be a Baptist to visit!
For those readers who aren’t familiar – give us the elevator speech description of the Baptist House.
The Baptist House was founded in 2019 to foster community for ministerial students, faculty, and staff who identify with the Baptist and Free Church traditions. The house especially supports and encourages students as they pursue their academic and ecclesial training in an ecumenical and university-based seminary. During their time at Perkins—through the Baptist House of Studies—Baptist students and those from Free Church traditions such as the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ, Mennonite and non-denominational churches, are able to participate in mentoring, internships and fellowships. In addition, students can choose a concentration in Baptist Studies, including Baptist and Free Church history, theology and polity.
What was it about the Baptist House that intrigued you enough to apply and to take the job?
I’d been serving on the Board of the Baptist House, and that’s how I found out they would be hiring. The timing was right. Over the last few years, my husband, David, was living here in Dallas while I was pastoring Community Baptist Church, a small church outside of Chicago. I was ready for something new and ready for a break from serving a church.
What really excited me about this role was the opportunity to work with students and with the next generation of leaders – helping them discern their call and formulate their vision. I’m excited to see what shape this ministry will have. Also, I have the freedom to do new and interesting things.
The other piece is that this position allows me to help cultivate a different kind of Baptist voice and witness here in Texas. When people hear “Baptist” they often think one thing, and it’s not a very flattering narrative. I’m interested in how we expand that story and cultivate a different Baptist voice.
Do you have any specific goals or priorities that you’ve set for yourself or for your time in this position?
We had a dinner for some new Perkins students at the end of September, and they talked about how they came to be at Perkins. When they discovered that Perkins had a Baptist House, it was a pleasant surprise. One goal I have is to see the Baptist House become a reason that people choose to come to Perkins, where the presence of the Baptist House is part of their discernment process in choosing a seminary, rather than just a pleasant surprise!
Can you describe your sense of calling and how and when it came about?
It’s been a journey, and I like to say, I was the last one to get the memo.
I was raised Assemblies of God, but I think I’ve been Baptist my whole life. There was this moment when turned 16 and got my driver’s license. That suddenly made me realize my own autonomy. Church became this place where I didn’t have to go, that I could choose to go. Similarly, I didn’t want to go to a school that required chapel, so I didn’t go to our Assemblies of God denominational school. It wasn’t until years later, while in my first Baptist polity and history class, that I learned about soul freedom, about the importance of choosing for yourself to have a life of faith and faithful expression. So I joke that I’ve always been Baptist.
As far as being in ministry, again, I was the last one to get the call. I studied English and religion in undergrad. My religion advisor was an American Baptist minister, and he always would tell me, “You know, the best way to combine English, creative writing and religion is sermon writing.” I would just laugh and say, “Nope, not called to do that.” I did a year of AmeriCorps VISTA service. The executive director had been a Methodist minister. I thought, running a church is kind of like running a nonprofit. I decided to get an M.Div. and learn how to bring faith and action together. I planned to work in the nonprofit world. I went to divinity school at the University of Chicago, still not feeling called to become a minister. There, for the first time, I saw a woman preach. That got me thinking, “Do I not feel called to ministry because I’m not called to it, or because I never saw a woman do it?” That started me wrestling with the idea of becoming an ordained pastor in the church.
In a full circle, “God has a sense of humor” moment, I attended my first American Baptist biennial, and ran into my undergraduate religion advisor. I said, “Guess what? I’m being ordained. You were right. I’m going to be writing sermons.”
Do you have a specific spiritual practice you’d be willing to share?
I’m a runner. I especially love walking and running in nature. Back when I was working regularly on sermons, I’d always reach that point where I needed to move and clear my head. I’m also an extrovert, so I also enjoy just hanging with friends, with other people and other voices and sharing community with other people.
My husband, David, and I live in Oak Cliff. David is a physician/scientist at UT Southwestern Medical Center. We have two dogs. We named them Fred and George, after the Weasley twins in Harry Potter, because they are also red headed twins that get into a lot of trouble.
Do you have a Bible verse, quote or wisdom saying that’s your mantra or guiding principle?
“We’ll figure it out.” I found myself saying that over the past several months, while in the process of moving here, selling an old house, buying a new one, starting a new job. I think it’s a useful phase as we’re coming into a post pandemic world, where we’re considering what the church will look like in the next phase. We don’t know yet, but we’ll figure it out.