June 2022 News Perspective Online Top Story

Letter from the Dean: (Don’t) Mind the Gaps

I spoke recently with a relative who is a longstanding member of a Bible study group at his church. He expressed frustration with another member who for weeks had insisted—with increasing bellicosity—that his reading of a particular biblical book was unquestionably right and the views of the rest of the group uncontestably wrong. “In this instance,” I responded, “there is simply not enough evidence to know what he claims to know.” Neither can we say definitively that the theory he champions is wrong. This is one of many cases in which a significant gap in historical knowledge undercuts any claim to high confidence, much less to certainty.

The conversation reminded me of my experience teaching New Testament for nearly three decades. I always strove to be fair and transparent when saying what I thought reasonably could and could not be known. Inevitably, this frustrated students who assumed that they had come to seminary to get all the answers. In many cases—say, for example, on the question of the Pauline authorship of 2 Timothy—I had an opinion and could make a strong case for it, but I had to acknowledge that other credible scholars judged the matter differently, and it was also my job to represent their views equitably.

Some will regard this as relativism, but it is not. I believe in facts and in truth. There was a Holocaust. Some statements are exaggerations; others straight-up lies. What is relative, however, is not truth but our apprehension of truth. Each of us exists at a certain time with a certain background, a certain education and life experience, and a certain temperament, among an array of other variables. In such a situation, and especially where gaps in knowledge exist, disagreement is inevitable. Disagreement with contemporaries, yes, but all the more disagreement with those who lived before or who will come after, many of whom represent dramatically dissimilar contexts.

The scholars I most admire are those of such character as to acknowledge their own limitations, who recognize what they do not and even cannot know. One such exemplar was the great Cambridge New Testament scholar C.F.D. Moule. Charlie, as he was known to all, was both exceptionally brilliant and remarkably humble, unpretentious, and approachable. He was a model exegete, weighing evidence thoughtfully and being careful always not to overstate his own case. He readily admitted what he did not know because his identity was grounded in something greater than his own remarkable capabilities. In short, he was a beautiful soul and a deeply Christian man with whom I am privileged to have been acquainted. Contrast his example with those whose identity is so tied up with being right—and thereby being important—that they cannot possibly admit to the limitations of their conclusions.

We hear a lot these days about conspiracy theories. Whether in politics or in religion or, worse yet, in both together, conspiracy theories thrive in the gaps. Their authors supply motives where motives are unknown. They take a thread of this and an otherwise unconnected strand of that, and interweave them with spools of speculation into a tapestry that displays the rightness of their cause and the wrongness, even evil, of their opponents.

There are multiple reasons why this approach is both attractive and effective. The allure of secret knowledge is anything but new. It goes back millennia. (Witness, for example, the ancient “mystery cults.”) To be the possessor of such knowledge is to be singularly important and to own a clarity and a certainty that others lack. The possessor is the only one who knows what’s really going on. Members enjoy the founder’s reflected glory and, in their continued allegiance, encourage ever more outlandish theories. It is a self-justifying circle that can be extraordinarily difficult to leave and all but impossible to break.

Most striking to me is that fact that this same phenomenon exists in scholarship, not least in biblical scholarship. I was once told that it is the job of young scholars to “slay the fathers” (or, increasingly, the mothers). You don’t get a Ph.D. by repeating an existing thesis. Some amount of novelty is required. The temptation is to find something that is new only by virtue of the fact that it is imaginary. “What was Luke covering up? What was Paul’s secret purpose? I alone can tell you.” Uncoincidentally, the supposedly heretofore hidden knowledge typically correlates with a pre-existing agenda. Some studies of the “historical Jesus” are notorious in this respect. There is a contemporary point at stake, and the selection of evidence is both limited and expanded, organized and ordered in such a way as to support it. So it is, for example, that many 19th century reconstructions of early Christian history can, in hindsight, be seen to be blatantly antisemitic.

