Robert Hunt and doctoral student Drew Dickens were co-authors of a Feb. 5 op-ed column in The Dallas Morning News, “ChatGPT isn’t going to make us slaves; uninspired education might.” With the arrival of the new open artificial intelligence chatbot called ChatGPT, many schools are already banning it from classrooms while adjusting assignments and exams to prevent its use. “Though ChatGPT is a master of established, objective facts, it won’t ever be visionary,” they wrote. “It’s clunky when it comes to subjective observations and nuances and will never engage in crucial classroom debates. The great risk is that students too reliant on AI tools may themselves become robotic and be less the spontaneous, spirited humans we wish them to be.” Hunt is director of Global Theological Education at Perkins; Dickens is a doctoral candidate at SMU focusing on the “Effects of Sacred Texts on Generative AI Language Models.” Dallas Morning News subscribers may read the op-ed here.
When the Church Woke
A new book written by the Rev. Dr. William Lawrence, former Perkins Dean, was recently featured in a UM News article entitled “Methodism overdue for becoming ‘woke,’ author says.” Lawrence, a church historian, wrote about racism with Methodism, past and present, in his new book, When the Church Woke (Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2023.) Read UMNews’ Q&A with Lawrence about the book here.
Two papers by Perkins student ThM student Jae Jun “Daniel” Cho have been accepted by the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) for its 2023 virtual and international gatherings. “All Flesh Shall See the Salvation of God: God’s Comprehensive Salvation for All People” has been accepted for Individual presentation at the 2023 SBL Global Virtual Meeting, March 27-31. “Church and State: A Re-reading of Romans 13:1-7 in the Context of Modern South Korea” was accepted for the program unit on Paul and Pauline Literature at the 2023 SBL International Meeting in Pretoria, South Africa, July 3-7.
Dr. Kevin A. Brown (M.Div. ’15, D.Min. ‘21) recently lectured in Theodore Walker’s class with material from his new book, AND THE BEAT GOES ON: Towards A Sustainable Beloved Community (New Purpose, 2023.) According to its description, the book “is a way forward that builds on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a prescription for where we go from here. Pushing for a public policy that urges America to do what is moral and right for the common good of all people, to building communities with a liberative praxis that ensures sustainability, Kevin Brown sounds the clarion call for a constitutional amendment that guarantees an end to poverty. This book is for leaders at every level who are ready to work collectively so that all people thrive and flourish.” Brown is also the founder and co-executive director of New Purpose (www.newpurpose.org) which is a 501(c) 3 committed to executing the work outlined in this book.
After Lung Transplant, Still Serving
Every weekend, the Rev. W. Gerald “Jerry” Neff (M.Th. ‘83; D.Min. ‘93) and his wife drive three hours from their home in Galveston, Texas, to Jasper, Texas, where he leads worship for the new United Methodist Church of the Pines. He is the volunteer pastor for a congregation of 60 members who decided to stay United Methodist and form their own worship community after their local churches disaffiliated. Neff is officially retired and had a double lung transplant less than a year ago but feels called to serve the new church. Read the Feb. 6 UM News story, “With new lungs, he leads a new church,” here.
Obituary: The Rev. Maynard Rolly Walker
The Rev. Maynard Rolly Walker (M.Th. ’79) died on February 19 at age 84. A Celebration of Life service was held February 24. He was ordained in the United Methodist Church as a Deacon and an Elder. Before he was called to the ministry, he taught high school algebra and geometry and coached football, basketball and track. He served a number of churches, including the Boyce charge in Alexandria, La.; Lakewood Drive UMC in Dallas; Waples Memorial UMC in Denison, Texas; and Trinity UMC in Ruston, La. After “retiring,” he would serve Alabama Presbyterian Church in Sibley, and Douglas UMC in Douglas. He received the J. Henry Bowden Preaching Award in 1999 in recognition of Outstanding Preaching on Moral Issues by the Louisiana Moral & Civic Foundation. Read his obit here.
