News October 2020 Perspective Online

Letter from the Dean: But What Is That Among So Many?

“When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”…Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that among so many?’” (John 6:5, 7-9)

It is a recurring story in Scripture. God presents someone with a great work to do, and the one called shrinks before the task, acutely aware of their own insufficiency. In the midst of a global pandemic, in a society riven with tensions over racial inequality, in a season of political turmoil, who among us is not tempted to quail in the face of such overwhelming challenges?

As in so many other cases, Moses is the prototype. God appeared to Moses in Midian in a burning bush, saying:

“I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel out of Egypt.”  But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh…?”

And God said, “But I will be with you…”

You likely know the story. Moses then objected that the people would not listen to him. God proceeded to give Moses a number of miraculous signs that he could display to authenticate his calling.  Moses still held back.

“Oh, but I am not eloquent…but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”  (Exodus 3 & 4)

“Five barley loaves and two fishes; but what is that among so many?”

As first a professor and now a dean at a theological school, I have heard many “call stories” in which students recount some experience or series of events that led them to enter the ministry. Understandably, these narratives are often told with satisfaction and even enthusiasm. That is good and right, but I sometimes wonder if it was quite so clear and the response quite so resolute as it is told in hindsight. Even the great prophet Jeremiah, acutely aware of his own limitations, expressed doubt about his ability to answer God’s call:

The word of God came to Jeremiah saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then Jeremiah said, “Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”

But God said, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you”. (Jeremiah 1)

“Five barley loaves and two fishes; but what is that among so many?”

The lesson in each story is the same: “Do not say…for I will.” God has not asked us to do what is for us impossible, only what is possible for God.

The apostle Paul had endured a number of difficult, even humiliating setbacks, from which he learned a vital lesson about God’s provision. He appears to have suffered particularly from some unspecified physical ailment, possibly eye disease (Gal. 4:15). This may be what he calls his “thorn in the flesh,” about which the apostle wrote,

Three times I besought God about this, that it should leave me; but God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12)

“Five barley loaves and two fishes; but what is that among so many?”

There is a world in need all around us. We look to that need, and we look to ourselves, and if we are honest, we see that we have only five barley loaves and two fishes. And if we do not look also to God, that is all we ever will have.

Someone once suggested that it’s not ability, but availability, that counts with God, and there’s much to be said for that perspective. God can use the humble, who will take time to listen, more than the proud, who are too self-absorbed to hear God’s voice. Paul himself put it this way:

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor. 1:27, 29)

Similarly, Jesus prayed:

“I thank you…because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants…for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21)

These are hard sayings, not least in an academic setting, since we are inclined to think ourselves wise and learned, to imagine that we have a great deal more to offer than a mere five barley loaves and two fishes. It is a cautionary word. We should not limit God by our strengths.  However valuable they are, they are only a part of the whole. Moses, Jeremiah, Paul—they all had their gifts, their training, their personal qualities that God could use. Nevertheless, God met them at their point of weakness, and it was there that God was able to channel their strengths as God desired.

You might well feel inadequate to serve God in the face of so much need. You are right. We all are. So, let us offer the little we have, fully recognizing its insufficiency. God can multiply the gift, but only when it is offered.

‘Five barley loaves and two fishes; but what is that among so many?’

In the hands of Jesus, it is enough.

News October 2020 Perspective Online

Office of Enrollment Management: Connect, Discern, Explore Perkins

The Rev. Dr. Margot Perez-Greene, Ph.D., Associate Dean of Enrollment Management

Replacing the traditional “Inside Perkins” events held on campus in past years, Perkins School of Theology’s Office of Enrollment Management (OEM) is offering a series of virtual gatherings designed to allow you to safely Connect, Discern and Explore our community as you consider your theological educational future. The full schedule of events and links for registration is available here.  

Connect events provide an opportunity for you to meet with staff from the Office of Enrollment Management, which oversees recruitment, admissionfinancial aid and financial literacy servicesYou will learn about degree programs, the unique Perkins community, SMU opportunities, and more. Upcoming Connect events are scheduled for November 177 p.m., CST for the Dallas program and on October 15, 12 p.m., CSTand December 2, 7 p.m., CST, to discuss the Houston-Galveston program option.  On November 1112 p.m. CSTthe application process will be described thoroughly to aid in a seamless process for you.  