Let us by no means decry the search for new knowledge and deeper insight. In fact, actual conspiracies do exist, though vastly fewer in number than popularly imagined. But we should be on guard against those who would encourage us to think we know what is unknowable if not blatantly false. It is our desires that make hypocrites of us all. We most readily set aside our critical faculties when the benefit is our own personal security and enlargement.

So, “mind the gaps” if that means being aware of the limitations of our knowledge. On the other hand, “don’t mind the gaps” if that means being untroubled by the fact that we cannot know all we would like to know. Note that neither of the two great commandments—love for God and neighbor—is particularly difficult to comprehend. The difficulty is in the doing. Being a student of Christianity and being a disciple of Jesus Christ are not the same thing. The ideal is to be both.

June 2022 News Perspective Online

Development Update: Fiscal Year in Review

Life is full of transitions.  As we successfully wrapped up the academic year, we said goodbye to our graduates.  We are pleased that they will be serving in many capacities in a world that is desperate for leadership.  This year’s graduating class totaled 95 students.  What an impact they will make through their ministries!

Let me fill you in on a number of end-of-the-year endeavors.

  • The Perkins Executive Board continues to be the backbone of our financial supporters. I can’t say enough about the women and men who comprise the Perkins Executive Board!  This group of 43 people is interested in Perkins prospering, in every sense of that term.  Coming from various walks of life, they serve as trusted advisors to the Dean.  Three are SMU Trustees, and two are Bishops of the United Methodist Church.

Under the outstanding leadership of Chair Julie Yarbrough and Vice Chairs Bishop Mike McKee, Katherine Lyle, and Dodee Crockett, the Executive Board is taking an active role in helping the Dean think through important priorities for the future.

  • Rose BurnsI am grateful for the extraordinary abilities of my new co-worker, Advancement Associate Rose Burns (, 214.768.3688). Our mission is to provide each Perkins donor with confidential and excellent service.  We believe that all gifts, of whatever size, are important and we assure you that Perkins carefully stewards the funds you entrust to us.  We know that when you give, you are making an investment in the future of the Church.  We are thankful for your faithfulness.
  • Over the next few months, various administrators and faculty members will be fanning out to many Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church. At those yearly gatherings, we will break bread with hundreds of Perkins graduates.  Dean Hill and others will give a brief update.  We love to meet alumni/ae and friends.  Your accolades are great, but even more helpful are your constructive criticisms which will spur us on to do even more excellent work.
  • The SMU fiscal year ended on May 31. You may be aware that we are now finishing up the first year of the public phase of SMU Ignited: Boldly Shaping Tomorrow.  Both Perkins and the University are making great progress in the campaign.  I will be reporting on highlights over the next several months.
  • An “easy way” to support Perkins is to set up automatic withdrawals from your bank account or debit/credit card. I have found that to be very helpful in my regular giving.  Simply go to and follow the instructions.  For Online Giving, click on “Make a Gift Online” which will direct you to a page where you can specify from the drop-down menus to donate to Perkins School of Theology and any fund within Perkins. While there are only options of making a one-time gift or a monthly gift, please do not hesitate to contact my office to assist you with any arrangements that you prefer to make. Your giving can be monthly, quarterly, or yearly. It is a simple and convenient and I encourage you to try it

On behalf of Dean Hill and the entire school, thank you for your interest in Perkins School of Theology.  Remember that Matthew 6:21 states, “where your treasure is, there also is your heart.” Many of you have shown that your heart is with Perkins because you have entrusted us with some of your treasures.

For that, we say: Thank you!

John A. Martin
Director of Development

June 2022 News Perspective Online

Graduation 2022

Family and friends filled the sanctuary of Highland Park United Methodist Church to honor the 2022 graduating class at Perkins’ Celebration of Degrees and Academic Achievements on May 14.

Overhead shot of Graduation 2022Ninety-five students received their SMU diplomas from Perkins, including eight December graduates, 77 May graduates and 10 summer graduates. Degrees were conferred earlier in the day at the university-wide Commencement Convocation at Moody Coliseum, and graduates received their master’s or doctoral hoods at the celebration service.

MSM student and organist Seth Luna played the opening Processional by William Mathias. Dr. Ruben Habito, Professor of World Religions, delivered the Invocation.