Obituary: The Rev. Victor “Vic” Nixon
The Rev. Victor “Vic” Harmon Nixon (M.Th. ‘67) of Little Rock, Arkansas, died on February 21 following an extended illness. While attending Perkins, he served as a student pastor at Eustace, Payne Springs and Pickens Spur United Methodist Churches in the Texas Conference. After graduation, he served the United Methodist Church for over 40 years in congregations in Arkansas, with his final appointment as Senior Pastor of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church (PHUMC) in Little Rock. He was also Associate Director of the North Arkansas Conference Council on Ministries and Director of Arkansas Cooperative Parish Ministries. He was a loyal member of the Hendrix College Board of Trustees and an active community volunteer. A public celebration of his life will be held on June 26 at 11 a.m. at PHUMC. Memorials may be made to the PHUMC Foundation Victor H. Nixon & Frances O. Nixon Endowment Fund or the Harmon and Louise Rankin Nixon Memorial Scholarship Fund at Hendrix College. Read his obit here and the story in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette here.
Obituary: The Rev. Sharon Kay Harrigill Strain
The Rev. Sharon Kay Harrigill Strain, (M.Div. ‘85) of Pflugerville, Texas, passed away on February 3 at age 77. Ordained as a United Methodist minister in 1985, she was a trailblazer: one the earliest female United Methodist ministers and the first female preacher to serve in most of her churches. She and her husband Bill Strain spent more than 25 years in churches in Texas, including Bristow, Staples, Kingsbury, Austin, Johnson City and Kerrville. “She will undoubtedly be remembered for her larger-than-life personality, her thick Southern accent, but most of all, her deep love and kindness,” according to the obituary. A celebration of life will take place at a future date. The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the animal rescue organization of one’s choice or to Heifer International. Read the obituary here.
Chaplain Brian Gowan strolls the halls of the Labor and Delivery Department at Houston Methodist Hospital regularly, offering spiritual support for patients and their families. But on this day in January, he was shadowed by Perkins student Charles Kitua as he performed his rounds.
Gowan comforted a woman who tearfully shared she was worried about the ultrasound she was about to undergo. In another room, a couple joyfully introduced their newborn twins to Gowan and Kitua. At the couple’s request, Gowan offered a blessing for the new babies.
Just a few steps away, another chaplain, Chuck Hawkins, visited patients and staff in the ICU, accompanied by Perkins student Uwezo Mwanjala. Hawkins stopped to see an elderly woman in failing health, whom he’d visited a few times before. The patient lay still as her friend sat at her bedside. Hawkins asked if the patient was being moved to hospice; he’d noticed that the status of her chart had just changed.
“No,” the friend said. “She just passed 30 minutes ago.” The friend was waiting for the body to be taken to the funeral home. The chaplain spent a moment with the friend, thanking her for her kindness and faithfulness in accompanying the woman, who had no family, during the last days of her life.
In another part of the hospital, chaplain Martin Chang answered a call requesting spiritual support, along with Perkins student Macy Block. The patient had advanced cancer and had just received some discouraging news. Chang took a moment to chat with the patient and his family and to look at photos of the man’s grandchild. Tears flowed as the chaplain led a prayer asking for peace, strength and healing.
“It was so moving,” Block said later. “I felt God’s presence in that room.”
Equipping Pastors and Chaplains
Those three scenes – of birth and death, of joy, suffering, fear and sadness – are part of the daily fabric of life as a hospital chaplain. And they were part of the experience of Perkins School of Theology students in Health Care/Holy Care, a weeklong January interterm program led by the Rev. Dr. Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, professor of pastoral care and pastoral theology at Perkins.
The program takes place each year at Houston Methodist Hospital (except in 2021, due to COVID restrictions.) Students enjoy multiple opportunities to shadow working chaplains in the hospital and to hear them discuss their roles and their approaches to care. Eleven Perkins students participated in this year’s Health Care / Holy Care, which took place January 8-13.
“The course aims to equip students with key skills for offering pastoral care ‘in the moment’ for persons in vulnerable situations,” Stevenson-Moessner said. “Some choose to take the course with an eye toward becoming chaplains themselves; others come to prepare for ordained ministry as pastors, knowing that they’ll need to visit church members in hospitals and support them during crises.”