Discern events are designed to comfortably speak about your call to ministryYou will have the chance to share your thoughts with current students, alumni, and others. This series kicked off with Discern Your Call with Current SMU Perkins Students on September 22Other Discern events are scheduled: A Discernment Conversation with SMU Perkins Faculty on October 297 p.m., CST, and Discernment and DecisionMaking on December 8, at 12 p.m., CST. 

Explore events will provide you a chance to learn about the culture and community at Perkins through virtual conversation with current studentsalumniand others. The first program, Explore SMU Perkins, is on October 6, at 12 p.m., CST. Other options in this category are Explore the Culture of SMU Perkins with Current StudentsOctober 20, 12 p.m., CST, and Explore the SMU Perkins CommunityDecember 167 p.m., CST. 

“We know from many of our students that the opportunity to visit campus and meet faculty and students made all the difference as they were considering making a choice for their theological education,” said Dr. Margot Perez-Greene, Associate Dean of Enrollment Management. “Given the limitations created by COVID-19, we hope these virtual events will give prospective students another vehicle to experience the warm hospitality and unique community that is Perkins as they seek to take important next steps in deciding the best fit for them. In the end, that is what is most important.” 

Prospective students with additional questions about the virtual events or admission applications may contact Stephen Bagby, Director of Recruitment and Admissions, at or 214-768-2139. 

News October 2020 Perspective Online

Office of Development Update

In spite of many disruptions in our society, important events continue this fall.  Several of these impact funding for the school and for student scholarships.  We are grateful for the generosity of donors who continue to stand behind us during these “interesting” days, and I want to tell you about two of these events featuring some of our steadfast supporters. 

  • On October 7, the Perkins Campaign Steering Committee convenes to discuss the coming capital campaign.  The women and men of this committee are dedicated to moving Perkins forward in every way by increasing funding for scholarships, programs, research, and facilities.  President Turner of SMU meets with this group and will share exciting news about some major gifts to the University.  SMU is currently in the fourth year of preparation and study before a formal announcement is made about overall goals and projects; however, a number of significant gifts have already been announced for the University, including the $100 million pledge by the Moody Foundation establishing the eighth School at SMU, The Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies.  That School will benefit the Ph.D. program in Religious Studies taught jointly by Perkins and Dedman College. 
  • Also on October 7, the Perkins Executive Board will meet virtually for its fall meeting.  This group, an advisory board to the Dean, meets twice a year, and is involved in many activities supporting Perkins School of Theology.  The Executive Board is made up of 41 individuals who are deeply committed to the mission of Perkins.  In this meeting, a representative of In Trust Center for Theological Schools will present a seminar designed to equip each board member, and the board as a whole, to become more effective.  The seminar is funded by the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust and the In Trust Center for Theological Schools.  In Trust’s mission is to train boards of theological seminaries in effective governance.    

These two meetings are vital to Perkins’ financial goals. The Campaign Steering Committee will set the projects and financial goals for the coming campaign.  The Executive Board advises the Dean during this time of change in our society and the Church.   

In addition to the exciting potential developments at these upcoming meetings, we have had a fruitful semester so far: 

  • Recently, the Robert H. and Beverly U. Fowler Foundation Trust of Pennsylvania donated $250,000 for the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence.  This generous gift will enhance the work of the Center, which was previously funded by the Lilly Endowment, along with gifts from individuals and Methodist annual conferences.  Dr. Alyce McKenzie’s outstanding leadership of this Center has made it one of Perkins’ most effective off-campus ministries for the Church. 
  • Several other major gifts will be announced on October 7.  Watch for press releases and descriptions of these important donations. 
  • The Perkins Scholar Program has now welcomed its fourth cohort of exceptional M.Div. students.  This program, the brainchild of the Perkins Executive Board, has enabled 40 academically outstanding students to be educated at Perkins debt-free.  Each scholar is awarded up to $21,000 over three years in financial aid.  The scholarship and designation are awarded to students who not only are outstanding academically, but demonstrate leadership ability.   

I have shared some stories about remarkable support we’ve received this year. But, as always, your gifts are needed to enhance our work at Perkins.  More and more of our supporters are using the online option of giving on our website here. Many are using the convenient option of recurring gifts: monthly, quarterly, or yearly.  If giving by check, it should be made out to “SMU” with a notation of the area supported.  The check should be mailed to: 

Perkins Development 
P.O. Box 750133 
Dallas, TX 75275-0133. 