The sermon, “Wisdom and Courage,“ was delivered by the Rev. Dr. David McAllister-Wilson, President of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

“The goal of seminary is to foster the wisdom and courage necessary for this leadership,” he said. “Wisdom is the ability to perceive the difference between the way things are and the way God intends them to be. Courage is the willingness to act as disciples of Christ in anticipation of the kingdom.”

He added that Perkins graduates will be called on to share profound words with their congregations, in many cases every week, and some will feel the pressure to be entertaining.

“Avoid that pressure,’ McAllister-Wilson urged the graduates. “You are not the light; you are an acolyte. You are not the shepherd; you’re one of the sheep. That kind of humility is the beginning of the wisdom necessary for servant leadership.”

In looking ahead at the important intellectual challenges that will likely test graduates’ wisdom, he said, “Let me predict they will not be gender or sexuality. Those who make that the issue of our time will inherit the wind.”

More pressing will be global warming that radically disrupts local and global economies; advances in biotechnology that will make it possible to dramatically extend lifespan for those that can afford it; and the likelihood that computers will acquire what seems like consciousness.

More immediate will be the crises that communities may face in the coming years. “What if there’s yet another shooting of an unarmed black man in your neighborhood?” he said. “What if signs of intelligent life were found in other galaxies? Or a battlefield nuclear weapon is detonated on a Saturday night? Are you ready to answer that call and respond theologically on Sunday morning? The big questions won’t be about what it is to be male or female. They will be about what it is to be human and to live in human community.”

McAllister-Wilson recalled the Bible passage in which Jesus preached to the people of his hometown, who chased him out of the synagogue and tried to throw him off a cliff.

“Courage is the indispensable virtue for Christian ministry,” he said. “As C.S. Lewis said, courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point. And we are always at one of the testing points. Wisdom shows us the gap between what transpires and what God desires; courage is what lets us stand in that gap.”

He concluded by expressing his hope that seminaries can be a blessing to the world.

“I want our seminary graduates to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim the release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed,” he said. “You know, the stuff Jesus cared about. And I want them to lead the church to practice these things.”

At the conclusion of the sermon, the choral anthem was presented by the Seminary Singers with MSM graduate Claire Ward directing. Christopher Anderson, Associate Professor of Sacred Music, served as organist for the service.

Dean Craig C. Hill invited the graduates to thank all the friends, spouses, parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren at the ceremony who had supported them during their time at Perkins. Then, citing Philippians 4:8, he closed the worship service with this benediction for the graduates: “As we step from this sanctuary, this beginning into an open future of opportunity and promise, let us strive to learn what is true, especially where truth eliminates prejudice; embrace what is noble, especially where nobility challenges self-interest; choose what is right, especially where right action requires sacrifice. Do what is pure, especially where purity of spirit overcomes double mindedness; seek what is beautiful, especially where the love of beauty frees us from mediocrity; search out what is admirable, especially where that search leads to a life of purpose. And commit to what is praiseworthy, especially where the commitment to the greater good sets us free from vanity. So may we invest our time and talents wisely and honorably, living our best lives, learning, growing, creating, serving, loving well, and so reflecting the true image of God. Amen.”

A reception in Arden Forest south of Prothro Hall followed the service.  Friends and families of the graduates gathered for pictures, refreshments, and conversations with faculty and staff.

Joining graduate Christina Hardy at the reception were her husband and five children – all decked out in matching red t-shirts honoring the occasion. Echoing the sentiments of many gathered that day, Hardy’s husband’s t-shirt inscription read: “Proud Husband of an M.Div. Master 2022 Graduate.”


 The following awards for outstanding academic achievement were presented during the program.

The Faculty Award in Greek, to the student who ranks highest in New Testament Greeks scholarship, to Rachel LeMay.

The Charley T. and Jesse James Bible Awards, awarded on the basis of academic achievement in biblical courses and overall scholastic performance, to Rachel LeMay and Caroline Collins.

