June 2021 News Perspective Online

Black/Africana Church Studies

On May 3, Perkins faculty approved a proposal to launch an SMU Perkins Black/ Africana Church Studies (BACS) Program. Tamara Lewis, Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity, will serve as the program’s director.

“The program will critically explore Black theology, Black Biblical studies and interpretation, history, pastoral theology, preaching, worship, religious education, ethics, and other practices in conjunction with African American, African, and other African Diasporic churches, non-profit organizations, and social justice ministries,” said Lewis.

The BACS program will offer a range of opportunities and activities designed to enrich the educational, cultural, and communal experiences of Black students at Perkins School of Theology and the Graduate Program in Religious Studies (GPRS) as well as the broader SMU community.

“A first priority of the program is to promote the Concentration in African American Church Studies among students through informal sharing and informative presentations on African American courses and degree requirements and electives at the Community Hour at Perkins (CHAP),” Lewis added. The Concentration is available to all M.Div. students who wish to broaden their understanding of African American religious experiences as well as prepare for leadership in the Black church or related social agencies. Interested students declare their intent to earn the certificate with their advisor and registrar.

Perkins established the first Black Church Studies Program in 1970 under Dean Joseph D. Quillian, Jr. The first Coordinator of Black Church Studies was also the first Black faculty member of Perkins, the Rev. Nathaniel Lenard Lacy, Jr. (1935-2016), a United Methodist clergyman who served as Assistant Professor of Practical Theology from 1970-74. However, without specifically designated funding, the Black Church Studies Program and Director ceased by the 1980s; instead, Black faculty advisors worked with the Black Seminarians Association.

Goals of the BACS program include:

* Preparing Black/ Africana students both at the Dallas campus and the Houston/Galveston Extension, for innovative and impactful leadership in the Black Church, academy, and the world.

* Educating the entire Perkins and SMU community about the origins, development, and diversity of the Black Church Tradition, including Africa and the Diaspora.

* Hosting events, including worship services, revivals and gospel concerts, in conjunction with the Black Seminarians Association and Black Perkins faculty.

* Establishing a Perkins Black Alumni Network/ Association.

* Creating a warm atmosphere of nurture, support, and community for Black seminarians and others in order to increase student recruitment and matriculation in a wholesome environment.

* Connecting the religious academy with the Black church by bringing together a consortium of ministerial leaders and religious scholars for the sharing of research and critical reflection.

* Integrating Africana and African American themed curriculum into Perkins’ core courses and promoting successful student participation and completion of the Concentration in African American Studies.

Program organizers also hope to eventually offer scholarships, stipends, and other funding opportunities for qualified Black students and anticipate the development of Black archival collections and papers of Black Perkins professors, students, and local ministerial leaders. They also hope to expand student mentoring and networking opportunities.

An overall goal of the program is to improve campus quality of life for members of the SMU Black community, starting with a biennial survey of the campus climate as seen through the eyes of students, faculty, and staff.

Beginning this summer and through the spring semester of 2022, Lewis and other program leaders will prepare a BACS constitution and by-laws, formalize and recruit a Board of Advisors, assemble a Consultation Team (consisting of Black seminarians, Black Perkins alumni, Black Perkins doctoral students, community leaders, and other invested individuals), set up office space and administrative help for the program, and establish a web presence on the Perkins website. In conjunction with the BSA, program leaders will also plan worship programming for the 2021-2022 school year and schedule gatherings for Black student fellowship, fun, support and nurture.