During this time of COVID disruption, we are encouraging our friends to make a special donation to the SMU Fund for Perkins, which is the Dean’s discretionary fund.  He is able to use money from that unrestricted account to meet all special needs as they arise. 

As always, thank you for faithfully supporting our important work at Perkins School of Theology.  


John A. Martin
Director of Development

News October 2020 Perspective Online

Campus Life During COVID

Due to the pandemic, campus life looks different this fall at Perkins School of Theology. But while the situation is far from ideal, the educational process is moving forward, and the “new normal” has even yielded a few unexpected blessings.

Students attending at the Dallas campus had the option of taking classes in person or online this fall. Some classes are now offered entirely online; others are taught “HyFlex,” an approach that combines in-class instruction as well as online, with each student choosing the option they prefer for each class.  Of the 159 students in master’s degree programs in Dallas, almost three-fourths – 115 students – selected the remote learning option.

The new approach is a work-in-progress and still undergoing improvement.

“We did a survey after the first week of classes and learned that students were very thankful that we were offering the possibility of being in the classroom,” said Tracy Anne Allred, Assistant Dean of Student Life. “However, they were honest, too. Sometimes the technology doesn’t serve both those in class and those who are Zooming in equally.  We’ve made some needed tweaks to that, and it’s working better now.”

Allred added that having the online option gives students more flexibility, even for those who prefer to attend in person. If a student doesn’t feel well, or a babysitter cancels at the last minute, they have the option to join online.

“I get a real sense that students are thankful to have the option of in person or remote,” she said. “They understand it’s not ideal, but they like having options. And learning is definitely happening.”

“I’m appreciative of the faculty and staff that are so willing to be flexible,” said Daniel Curry, an M.Div. student in Houston-Galveston (expected graduation 2021).  “They are journeying with us as we take this one day at a time. This is unchartered territory for everyone.”

Increased Enrollment

Despite the limitations, enrollment is up, almost 15 percent compared to the fall of 2019. A total of 319 students enrolled at Perkins this fall, including 58 doctoral students and 261 students in master’s programs. Of those, 103 are part of the Houston-Galveston (H-G) Extension program, an increase of 35 percent compared to Fall 2019.

Students in the H-G program – which normally meets in person twice a semester – may be feeling the isolation most keenly. Because most travel to Houston or Galveston for classes, those in-person meetings were eliminated for safety reasons.

“It’s been difficult, because they haven’t seen each other since last fall,” said Hugo Magallanes, director of the Houston-Galveston program.  “In typical years, each semester begins and ends with face-to-face meetings. That’s one of the key points of the program – it’s hybrid, it’s the best of both worlds.  They are missing that face to face component.”

Magallanes noted, however, that many H-G students are now participating in online Perkins student gatherings, including chapel and Community Hour at Perkins (CHAP) which, before the pandemic, were held in person at the Dallas campus and thus available only to Dallas students.  Now that they’re online, H-G students can join in.

“We’re definitely seeing more attendance at community events, especially our community worship on Wednesdays and Thursdays,” said Allred. “We’re seeing a nice healthy number from our H-G program regularly attending worship as well as CHAP.”

The pandemic has also yielded a few surprising advantages. Faculty are, by necessity, becoming more adept and more comfortable with online teaching. Two international students are now able to attend Perkins remotely from their home countries, in Kenya and India.

Classes that might not “make” due to insufficient enrollment are now drawing from a larger pool — both Dallas and H-G students – and attracting enough students to form a class. That also means that H-G students now have the option of taking classes that were previously taught only in person in Dallas, and thus available only to Dallas students.

“An unexpected blessing has been the ability to study under professors we wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” said Julie Paulick, an M.Div. student (expected graduation May 2022) in the H-G program. “This semester I have been able to take Old Testament with Dr. Jack Levison, as well as a joint offering from Dr. Dallas Gingles and Dr. Rebekah Miles.”

A Challenge for Faculty

Some of the biggest challenges this fall were posed for faculty members, who must adapt to online and HyFlex teaching, re-format their class materials and tweak their teaching styles.

Alyce McKenzie, Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship, is teaching two classes via HyFlex; she’s become more aware of the need to vary the format of the class often, moving from lecture to video to breakout rooms, to keep students engaged. Frequent breaks, too, are more important on Zoom than in face-to-face classes.

