March 2021 News Perspective Online

Capital Program

For Perkins student Pamela Brantley, the pandemic has at least one silver lining. It’s enabling her to participate in the National Capital Semester for Seminarians (NCSS).

“Normally, I couldn’t spend a semester living in D.C., but this year the program was completely virtual for the first time,” said Brantley, a first year M.Div. student in the Houston-Galveston program. With three young children and a husband with a job in Houston, moving to D.C. would not be an option. However, NCSS offered the program virtually in the Spring 2021 semester, enabling seminary students from across the country to participate.

NCSS is a semester-long, intensive program of study in ethics, theology and public policy. Seminary students from across the United States participate in the program offered by Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. (Details below.)

Brantley is pursuing ordination in the Texas Annual Conference as her second career.  Before attending seminary, she graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and worked as an attorney for 12 years. Prior to law school, she worked for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights; as an undergraduate, she interned in the office of Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; and while in law school, she was on the editorial board of the Michigan Journal of Race and Law.

“I have a lot of interest in how religion, law and politics all work together,” she said.

Normally, NCSS participants would continue their seminary studies at Wesley while in D.C.; this year, they’re continuing their regular studies at their home seminaries. Brantley is attending the NCSS program on top of her regular M.Div. studies, and will earn four credit hours.

“I didn’t plan on taking five courses this semester, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.

Participants meet for two sessions each Monday, typically including guest speakers, lectures and discussion on class readings. The program is taught by Wesley professors Sondra Wheeler, a United Methodist, and Mike McCurry, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton and also a United Methodist.

“Mike McCurry is very well connected in D.C. and is able to bring very interesting guest speakers to the class,” she said. “Every week I think it couldn’t get better, but he just finds the most fascinating speakers.”

She added that, while McCurry is a Democrat, he works hard to bring speakers from a diverse range of viewpoints. Recent speakers included Tim Goeglein, Vice President of External and Government Relations for Focus on the Family and a former special assistant to President George W. Bush; and Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who shared his experience of the January 6 insurrection in the Capitol.

“He gave us some really interesting on-the-ground reports about what happened to him that day,” Brantley said.

This spring’s cohort includes a diverse group of students from different seminaries around the U.S., another aspect that Brantley appreciates. While many of her Houston-Galveston classmates are United Methodists serving as local pastors or aspiring to parish ministry, the NCSS group is comprised mainly of seminarians who don’t plan to become pastors.  A wide range of denominations are represented, too. That’s a plus for Brantley, who hopes to become a hospital chaplain after graduation.

“As a chaplain, I’ll need to interact with patients of different faith backgrounds and political beliefs,” she said. “We’re very tribal these days. I want to help move the conversation forward.  I want to see how Christians can help break down those walls.”

About the National Capital Semester for Seminarians

Perkins students are eligible to participate in the National Capital Semester for Seminarians (NCSS), a semester-long, intensive program of study in ethics, theology and public policy. Before the pandemic, seminary students came from across the United States to participate at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington; In 2021, NCSS was offered virtually for the first time. NCSS is open to any student who has completed at least one year of a degree program at an accredited seminary and is recommended by his or her home seminary. For more than 40 years, seminarians have come to D.C. to study the intersection of faith and politics; interact with policymakers; formation; engage in community organizing; and dive deeper into specific issues at the intersection of faith and politics. Perkins is one of 36 participating institutions in NCSS; students from these institutions are charged for tuition at their home institution’s regular tuition rate and pay the charges through their home seminary.

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