The W.B.J. Martin Award in Homiletics, given in recognition of outstanding students in the introductory preaching classes, to Jacqueline Lirette.

The W. B. DeJernett Award in Homiletics, given to a senior student with the highest academic average in homiletics courses, to Shelby Olive.

The Paul W. Quillian Award in Homiletics, given to the student who has presented the best written sermon, to Robert “Tripp” Gulledge.

The William K. McElvaney Preaching Award, given to the student who has presented the best written sermon on a public issue, which includes a social crisis, a controversial issue or a chronic social problem, to Jillian Shannon.

The Robert Weatherford Prize for Internship Preaching, awarded to a theology student for excellence in preaching during internship. Recipient was chosen by the intern faculty of Perkins School of Theology and a representative from the preaching faculty. Given to Laura Byrd.

The Bert Affleck Award, given to a student for creativity in ministry during internship, to Julian Hobdy.

The Fellowship Seminarian Award, established by The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, is given to a graduating seminary student who displays outstanding leadership in music and/or worship arts, including but not limited to, dance, drama, fabric art, and liturgical writing. Awarded to Garth Baker-Fletcher.

The Hoyt Hickman Award for Outstanding Liturgical Scholarship and Practice awarded by the Order of Saint Luke, is given to the graduating student who, in the judgment of the selection committee, has given evidence of a high quality of scholarship in the study of liturgy and is an effective leader of Christian worship. Given to Shelby Olive.

The Roger Deschner Prize in Sacred Music established by friends and family in memory of Roger Deschner. The prize is awarded to an M.S.M. student who has excelled in academic work, musical abilities and overall achievement in the Sacred Music Program. Awarded to senior Claire Ward and juniors Fernando Berwig Silva and Mykayla Turner.

The Albert C. Outler Award in Theology awarded to the students contributing the most outstanding essays in theology during the academic year, to Ally Drummond and Josean Otero López.

The Phillip Schaff Prize in Church History established by Klaus Penzel, is given for demonstrated excellence in the historical study of Christianity, while participating in courses in church history, to Lauren Sandstedt and Sean McMaughan.

The B’nai B’rith Award in Social Ethics given by the Harold M. Kaufman Memorial Foundation to students on the basis of scholarly competence in the field of social ethics and personal commitment as shown in voluntary activity in support of worthy causes. Awarded to Josean Otero López and Barbara Taylor.

The Harry Hosier Spirit Award established by Perkins alumnus the Rev. Dr. Henry Masters and given to a graduating student who best exemplifies the spirit of Harry Hosier expressed in what is described as his “elocution of faith: I sing by faith, preach by faith, pray by faith and do everything by faith.” Awarded to Christina Hardy.

The Hunt-Francis Research Grant in Pastoral Care and Counseling for students in faculty-supervised research projects in research and pastoral care counseling, to Mariah Fusco and Wanda Ward.

The Dr. and Mrs. Glenn Flinn Senior Award given to that member of the graduating class who, in the judgment of the faculty, best exemplifies the aims of the school and the church for its ministry, to Julian Hobdy.

June 2022 News Perspective Online

Perkins Represents at Annual Conferences

United Methodist Annual Conferences continue to gather this year in Texas and beyond, after nearly all met online the past two years because of pandemic concerns. Perkins faculty, staff and alumni are attending these in-person sessions, re-connecting with alumni and friends, reaching out to prospective students and doing some of the preaching at services.

Sending Perkins faculty and staff to the gatherings helps nurture Perkins’ ongoing partnership with the Annual Conferences in theological education. In addition, Perkins hosts display tables and alumni events at many of the Annual Conferences. For the first time in recent years, Perkins will send representatives to the Florida Annual Conference in Lakeland, Florida.

“Annual Conferences present an opportunity for us to share what’s new at Perkins and to tell our story,” said Dean Craig C. Hill. “At the same time, it gives us a chance to hear the story of each annual conference: to hear about their most dynamic and effective ministries and to understand the kind of leadership needed now and in the future.”