“Teaching HyFlex adds another layer of preparation and suspense,” said McKenzie. “Will the tech work flawlessly? Will there be a minor glitch this week? It calls us to rise to the challenge with an eye on our goal of making it the best educational experience possible for both in person and remote students.”

Sze-kar Wan, Professor of New Testament, is teaching two courses, Greek and New Testament I, online this semester.

“This is the first time I’ve taught a language course remotely,” he said. “It is working much better than I thought. I’m very encouraged by what I’m seeing.”

To accommodate the new format, Wan added that he has reduced the class’s workload slightly, something he suspects students don’t mind.

“We’ve covered a little bit less material than I normally do,” he said. “That works out to the benefit of the students. I tend to stuff too much into my Greek classes anyway.”

Teaching New Testament I – a course Wan has taught for years – requires more work on his part this semester.

“This semester, I have had to re-package the material into more bite-sized chunks. I have to anticipate students’ questions more. It’s pedagogically more challenging but it’s nothing that that can’t be solved.”

Wan adds that he misses teaching in person and seeing the “aha” expressions on students’ faces in real-time.  To make up for that in-person experience, he schedules several small-group meetings via Zoom throughout the semester. “That’s a lot more work because I have to repeat each small group four times to accommodate all the students, but it’s worth it.”

“On Zoom, I can’t jump up and down or dance on the table, which I’ve been known to do to make a point,” he said.

Some faculty have also taken pains to make sure that the communal aspects of classes are incorporated as well.

“I have students offer a self-introduction paragraph or video on Canvas, so everyone has a sense coming into the semester about their classmates’ background and interests,” McKenzie said.

Wan, however, says he’s not too worried about students’ abilities to form community virtually.

“In the age of Facebook, they know what online socialization looks like,” he said. “Students already know how to do it without being physically present with each other.”

Roy Heller, Professor of Old Testament, is teaching two classes this semester: one remotely and one online. The remote course meets weekly via Zoom and proceeds much as it would if the course were taught face-to-face. The online course, however, is taught asynchronously — the entire course is laid out beforehand, then opened a week at a time for students to complete the modules. That approach is considerably more challenging; Heller says he had to completely recreate the course from the ground up to fit the new format.

“It is, in short, a different course from the one I would normally teach week in and week out during a normal semester, he said. “Teaching the online course requires a tremendous amount of time to prepare, record videos, edit videos, upload, write curricula, prepare quizzes and weekly assignments. I have, honestly, spent as much time working on one semester of my course as I have spent writing entire books. No exaggeration.

O. Wesley Allen, Jr., Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics, says he has figured out something that does not work in online teaching: writing on the board in class.  Students joining online can’t see the board well enough. To compensate, he must make sure all of the points he wants to make are included in the PowerPoint he creates before class.

Still, overall, “I think it’s going as well as it could,” he said. “We didn’t make the move [to online teaching] for pedagogical reasons but for health reasons. Trying to make sure we’re offering good teaching, good learning, good community is a challenge, but it is not impossible.”

Inspiration for Innovation

Just as necessity is the mother of invention, the pandemic has become the impetus of innovation. Members of the Perkins community are devising new ways to engage students given the current situation.

In response to the challenges that churches are facing during the pandemic, Robert Hunt and Marcell Steuernagel are teaching a new course, fully online, Social Innovation: Creating World Changers with Emerging Digital Ministries. Read about the course here.

The Office of Student Life, for example, began hosting weekly online study halls where students gather virtually to connect, chat, discuss assignments, and get to know each other.

“There’s not a lot of studying going on in the study hall,” said Allred. “It’s mostly free-flowing conversation. People talk about their pets or their kids. One student pulled out his French horn and played for us. It’s really wonderful way for students to connect, and there’s never a dull moment.”

The Study Halls typically start at 8:30 p.m. and often run on until midnight or later.

“It’s a place for community, for getting to know each other,” Allred said. “It has been a wonderful experiment.”

News October 2020 Perspective Online

Meet the International Students

Members of the Perkins community had the chance to meet international students at a special Community Hour at Perkins (CHAP) on September 15.  Six international students introduced themselves to the two dozen people in attendance via Zoom.

Alice Bonareri Ondieki, a returning student from Kenya, is pursuing her MTS.  Ondieki, who is visually impaired, expressed her appreciation to members of the Perkins community for “showing us that you’re our sisters and brothers, and our moms and dads.”

