News October 2018 Perspective Online

COSS Classroom/Online Hybrid Offers Flexibility to Local Pastors

By Sam Hodges

The Rev. Judy Swarts has done youth and children’s ministry in United Methodist churches for years, but this summer marked her first appointment to lead a church as pastor.

She was OK with being away from First United Methodist in Menard, in west Texas, for a week to take Course of Study classes at Perkins.

But if it had been two weeks ….

“There would have been a disconnect with the congregation,” she said.

Thanks to a new hybrid approach, combining in-class and online instruction, Perkins is offering licensed local pastors a more flexible, affordable approach to completing the Course of Study required by the United Methodist Church.

A summer ago, Swarts would have had to spend two weeks per session on campus. This time, she and other students spent a week in class followed by two weeks of online instruction. Those who did both sessions repeated the schedule.

Swarts was able to return more quickly to Menard, where she dug into her new job while also studying at home online.

“Especially being in a new congregation, I liked being able to come back,” she said.

Course of Study is the first Perkins program to go hybrid – the Houston/Galveston extension program has begun this term – and a large enrollment jump accompanied the change.

Last year, there were 83 students for both the English and Spanish language sections. This summer enrollment was 103.

“Even more significantly, our enrollment in Spanish was just 14 last year, and this year it was 24. So the percentage of increase was even greater among Spanish-speaking students,” said the Rev. Dr. Paul Barton, who directs the program.

Before, students spent 20 hours in class for each course. Now it’s 10 hours in class and 10 hours online, with most of the online time allowing for flexible scheduling for students. (If they need to listen to a lecture, for example, it will be taped and they choose when to view it.)

The cost advantage comes primarily for students who travel to study at Perkins and must pay for room and board either on or off campus.

“We were missing students because they couldn’t afford it,” Barton said.

Even for local students, the hybrid approach proved appealing in its flexibility.

“I had never done online courses before and I was excited to know that I could be a mom, be a pastor and still get an affordable education from Perkins,” said the Rev. Jamie Nelson, pastor at Agape Memorial United Methodist Church in Dallas.

The transition to hybrid was not without its challenges and tradeoffs.

A third of the faculty didn’t return, some of that owing to instructors who didn’t want to teach online. For those who did, and for newcomers, Barton required taking a course in online teaching offered by SMU’s Center for Teaching Excellence.

There also was special instruction in Canvas, the online learning management system used by the program. And a $17,000 grant from the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (for which Perkins runs the Course of Study program) allowed six faculty members and one Perkins student to serve as consultants for COSS faculty.

Students got training and ongoing technical support, too.

“I was afraid that the transition and technology would be particularly difficult for our older students,” said Dr. Lindsey Trozzo of Princeton Theological Seminary, who taught Bible II and Bible III in Course of Study at Perkins this summer. “That was the case, but there were many resources for training. Those who sought them out found it to be much more intuitive than they at first thought.”

Barton credits James Pan, academic technology services director for Perkins and SMU’s Dedman School of Law, with easing the transition for faculty and students.

“He’s provided wonderful expertise and support,” Barton said.

Trozzo is experienced in online instruction, but she acknowledged missing having more time in person with students. Her conversational approach to teaching lends itself to the classroom.

As for students, she said online education requires them to exert self-discipline to get to the computer and complete assignments – a challenge for those living busy work and family lives.

But Trozzo also saw the advantages of hybrid for those serving a church.

“Even during the one week of in-person classes, I had two students who had to miss a day to go back and do a funeral,” Trozzo said. “When we are working with pastors who are the single staff member at a church – sometimes multiple churches – it’s really tough for them to be gone two to four weeks at a time.”

The Rev. David Danilo Diaz Rivas returned from his country of Colombia to continue taking Course of Study classes at Perkins this summer.

He, like Trozzo, had experience with online education – and he’s aware of the pros and cons. But Rivas, a pastor with the Colombian Methodist Church, also sees the potential.

“Perkins …. is on the path to offering quality education and easy access, transcending barriers and bringing knowledge to many pastors in different countries,” Rivas said.


Sam Hodges is a Dallas-based reporter for United Methodist News Service and a freelance writer.

News October 2018 Perspective Online

Under Construction

Getting around on campus is a little more challenging these days as construction continues on the Perkins campus and nearby buildings. If you’re planning a visit to Perkins this fall, allow a little extra time to park. Look for detailed parking instructions in the invitation for any major scheduled events.