This is a time of uncertainty for The United Methodist Church. Local church disaffiliation and even the potential of Annual Conferences leaving The United Methodist Church will likely be part of the discussion as United Methodist clergy and laity gather for the more usual business of worship, ordination services, memorial services, ministry reports, budget approval and the reading of appointments.

Here is the current list of Annual Conferences and Perkins community members who plan to attend. Names in italics are tentative. Check this web page for updates.

Alumni/ae who United Methodist should receive invitations to the Perkins event in their annual conference. For all alumni/ae, now is a great time to make your information is up to date – click here.


The Arkansas Annual Conference meets June 1 – 4 at Hot Springs Convention Center in Hot Springs, Ark. Matt Jacob and Bart Patton plan to attend. An alumni/ae and friends event is scheduled for Wednesday, June 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Rolando’s Restaurante, 210 Central Ave, Hot Springs National Park, AR. Dinner is self-pay and most plates are $10-20. Click here to RSVP by May 30 if you plan to attend.

The North Texas Annual Conference meets June 5 – 7 at First UMC Richardson. Dean Hill, Stephen Bagby, Connie Nelson, Hugo Magallanes, John Martin, Matt Jacob, and Rachel Holmes plan to attend. A Perkins alumni/ae and friends gathering will take place Tuesday, June 7 at 7 a.m. at First UMC Richardson. Click here to register and pay for the breakfast ($15).

The Rio Texas Annual Conference runs June 8 – 11 at the McAllen Convention Center, 700 Convention Center Blvd, McAllen, TX. Dean Hill, Hugo Magallanes and Caleb Palmer plan to attend. An alumni/ae and friends event takes place Thursday, June 9 at 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. in Room 103AB at McAllen Convention Center. Click here to register and pay for the dinner ($35).

The Great Plains Annual Conference runs June 8 – 11 at the LaVista Conference Center, 12520 Westport Pkwy, La Vista, NE. From Perkins, Andy Keck will attend. There is no alumni/ae and friends event planned.

The Florida Annual Conference meets June 9 – 11 at Florida Southern College’s Branscomb Auditorium in Lakeland, FL. Dean Hill, Hugo Magallanes and Matt Jacob plan to attend. An alumni/ae and friends event is planned for Friday, June 10 at 5:30 in the President’s Dining Room in the Charles T. Thrift building. The meal is free for all who RSVP by June 3. Click here to RSVP for the dinner.

The Oklahoma Indian Missionary Annual Conference meets June 10 – 12 in Anadarko, OK. Melissa Hernandez-Probus will attend from Perkins. An alumni/ae and friends gathering is planned for Saturday, June 11 at noon in Cabin 3.

The Missouri Annual Conference runs June 11 – 12, with an optional June 10 Learning Day, at Branson Convention Center, 200 S Sycamore Street, Branson, MO. Heather Gottas Moore will represent Perkins. There is no alumni/ae and friends event planned.

The Central Texas Annual Conference runs June 12 – 14 at First UMC of Fort Worth, 800 W 5th St, Fort Worth, TX. John Martin and Matt Jacob will attend. An alumni/ae and friends event is scheduled for Tuesday, June 14 at 7:30 a.m. at First UMC of Fort Worth, Room 334. Click here to register and pay for the breakfast ($15).

The Louisiana Annual Conference will gather June 14 – 17 at River Center, 527 North Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA. Heather Gottas Moore and Matt Jacob will attend from Perkins. An alumni/ae and friends luncheon is planned for Wednesday, June 15 at 11:30 a.m. at FUMC Baton Rouge, Room 117, Adult Building. Parking is available at the church. Click here to register and pay for the luncheon ($20).

The New Mexico Annual Conference meets June 14 – 16 at Las Cruces Convention Center, 680 E University Ave., Las Cruces, NM. Hugo Magallanes and Connie Nelson will attend from Perkins. There is no alumni/ae and friends event scheduled.

The Northwest Texas Annual Conference will gather June 16 – 17 at Overton Hotel & Conference Center, 2322 Mac Davis Lane in Lubbock, TX 79401. Connie Nelson will attend from Perkins. There is no alumni/ae and friends event scheduled.