Soo Hyun Suh hails from South Korea. Her two daughters, Grace and Emma, ages 15 and 13, popped into the Zoom to say hello.

Charles Kitua is from Kenya but living in Kansas with his three boys and his wife, Sketer Riungu, a Perkins alum, who is serving a church there.

Benjamin Chimwenga Simba is an ordained minister in Kenya who served as a Methodist bishop from 2015-2018.  “I’m happy to be here, but I plan to go back and give back to the community in my home country,” he said.

Faith Mukami Kubai is a returning M.T.S. student from Kenya, a mother of two, and also an ordained minister in the Methodist Church in Kenya.

On the day of the CHAP, Stella Eunbyul Cho celebrated her birthday. She joins the Perkins community from South Korea, following in the footsteps of her brother, JaeJun “Daniel” Cho, also a current student. Stella shared that her Korean name, Eunbyul, means “good star.”

Several faculty and staff members introduced themselves and shared their international experiences. Laura Figura, a former French teacher, donned a beret and offered to speak French with anyone who’d like to converse.  Leslie Fuller described her time working and studying in Kenya and earning her master’s degree in the U.K.  Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner lived in Oxford and worked with Oxfam; Sze-kar Wan had just returned from a sabbatical in Taiwan. Hugo Magallanes, who is from Mexico, expressed his appreciation for the ways that “international students bring an international flavor to our coursework.”

The students also got an introduction to a topic that incited a very lively American debate: barbecue.  Wes Allen asserted the superiority of the Alabama variety (“Barbecue comes from a pig!”) and others argued the merits of barbecue from North Carolina (made with vinegar) and Tennessee. In the Texas camp, Rhonda Chambers touted the superiority of authentic Texas smoked brisket.  Chuck Aaron concluded the debate with a diplomatic compromise, stating that he “will eat all barbecue, wherever I’m at.”

News October 2020 Perspective Online

Shelf to Spotlight

Several years ago, while reading a monthly periodical called Vital Speeches of the Day, Dana Rubin noticed something was missing: speeches by women. She emailed the editor to ask why there were so few women’s voices in the publication.

The editor replied that what he published was “descriptive, not prescriptive,” and he couldn’t commit to featuring at least one woman’s speech each month, because that would be “tokenism.”

Rubin didn’t like that answer. That experience launched her on a journey.

“The world has almost completely overlooked women’s speech and women’s oratory,” she said. “I started to look for women’s speeches and discovered there are a lot of them. I became an advocate for the rediscovery of women’s role as rhetoricians.”

Rubin, an award-winning journalist and curator of the Speaking While Female Speech Bank, shared a sampling of her research in a digital gathering on September 16, “From Shelf to Spotlight: The Hidden History of Women’s Speeches,” co-sponsored by the Perkins  Center for Preaching Excellence and the John Goodwin Tower Center for Public Policy and International Affairs at SMU.  Alyce McKenzie, director of the Center for Preaching Excellence, served as commentator. Madison Lopez, an SMU student and Tower Scholar, moderated.

“Women have been speaking up and contributing their ideas for centuries, even though we have not acknowledged or recognized them,” Rubin said.

This omission means more than just a failure of giving credit where credit is due, Rubin added.

“I am a debate coach,” she said. “I judge high school debate. I believe very passionately about the clash of ideas. I want women to be challenged on the merit of their ideas, not on their looks, or how their voices sound.”

Rubin shared historic images – many of them disturbing — of torture devices used to silence women who “talked too much.” Despite cultural pressures to remain quiet, she said, many women throughout history have spoken up – effectively and eloquently.  She gave three examples:

Sarah Winnemucca (1844-1891) was a native American who appeared on stage as “Princess Winnemucca” as part a vaudeville troupe billed as a showcase of “Indian royalty.” That show business experience gave her confidence as a public speaker and led her to advocate on behalf of Native Americans. In 1884, she testified before a congressional subcommittee on Indian affairs, describing the mistreatment of her people as they were forced to relocate.

Rubin tracked down the text of that speech at the Humboldt Museum in Winnemucca, Nevada. It had never been published before.  She shared how Winnemucca skillfully pled her case for better treatment of her people, with heartbreaking and vivid descriptions of the privations they experienced as they were driven off their land and led on a forced march for 350 miles in the dead of winter.