The Health Care / Holy Care program is facilitated through a partnership shepherded by the Rev. Charles R. Millikan, an ordained United Methodist clergy and the hospital’s Vice President for Spiritual Care and Values Integration. Houston Methodist picked up the cost of the students’ hotel rooms and some of their meals during the weeklong program.
“Perkins shares a similar culture and sense of mission as Houston Methodist, which is a faith-based hospital system,” Millikan said. “It is a great training ground for anyone who aspires to go into ministry, and especially for those with an interest in chaplaincy.”
The Night Before
To prepare, students read three books on pastoral care and wrote papers reflecting on what they’d read before the course. In addition, they kept journals during the program and completed another paper at the end of the program.
On Sunday night, the students gathered for the first time for a dinner at the home of the Rev. Stacy L. Auld, system director of spiritual care and values integration at Houston Methodist.
“We take some time to really create a team,” Stevenson-Moessner said.
Each day began with morning worship in the hospital’s chapel, led by a member of the chaplaincy staff. Auld delivered the opening lecture, covering the hospital’s history and explaining how the Department of Spiritual Care and Education operates. The hospital is one of only a few in the nation that remain affiliated with the United Methodist Church but maintains a firm commitment to serve people of all faiths.
“We support patients, families and hospital staff of all faiths and of no faith at all,” she said.
Some patients may identify as atheists and decline to meet with a chaplain; others may profess no religious beliefs yet welcome a listening ear. Proselytizing is never part of the equation.
“I’ve had some of my best visits with people who tried to stop me at the door,” Auld said. “When a patient identifies as an atheist, I’ll say, ‘I respect that. But sometimes you might want a friendly person just to sit with you for a moment.’”
The chaplain’s visit in a hospital room starts with a look at the patient’s chart. Next the chaplain will ask how the patient wishes to be addressed, and what’s most important for the patient that day. Occasionally, chaplains may assist with practical matters, like completing a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or other paperwork.
“Often, patients will say things to [the chaplain] that they won’t say to anyone else,” Auld said.
Sometimes, the most valuable form of spiritual care is simply listening. Stevenson-Moessner recalled the story of a family in the initial throes of grief; family members were very emotional, almost hysterical, as they gathered around the deceased. The chaplain stood in the room but said nothing. After family quieted down a bit, he escorted them out of the hospital room and into a family room in the hospital.
“The next day, the chaplain ran into one of the family members who hugged him, thanked him for everything he did, and said the family would not have made it without him,” Stevenson-Moessner said. “He reflected and realized he had never uttered one word as he stood in the corner of the deceased patient’s room. His presence alone was the most important thing in that moment.”
Listening to the Chaplains
Chaplains on the Houston Methodist staff shared with the students how they offer care and support to each patient according to their needs. Patients typically complete a spiritual screening, specifying their religious affiliation, if any, when entering the hospital.
“We don’t necessarily speak to the religious needs of the patient,” Collin Powell said, a chaplain on staff and a Perkins alum. “We speak to their spiritual needs. We are always led by the patient, and what they need. We’re helping patients access their own resources. A patient’s spiritual state can affect healing. We’re serving people as whole beings. People need spiritual care as much as they need physical care.”
Powell added that he spends about half of his time talking to staff members and offering spiritual support to them. Given the stresses in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout is high.
“Doctors and nurses take every loss as a personal affront,” he said. “We saw some rough stuff during COVID.” Nurses often had to comfort patients and hold their hands, as family members were kept out of the COVID units due to concerns about infection.
Members of the chaplain staff also talked about self-care. Claudia Stephens, a Perkins student and a CPE resident at Houston Methodist, shared her practice of taking a day to recover after an overnight shift at the hospital. Stevenson-Moessner cited the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan, noting that even the Samaritan accepted help and practiced self-care.