Here’s an update on what’s going on:

The Hillcrest Parking Center construction project, which encompasses the area along Hillcrest Road between Moore Hall and Martin Hall, is underway and scheduled for completion in December 15, 2019. The demolition of Hawk Hall began September 24. The construction zone is surrounded by a fence but there is a pathway for access to Moore Hall and Martin Hall.

The Perkins Chapel refurbishment began in early September and will continue through the end of November. This first phase will repair damage to the ceiling and walls (caused by a steam leak in January) and include new pew cushions and kneelers. The second phase of the plan, to begin in late summer 2019, will refinish the floors of the nave, chancel, gallery, and stairs, and refurbish the pews. A new sound system will also be installed. Phase two is to be completed in the fall of 2019.

News October 2018 Perspective Online

Student Spotlight: Christian S. Watkins – Seeking Justice for All

When he was 15, Christian S. Watkins’ family transferred from another congregation to St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church in Dallas, then under the pastorage of the Rev. Dr. Zan W. Holmes, Jr. It was a transformative moment in his life.

“My family just needed a place to grow and St. Luke was that place,” Watkins said. “Zan’s love for the people and for the word were inspiring.”

It just seemed natural, when it came time for graduate school, to follow in Holmes’ footsteps and chose Perkins School of Theology. Watkins, 35, is now in his fourth and final year in the Master of Divinity program, with a concentration in urban ministry, and pursuing a Deacon’s order in the North Texas Conference.

“Zan Holmes had the theological acumen and the growth that happens here, and I wanted it to be a part of me, too,” he said. “It’s been refreshing to see the diversity and the richness of voices here at Perkins, not just for my theological development but also from a social standpoint. It’s good to have voices that are not like mine.”

On top of his studies, Watkins works for justice through a number of projects on campus and beyond. He’s been leading efforts to pursue the initiation of a Citizen Police Review Board in the city of Dallas, served on the Justice in Action Committee of the Perkins Student Association, and with Faith in Texas, a multi-racial, interfaith movement for economic and racial justice in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Currently, he’s interning with the Zip Code Connection, a North Texas Conference initiative that seeks to bring economic opportunity and community wholeness to 75215, the zip code located in the South Dallas and Fair Park neighborhoods.

The decision to enter ministry followed ten years of what Watkins calls “flailing” in the corporate world. Now, his path feels certain.

“I want to work for the elevation of minorities in the light of God,” he said. “The prophet Micah (6:8) reminds us of our duty to God and community — making justice happen, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. That’s what I aspire to do every day.”

News October 2018 Perspective Online

Faculty Profile: Ted A. Campbell

Ted Campbell claims the first words of 1 Corinthians 15:3 as his personal mantra: “For what I received I passed on to you.” That’s describes his work as a church historian; Campbell not only studies and teaches history, he passes it on.

Widely regarded as the go-to scholar on John Wesley’s letters, Campbell’s academic focus is Christian history, especially Wesleyan and Methodist history. Over the past three years, he’s brought some of that history to bear in critical moment for the United Methodist Church.

As the denomination prepares for a special General Conference in February aimed at resolving divisions over homosexuality, Campbell has offered at least 50,000 words — a book’s worth — of carefully-written articles and blog posts giving historical context to the debate.

“I’m trying to bring the perspective of a historian and an ecumenist,” he said. “There’s this terrible Protestant tendency to fission. We need to think through better ways to disagree and yet remain connected.”

Campbell also shares his interest in local and regional history by way of videos he has written and produced for his YouTube channel, ranging from “Five Waves Over Dallas,” a look at immigration in the city’s history, to a music video about the Red River – words and music written and performed by Campbell and accompanied by his photos.

The song, by the way, is in French. And no, he doesn’t speak the language.

“I could not make this song work in English,” he said. With help from a French-speaking colleague, Laura Figura, who also provided vocals, La Riviere Rouge was born.

Campbell also passes on history to neighbors in Forest Meadow, the northeast Dallas neighborhood where he lives. Campbell spent a day researching historical markers in Forest Meadow and nearby areas and assembled a chronology. It’s his way of giving residents a connection to their history.

Campbell recalled his time at Oxford University, when he noticed the ubiquitous reminders of history. “Everywhere you walk there are not only historical markers, but they preserve things,” he said. “There’s a great sense of continuity.”