June 2022 News Perspective Online

Coming Your Way: The 2022 Print Edition of Perkins Perspective

Watch your mailbox for the 2022 print edition of Perkins Perspective magazine. Mailed this week, the issue should be landing in your mailbox by mid-June.

With the theme “World-Changing Preachers Shaped Here,” the issue looks at the many ways that Perkins is emerging as a leader in preaching education. You’ll read how Perkins offers innovative teaching and a catalog of lifelong learning opportunities through the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence. You’ll meet top faculty involved in innovative interdisciplinary collaborations and hear from Perkins graduates as they reflect on how their Perkins education informs their preaching and ministry.  Plus, there’s a profile of preaching legend Zan Holmes, news from Bridwell Library, a calendar of upcoming events at Perkins, and more.

If you don’t receive the magazine and would like to be added to the mailing list, email Rachel Holmes at or call the Office of Public Affairs and Alumni/ae Relations at 214-768-3515.

We hope you’ll enjoy this issue!

Prefer a digital copy? A link to the PDF of the print edition will also be available here once the issue is mailed; check back on this page in mid-June. 

June 2022 News Perspective Online

Perkins Students Join Iftar Celebration in Houston

In April, 29 students in Dr. Robert Hunt’s Interfaith Studies (HR 6302) class at Perkins joined a group of Muslim members of the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue and Raindrop Turkish House Mosque in Houston for two hours of guided dialogue and an Iftar dinner. Iftar is the traditional meal with which Muslims break their fast at the end of the day during Ramadan.

After touring the dialogue center and its mosque, and learning about the work of both, Perkins students and members of the mosque sat down in groups of seven to 10 and shared their personal stories of faith as well as stories of their respective religious communities. The dinner following included traditional food for breaking the fast, such as dates, as well as Turkish dishes typical for families in the mosque.

Dr. Hunt, who is Director of Global Theological Education, led the group for Perkins. He has a long association with the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue and Raindrop Turkish House, having edited Muslim Citizens in a Global World, a book by Yüksul A. Aslandogan, vice president of academic programs at the institute.

June 2022 News Perspective Online

Student Spotlight: Benjamin Chimwenga Simba

When he was a teen, Benjamin Chimwenga Simba had a dream that shook him to his core. He saw his mother die, but then God spoke to him, saying: “Do not worry. I am with you, and I have chosen you.”

He woke up sobbing. His parents came to his room, prayed with him, and reassured him it was just a dream. But two weeks later, his mother passed away suddenly of cerebral malaria.

Simba was devastated by the loss, but also reassured by the words from his dream – and inspired.

“I felt the conviction that led me to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior,” he said. “I felt the zeal to continue to preach the gospel.”

That zeal stayed with him, leading him to ordination in the Methodist Church in Kenya and ultimately to Perkins School of Theology in 2020. Simba received his Master of Theological Studies at graduation ceremonies in May.

In Kenya, Simba spent a dozen years in ministry, starting in 2007, becoming ordained in 2010, and working his way up in the ranks of the church: first as a circuit minister, then a superintendent, an education secretary, a bishop in Mombasa, and finally as a conference secretary. Armed with a recommendation from the presiding bishop in Kenya, the Rev. Joseph Ntombura Mwaine, he came to Perkins in 2020.

“I had a good impression of Perkins, because many of my professors at Kenya Methodist University [where he earned his undergraduate degree] had studied at Perkins,” he said. “And some of the most successful ministers in Kenya had studied here as well.”

Even the customs official who reviewed his paperwork when he arrived in the U.S. knew about Perkins; when the official noticed Simba’s plans to study at Perkins, he told him he was headed to a great school.

“What drew me here was the multicultural aspect of the Perkins community, and the sense of community between the faculty and the students,” Simba said. “I love the teamwork, the aspect of working together to empower the community.”

While at Perkins, Simba juggled his studies with a full calendar of extracurricular activities as well as volunteer leadership in his church. He served as a chapel assistant, coordinating weekly worship services in Perkins Chapel and sometimes preaching. He was also involved in the Black Seminarians Association and the International Students Association.