“He didn’t take on the sick man long-term,” she said. “He turned him over to the next caregiver, the innkeeper, and he stayed in the inn for a night. He took a break. Then, he continued his journey after promising to return, check on the injured man, and pay any costs incurred. It was a very responsible act to love and care for the self and the other simultaneously.”
Stevenson-Moessner also described the concept of “physician of the soul,” a term coined by 4th century theologian John Chrysostom. He recognized the wholeness of every person, proposing that spiritual care could help heal “dis-eases of the soul.” Stevenson-Moessner, who is currently finishing a book titled Physician of the Soul, said that chaplains can play a critical role in the healing process.
By studying at Houston Methodist, students have the chance to observe the daily operations of one of the biggest and best hospitals in the nation as well as one of the most comprehensive chaplaincy programs. Houston Methodist consistently ranks among the top 20 hospitals in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. (Currently, it’s ranked 15th.)
Across the Houston Methodist system (which includes the main hospital, seven community hospitals and one long-term care hospital in the greater Houston area), the spiritual care team is made up of 135 employees who represent a wide range of religious traditions, including numerous Protestant denominations, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and others. The staff includes two Perkins grads, Collin Powell (M.Div. ’17) and Russell LaGrone (M.Div. ’17) who took the Health Care / Holy Care course in 2015. Houston Methodist also hosts one of the largest CPE programs in the state of Texas. Three Perkins students are currently residents in the CPE program: Anita Pittenger, Claudia Stephens and Genie Potes. The staff includes chaplains from a range of Christian denominations, as well as nondenominational groups, and chaplains who are Muslim and Jewish. Students toured the hospital’s prayer garden and a Muslim prayer space located in the hospital, financed by a local Muslim group.
Stevenson-Moessner noted that the students, most of them Methodists, were shadowing chaplains from various denominations.
“In hospitals, doctrinal divisions fall away,” she said. “Suffering is the great leveler.”
We are pleased to welcome 15 new students to the Perkins Dallas and Houston-Galveston programs this spring. Students represent the following UMC conferences: Texas, North Texas, Oklahoma, and Peninsula-Delaware. Still others have connections to the Baptist, Pentecostal, and non-denominational religious communities.Our students tell us that a number of reasons led them to Perkins. The academic rigor, pastoral focus, and diversity of thought continue to attract students to study with us. Additionally, one student expressed her desire to find out what she really believed about God in light of what others had taught her growing up. Other students are coming to Perkins as a second career, leaning into a desire and call they have sensed for many years. Some already serve in teaching roles at their churches, and with some changed work and living circumstances, the time is right to dive into theological education to see how they can be of greater service to the church and the world.Please continue to send prospective students our way. You can send them directly to one of our Ministry Discernment Associates: Caleb Palmer (email@example.com) or Emilie Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Renowned physician Dr. Kathryn Kirkland, will speak in Dallas on February 28 as part of “Pursuit of Life: How Literature Enhances Healthcare,” an interdisciplinary event exploring the intersection of healthcare and the humanities.
The two-part program will begin at 8 a.m. at Baylor University Medical Center with Dr. Kirkland presenting “Reading Illness: Clinicians, Patients, and Story” as part of the medical center’s Medical Ethics/Internal Medicine Grand Rounds.
Later that same day, Dr. Kirkland will speak at a luncheon beginning at noon at Prothro Great Hall in the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro building.
The events are sponsored by SMU Perkins School of Theology, SMU Cary M. Maguire Ethics Center, SMU DCII Scott Hawkins Fund, SMU Graduate Program in Religious Studies, Bridwell Library, the Perkins Office of External Programs, and BSWHealth Office of Clinical Ethics and Palliative Care.
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. The field includes hospice care, for those near the end of life, as well as supportive palliative care for those patients who may continue to receive curative care.
Kirkland is the Dorothy and John J. Byrne, Jr., Distinguished Chair in Palliative Medicine at Dartmouth College. She is known for her work using poetry and literature to help physicians to hone their listening skills in working with patients, leading to deeper relationships of mutual trust, which are linked to better outcomes and experiences for patients.