Current research: Having edited three volumes of John Wesley’s letters, Campbell is now working on the next, covering letters written from 1766 – 1775. He’s also working on the third volume of a trilogy on Methodist history, tentatively titled Wesleyan Practices, examining Methodist worship, small groups, evangelism, love feasts, and preaching, from the time of Wesley to the present time. He’s also working on the Columbia Guide to American Methodism (Columbia University Press) with co-author Russ Richey.

Church Connection: An ordained elder in the Texas conference of the United Methodist Church, Campbell grew up in a Methodist family in Beaumont, Texas, and attended Lon Morris College, a two-year United Methodist school in East Texas which closed in 2012. After studying at the University of North Texas, Oxford University, and Southern Methodist University, he pastored small churches early in his career. Now he’s active at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas, where he leads a meditative service on Wednesday evenings and teaches the Good News adult Sunday School class.

Book(s) on the nightstand: Re-reading Tom Sawyer; also enjoys science fiction and fantasy — The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and classics by Isaac Asimov are a few favorites. “I can’t stand historical fiction. It’s too much like work.”

Fantasy dinner party: “I wouldn’t invite John Wesley or John Calvin. They’re not very fun. I’d invite George W. Bush – he’s a fun guy. Also, Martin Luther, Francis of Assisi, Mae West and of course my wife, Dale Campbell. We’d talk about food, music, history.”

Pets: Two cats, Bella and Apollo, of mysterious origin, adopted on St. Francis’ Day from the principal at the school where Dale teaches. “The principal had been feeding a feral tom cat, and in the middle of a rain storm he brought these two kittens and deposited them on her porch.”

Hobbies: An amateur photographer, videographer and dabbler in drone photography, he also enjoys playing the guitar, hiking, and traveling, especially the British Isles – England, Scotland.

Do you follow a spiritual practice? Campbell follows the Daily Office for morning and evening prayer. “I have a Daily Office app on my phone and I usually just read them silently.”

Something most people don’t know about you? “I’ve lived a lot of my life between denominations. I’ve been a Methodist all my life, but I attended Episcopalian Eucharist while in high school and Anglican mass while at Oxford. My parents were Pentecostal, so I can walk into that environment any time. I’ve also received communion in the Assyrian Church of the East.”

You get to ask one question at the Pearly Gates. What do you ask? “I’d ask about the Greek bishop that interacted with John Wesley. He’s kind of a historical mystery. For that matter, I’d like to sit down with John Wesley for six or seven years and clarify some things.”

News October 2018 Perspective Online

Alumni/ae Update: In Loving Memory

Alumni/ae Obituaries

Rev. William L. Childers (M. Th. ‘61) was born in Anniston, Ala., in 1931 and died in Dallas in July 2018. He served for 21 years as a Navy Chaplain and three years as a Marines Staff Sergeant during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He was predeceased by his wife of 57 years (Mamie Lou) Tommie Childers. Services were held in August at First UMC in Dallas.

Rev. Barbara Erickson Harper (M. Th. ’78) died March 30, 2018, on Good Friday, after a brief hospital stay. She enrolled in Birmingham-Southern College in 1964 and married husband Mike on June 9, 1968, the day following their graduation. They travelled to Dallas where Mike began seminary and Barbara did likewise a few years later. Following her ordination, Barbara served as an associate at Birmingham First United Methodist Church, an associate at Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church, the pastor of the Valley United Methodist Church, the Superintendent of the Tuscaloosa district, the co-pastor with Mike of the Asbury United Methodist Church, the district superintendent of the Birmingham West district, and as pastor of the Helena United Methodist Church. She retired in 2008. Barbara was the first female District Superintendent in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Rev. Robert I. Phelps (Master of Sacred Theology ’65) died August 24, 2018 in Billings, Montana. He was ordained in the Methodist Church in 1959. In 1961, after two years serving in the North Texas Conference, he and his wife Alita moved to Montana, where he served in the Yellowstone Conference until his formal retirement in the summer of 2000. His ministerial appointments included Plains/Paradise, Big Sandy, Covenant/East Helena, Bozeman, Great Falls First, Missoula District Superintendent, Missoula First, and Polson churches.

Rev. Jarrell Leon Tharp (M. Th. ’63), died May 24, 2018. He was ordained Deacon in 1960 then Elder in 1963. He served several churches in Texas and transferred to the Yellowstone Conference in 1970, where he was appointed to Powell, Wyoming. He also served as Billings District Superintendent and UMC of the Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming. After retiring in 1995, he moved back to Powell.