Winnemucca said: “Women would be coming along crying, and it was not because they were cold for they were used to the cold. It was not because they were sick, for they suffered a great deal. The woman was crying because she was carrying her little frozen child in her arms.”

Jessie Daniel Ames (1883-1972) was a suffragist and civil rights leader born in Palestine, Texas.

Ames founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching in 1930 to mobilize white women, who gave hundreds of speeches to law enforcement, community leaders and school principals and at religious organizations and clubs. The women collected data and detailed the horrors of lynching.  Often, they would visit a site immediately after a lynching took place to collect evidence. Sometimes, they would alert law enforcement to prevent lynchings from occurring.  The women published brochures with action-oriented tips, such as “What One Woman Can Do to Prevent Lynching.”

Rubin described Ames’s arguments, which appealed to the self-interest of the white business community by decrying lynching as “bad advertising.”

“The South is going after big industry at the moment; a lawless, lynch-mob population isn’t going to attract much outside capital,” Ames said in 1939 to the Kentucky branch of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, in Louisville.” The women’s movement helped achieve verifiable results; the number of occurrences of lynching decreased considerably by 1938.

Juanita Craft (1902-1985) was a member of Dallas City Council and an organizer for Black civil rights who traveled all over Texas to set up chapters of the NAACP. A historical plaque commemorates her house on Warren Street in Dallas, which is undergoing restoration to become the Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights Museum & Education Center. Rubin cited an example of Craft’s skillful use of rhetorical technique in a quote from a 1977 commencement speech for graduates of H. Grady Spruce High School in Dallas, in which she told the students, “Each of you seated before me tonight is like a high-yield bond which has finally reached maturity. . .  you are capable of yielding the benefits.”

In sharing words from their speeches, Rubin noted how each woman employed carefully chosen rhetorical strategies to make her case: Winnemucca used the power of personal experience; Ames used the power of facts and data; Craft used the power of metaphor.

Rubin hopes that the rediscovery of voices of women like Craft, Ames and Winnemucca will inspire respect for women’s voices of the past, present and yet to come.

“A speech is not just words – it’s an act calling on the audience to act,” said Rubin. “These three women used their voices for change, and they were just three of thousands of women who have done this.”

News October 2020 Perspective Online

Beyoncé Mass

Accepting. Evocative. Prophetic. Conflicted.

Those were a few of the words that students shared in response to the Beyoncé Mass, a Christian worship service inspired by the life and music of its namesake, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Students are engaging with the Mass this semester as part of the Seminary Singers curriculum in the Master of Sacred Music program, taught by Dr. Marcell Silva Steuernagel.

“Not everyone likes the Mass,” said Steuernagel, who is Director of the Sacred Music Program.

“And I’ve told them, ‘You don’t have to.’ It’s about triggering a process of reflection.”

The Mass was curated by the Rev. Yolanda Norton, a Hebrew Bible scholar and the H. Eugene Farlough Chair of Black Church Studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary. When it debuted at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco two years ago, almost 900 people turned up for a midweek service that normally attracts a few dozen people.

“The Mass says to young black girls, ‘You are part of what God had in mind when, during creation, God said, ‘It is good,’” Norton told the New York Times in an article about the worship service. “By making the stories and realities of young black women and girls central components of this liturgical art, we’re affirming their realities in a world that is persistent and dogged in its attempts to reject them.”

Creators call the Beyoncé Mass a “womanist worship service” showcasing how Black women “find their voice, represent the image of God and create spaces for liberation.” The service includes renditions of Beyoncé songs such as “Survivor” and “Flaws and All” combined with the readings of sacred texts.  (Beyoncé calls St. John’s United Methodist in Houston her home church.)

“We don’t do frozen chosen here,” Norton told worshippers at a performance of the Mass at Lincoln Center’s Millennium Stage in March. “This is not your grandma’s church.”

The Seminary Singers engagement began on September 11, as the class watched an online performance of the Mass, commissioned by a cohort of several theology schools led by Dr. Stephanie Budwey from Vanderbilt Divinity School.  Next, the students joined in a virtual conversation with Norton and some of the singers in the Black Girl Magic Ensemble, who perform the Mass. Now the students are discussing their experience and preparing their reflections for an online panel presentation via Facebook Live, which will take place in late October or early November.

“I like the way that the service is very accepting of people who typically may get shunned in church,” said Julie Boudreaux, (MSM ’22), in the class’s September 24 meeting.