At the luncheon, Kirkland will lead a workshop illustrating how poetry enhances the lives of patients and healthcare personnel. Lindsey Johnson Edwards, a doctoral student in SMU’s Graduate Program in Religious Studies, will respond with a patient’s perspective. Finally, attendees will hear a brief introduction to a new book, The Pursuit of Life: The Promise and Challenge of Palliative Care, co-edited by Robert Fine, M.D., of Baylor Scott and White in Dallas and Jack Levison of SMU Perkins School of Theology, along with SMU doctoral candidate Kelsey Spinnato. Kirkland contributed a chapter to the book describing her work, titled “Teaching Clinicians to Read.”
While the events are open to the public, they will be of special interest to caregivers, medical professionals, chaplains, pastors and clergypersons, and others who provide spiritual and physical support to people living with serious illness, as well as students and scholars with an interest in the intersection of healthcare and the humanities.
Fruit of Collaboration
The conference is one result of a years-long collaboration in the areas of spirituality and palliative care between Jack Levison and Robert Fine, who co-organized the event along with Steve Long, Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at SMU. Jack Levison is W. J. A. Power Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew at Perkins. Robert L. Fine, M.D., is Clinical Director, Office of Clinical Ethics and Palliative Care at Baylor Scott and White Health.
Levison and Fine both attended the 2018 Spirituality for Life Conference, an ecumenical gathering sponsored by the Vatican, Houston Methodist Hospital and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. That event brought together palliative care and spiritual leaders to explore ways to integrate spirituality into palliative clinical practice, and inspired Levison and Fine to develop a book, The Pursuit of Life, which they co-edited with Spinnato. Many of the speakers at the Spirituality for Life conference contributed chapters to the book.
Fine said that spirituality and palliative care have natural connections; both fields seek to address the whole person, body and soul. Unlike other medical specialists, palliative care specialists do not focus on specific organs: cardiology for the heart, neurology for the brain, hepatology for the liver, and so on.
“Rather, palliative care specialists lessen all sorts of pain, including the total pain, the total suffering of those facing the most serious of illnesses,” Fine said. “They do not seek to treat disease, but rather to diagnose and treat the suffering that inevitably falls on the shoulders of those who face disease.” Suffering may involve physical pain but also social, emotional and spiritual pain.
Levison adds that spirituality is shared through stories; the Bible begins by telling the story of pain. Storytelling offers possibilities for helping address spiritual and emotional pain, as Siddhartha Mukherjee writes in his book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer: “Medicine … begins with storytelling … Patients tell stories to describe illness; doctors tell stories to understand it. Science tells its own story to explain diseases.”
By bringing together people of different disciplines, Levison added, The Pursuit of Life gathering highlights the value of a university like SMU.
“This is an example of bringing together people from a wide range of disciplines for the betterment of humanity,” he said.
About the Book
The Pursuit of Life: The Promise and Challenge of Palliative Care (Penn State University Press, December 20, 2022) examines crucial concerns in palliative care, including the proper balance between comfort and cure for the patient, the integration of spiritual well-being, and the challenges of providing care in the absence of basic medical services and supplies.
Sections of the book look at the early history of the discipline; the role of poetry, prose, plays, and other aspects of the humanities in the practice of palliative care; essential current issues in the field, including autonomy, the use of opioids, and the impact of artificial intelligence on the evolution of palliative care; and the spiritual dimensions of pain and suffering.
Chapters were submitted by leaders in palliative care, healthcare and spirituality, including Robin W. Lovin, former Perkins dean and Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics emeritus at Southern Methodist University, and Charles Millikan, Vice President for Spiritual Care and Values Integration for Houston Methodist.
“This is a beautiful, diverse, wise book about the experience of working in palliative care and the personal, collegial, cultural, ethical, moral, practical, and clinical challenges that clinicians practicing in our field confront,” writes Susan Block, MD, of Harvard Medical School in reviewing the volume. “The editors and authors have crafted a deep portrait of what it means to work in the liminal space between life and death in palliative care.”