Simba also volunteered regularly at Oasis Global Mission Church, a United Methodist congregation which serves African immigrants and refugees but welcomes people of all nationalities. The Rev. Mary Miriti-Jackson (M. Div., 2011) is the congregation’s pastor. The church celebrates in the African-style of worship in two worship services every week on Sunday – one in English and one in Kiswahili, at Ridgewood Park United Methodist Church in northeast Dallas.  Simba has led worship, preaches, heads the men’s fellowship, runs a Bible study, assists with the youth fellowship and coordinates a weekly prayer line that brings together people from 14 different states.

Simba’s wife, Rose Mnyazi Faki, remains in Kenya, but they manage to connect three times a day to talk and pray together. “I know what’s happening there and she knows what’s happening here,” he said.

Guiding him through this journey is his favorite Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He’s also nurtured by time spent in daily prayer and meditation, listening to gospel music, singing, or pausing to look at the birds on his walk from his apartment to Perkins.

He also enjoys writing poetry and hopes to one day publish some of his work.

What’s next? Simba would like to find an appointment in a church in the U.S., whether serving a ministry to immigrants or in a parish setting. He loves serving people in ministry; as to where he will do that, going forward, he’s leaving that to God.

“Whether I’m ministering to the needs of the people in Africa or in the U.S., most of the need are the same,” he said. “People who are sick, people who are stressed, people who are bereaved. Although there are cultural differences, as a minister I’ve come to realize all human beings are created by God and need the love of God. I want to minister to them and preach to them about how God loves them, and that there’s always hope.”

June 2022 News Perspective Online

Alumnus Profile: Preston Williams

A desire to teach in a seminary initially brought Preston Williams (M.T.S. ’12) to Perkins. He didn’t end up using his degree professionally, but he’s still thankful for his Perkins education.

After graduating in 2012, Williams took a job in the healthcare benefits space, joining a startup, Compass Professional Health Services. Today he is Director of Product Management at Alight Solutions.

Transitioning from an M.T.S. to a career in healthcare benefits systems may seem like a disconnect, but Williams sees a clear connection.  While at SMU, he took classes in postcolonialism with Dr. Joerg Rieger, then Professor of Constructive Theology.

“The big thing that I gathered is that inequity exists, both from a monetary standpoint as well as an access standpoint, especially among marginalized people,” he said. “That sparked a significant interest on my part, basically asking, ‘Why is that the case?  How do we improve our systems overall?’ That led to a lot of interesting questions that I thought needed to be poked and prodded at. The status quo in healthcare was pretty abysmal, and I wanted to do my part to fix that.”

Today, his work focuses on helping connect patients with the best doctors, to lower the cost of care without sacrificing quality. And he sees his work as a kind of ministry.

“My talents were never in professional ministry,” he said. “I don’t necessarily have the patience for that. But, looking into a problem, thinking through solutions to problems, is really important to me. At Perkins, I learned that you have to take things to their logical end. Something on its face could seem like a good idea, but if you don’t trace that idea downstream, and see what it would or would not effect in people, you might make problems worse.”

His Perkins education enabled that.

“I don’t know that I got to the answers, but Perkins taught me to ask better questions, and by asking better questions, I can do more,” he said. 

A nonlinear path 

Williams grew up in Arlington, Texas, attending a Church of Christ in early childhood and later a nondenominational church. As an undergraduate, he attended Abilene Christian University (ACU), where he discovered a love for the bible, majoring in biblical text, languages and exegesis.

“Growing up, I was taught an approach where you read the Bible, and ask, ‘What does this mean to you?’” he said. “At ACU, the approach was more like, ‘The Bible is already written. Figure out what it says.’ I took that to heart.”

Williams continues to participate in Bible studies, something he’s done “perpetually” since graduating from SMU. But while at Perkins his interests also veered into theological ethics, and that led to an interest in healthcare in the U.S.