Nominations will be accepted through February 15 for the 2023 Perkins School of Theology Woodrow B. Seals Laity Award. The annual award is presented to a layperson in the United States who exemplifies an exceptional commitment of service to Christ through faith and action in the church, community and world. Read the press release and details for nominations here.
Twenty-four Perkins students were part of the “Witness and Ministry in Global Context: Experiencing a Culture of Homelessness” class held January 3-8 in Waco, Texas. The group of 12 D.Min. and 12 master’s level students had a chance to observe the work of Mission Waco, which offers Christian-based, relationship-centered programs to empower the poor and marginalized. The course helped prepare students to engage in holistic urban ministry and to build networks in social service, civic, neighborhood and various church groups. The course also aimed to deepen students’ theological understanding of urban ministry and to introduce students to “best practices” of urban ministry from around the nation.
At age 96, the Rev. Carlton R. “Sam” Young has published an autobiography, I’ll Sing On: My First 96 Years (GIA Publications, 2023), chronicling his career as a composer, arranger, scholar and editor. Young edited The Methodist Hymnal (1966) and The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and directed the music for nine General Conferences, including the 1968 Uniting Conference that created The United Methodist Church. He was also Director of the Master of Sacred Music Program at Perkins and associate professor of church music from 1964-1975, Read a profile of Young and his book by C. Michael Hawn, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music at Perkins, for United Methodist News Service here.
New Book by Hal Recinos
Harold J. “Hal” Recinos’ latest book of poetry, The Looking Glass: Near and Far was published by Wipf and Stock in January. The poetry “searches voices in the cities of a divided America faced with an unraveling democracy and across borders where people negotiate the fragility of life offer a vision of transcendences through recovery of our common humanity,” according to the jacket description.
Recinos said he drew inspiration from one of his favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, a pediatrician, writer and friend of Ezra Pound. His father was from England, raised in the Dominican Republic and his mother was from Puerto Rico. William wrote in English, but his first language was Spanish. “I discovered him in Middle School along with Langston Hughes, and especially identified with the idea present in the identity of both poets of life on the hyphen,” said Recinos. “Moreover, William Carlos Williams wrote these words that I have kept with me: ‘There is no beginning nor end to the imagination but it delights in its own seasons reversing the usual order at will.’”
Recinos is professor of church and society at Perkins.
Column by Robert Hunt
Robert Hunt, director of Perkins’ Global Theological Education department, wrote a column entitled “Spirituality versus religion in our neighborhood” in the Lake Highlands Advocate.
The column explored how a growing number of Americans are describing themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”
“Recent polls … show the number of Americans who identify as Christian (by far the dominant religion in the United States) has declined from 90% to 64% in the last 50 years,” he writes. “When we look closely, religion in our city isn’t going away. Instead, it’s going to look different than it has in the past.” Read the column here.
Six members of the Perkins community — five students and one staff member – joined other SMU students, faculty and staff to participate in the SMU float in the January 16 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade, co-sponsored by the City of Dallas.
Pictured, top row, left to right, are staff member Tracy Anne Allred with students Mykayla Turner and Tiffany McClain. Front row, left to right: Alarice Vann, Fernando Berwig Silva and Michaela Calahan.
In addition, the Dream Week Lunchtime Lecture on January 20 featured Ray Jordan (M.T.S. ‘08), a longtime leader of the SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage.
SMU will dedicate a Texas historical marker as a permanent reminder of Dr. King’s visit to the campus nearly 60 years ago on February 21 at 6:30p.m during a short program in McFarlin Auditorium. The public is invited.
Perkins Student Publishes Book
Perkins M.T.S. student Kate Boyd has written an upcoming book An Untidy Faith: Journeying Back to the Joy of Following Jesus (Herald Press, 2023). According to the book’s jacket, “In the wake of scandal, culture wars, and abuse, many Christians are wondering whether the North American church is redeemable—and if not, whether they should even stay. This book is for those who long to disentangle their faith from all the cultural baggage and recapture the joy of following Jesus.” The book is due out April 18, 2023.