“This was right along the time of Obamacare coming out,” he said. “There were problems and gaps that it wasn’t covering. I was interested in trying to figure out how to think through this stuff a little bit better. I considered get PhD in healthcare reform, but then thought maybe I should first learn how healthcare works.”

That led to the job at Compass, which was later acquired by Alight. He continued to progress, and never looked back.

“I still enjoy reading, learning and theology, but professionally I found a better fit for me in the business world,” he said.

Williams’ work centers on a couple of problems in the U.S. healthcare system.

Unlike most other areas where consumers’ decisions affect pricing, in healthcare, cost doesn’t correlate to quality. And pricing is not transparent.

“When you go in for medical care, you have no idea how much you will get charged,” he said. “Costs are rampant, and people are not getting well. Our client companies’ employees are missing work. And it’s all related to the complexities of the American healthcare system.”

His first employer, Compass, devoted seven years developing applications to help people might find better care; Williams holds a patent on the system’s design. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the company’s websites annually; SMU is one of the company’s clients.

A diverse community

Looking back, Williams said he’s most grateful for the wide-ranging exposure he received at Perkins.

“You have everybody, from really conservative people to really liberal people at Perkins,” he said. “You need to be able to talk to both sides, to have conversations, and to think independently. That’s especially important in today’s world, where we are so partisan. You’re not going to agree with everybody, and that’s not the point. The point is to have a constructive conversation and not just win an argument.”

He remembers advice he received from Dr. Robin Lovin, then Dean of Perkins: “Always be gracious when you enter into a conversation. Don’t imagine the other person is wrong or stupid. Try to understand that they have tried their hardest to think through something. Explore what they are saying through that lens.”

Said Williams: “That goes really far in life, in any kind of conversation.”

Another gift of his Perkins education: discovering his passion, for solving problems in healthcare.

“The opposite of faith isn’t lack of faith,” he said. “It’s apathy — where you get complacent, where you take problems as a given.  It’s ok to ask hard questions, to say something is right, or wrong. To do that in life, you have to think critically. The education I received at Perkins truly enhanced how I think through a problem. There’s a lot of good that can come from that.”

Today, Williams lives in Dallas with his wife, Jennifer, and their goldendoodle, Mabel. Both are active in St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Dallas. He’s still in touch with many of his Perkins friends.

“I’m so deeply grateful for my Perkins education,” he said. “Even though I’m not using my degree specifically, I can’t say enough about how I was formed there. If you go in full hearted and let it form you, not just validate what you already believe, you’ll get something really special out of it.”

June 2022 News Perspective Online

Faculty Updates: June 2022

George Mason’s Final Sermon

More than a thousand people packed the pews on May 1 to hear the Rev. Dr. George Mason preach his last sermon at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. “I want to thank the community for their generosity towards me over more than three decades,” said Mason, who has served as senior pastor since 1989. Mason has built bridges of inclusion, welcoming LGBTQ individuals and offering full membership to people baptized in other Christian traditions. Mason’s last official day is Aug. 31, 2022. Mason is lead advisor of the Perkins’ Baptist House of Studies Board of Visitors and teaches in the program. He plans to continue teaching and to continue his work in Faith Commons, a nonprofit organization he founded. He is also a member of the Perkins Executive Board. Watch the NBC-DFW news report here.

McKenzie speaks at Aquinas Commencement

The Rev. Dr. Alyce McKenzie was the May 13, 2022 Commencement Speaker at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Mo. In addition, Aquinas conferred on her the degree, Doctorate of Theology, Honoris Causa, in recognition of her contributions to the field of homiletics through her teaching, preaching and writing. McKenzie is the Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship and Director of the Center for Preaching Excellence at Perkins.  Read the announcement here.






June 2022 News Perspective Online

Staff News: June 2022

Michelle Ried’s design was selected as the winner of the SMU Staff Association’s t-shirt design contest. The new t-shirts celebrate the 80th Anniversary of the SMU Staff Association and help share how much the board members care about the staff as well. Ried is Assistant to the Director at Bridwell Library and, as of June 1, serves as Treasurer of the Board of the SMU Staff Association.