“Seeing the Mass, I realized some of my own biases between sacred and secular,” said student Allison Shutt (MSM ’21).  “Initially, I thought, ‘This is going to be terrible, I’m not going to be comfortable at all,’ but the way that [Norton] crafted the different pieces, you could see the theology running through … which I really appreciated.”

Steuernagel shared how this curriculum helps fill a gap that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the Seminary Singers ensemble exists to help MSM students develop their professional skills – conducting, performing and working with a variety of musical styles – they would normally participate in creating services as part of worship life of the university, such as the Perkins Advent Worship service – “None of which we can do in person this year,” Steuernagel said.

“This was an opportunity to engage in an online aspect of ministry and the current conversation connected to Black Lives Matter and the current political and social life of North America,” he said.

He added that the class has engaged not only with the content and meaning of the Mass but also with the technical aspects of how it’s performed for online audiences.

Lucas Eaton (MSM ’21) liked the way the Mass integrated music, texts and other media in its digital presentation. Another student, Seth Luna (MSM ’22), used the word “prophetic” to describe the Mass.

“I was expecting to be pretty uncomfortable with it,” he said. “As an Anglican, when you start throwing the words ‘Mass’ and ‘Beyoncé’ together, it’s like, oh no … I was expecting it to be way out there, and it wasn’t way out there at all for me.”

Steuernagel notes, “Yolanda is emphatic in stressing that it’s a worship service not meant as a concert,” he said. “She doesn’t cite Beyoncé a lot. It’s more about the connection between the way that Beyoncé has developed this advocacy for black female empowerment and woven it into her career.”

To those who say the Mass might be “too political,” Steuernagel says that’s not in line with historic Christianity.

“Today we construe worship to be this nonperishable, pasteurized thing,” he said. “But first century baptism was highly political. It was a matter of realigning yourself away from Rome. If you want a church deeply engaged with human life, the Beyoncé Mass is a way to call attention to a significant problem.”

As a precedent for worship that draws from pop culture, Steuernagel cited the celebration of the 60th anniversary last year of the first liturgical jazz service, which took place at Perkins 60 years ago.

“Perkins has been involved in that kind of thing since the late 50s,” he said.

Some of the students expressed mixed feelings about the Mass and its presentation.

“I very much enjoyed the concept of what going on, but the actual execution, I was not that into,” said Cameron Norman (MSM ’22). “I just didn’t enjoy the music.”

Garth Baker-Fletcher (MSM ‘212) shared the importance of Beyoncé for his daughters and other female members of his family.

“I’ve watched them listen intently to what Beyoncé said,” he said. “It’s extraordinary to me how much Destiny’s Child meant to them. You have to understand that it was the Christian-European civilization that problematized and objectified the bodies [of women of color.]”

That exchange of perspectives is exactly what Steuernagel had in mind.

“Being able to sit down for a conversation with people sharing different perspectives is a beneficial practice, no matter what,” Steuernagel said.

News October 2020 Perspective Online

Student Spotlight

Daniel and his sister, Stella.

The Perkins community doesn’t just feel like family for JaeJun “Daniel” Cho. Family ties led him to the Perkins campus, and now, one of his siblings is a fellow Perkins student.

Cho, a second-year M.Div. student, grew up in South Korea, the son of two pastors in the Korean Methodist Church (KMC). Having heard about Perkins since he was a child, coming here was a dream come true.

“My father wanted to study at Perkins 30 years ago, but Perkins was not freely open to international students at the time,” he said. When Cho applied to three U.S. theological schools, Perkins was the first to notify him of its acceptance. That sealed the deal.

“Thankfully, I was accepted to three schools, with good financial aid offers, but Perkins was the first school which recognized my possibility, so I could not make Perkins disappointed,” he said.

Now, another member of his family is here too. His younger sister, Eunbyul “Stella” Cho arrived in Dallas just a few weeks ago and is working on an M.Div. at Perkins as well.

“My sister and I are really grateful to Perkins School of Theology for giving us an opportunity to study at Perkins,” he said. “We believe that God rewarded us for my parents’ ministry and sacrifice through Perkins.”

Answering a Call

Daniel (right) dances in a Korean-language worship video for preschool children.

Cho says it was his father’s example that inspired him to answer the call to ministry.

“My father helped others in need, such as the poor and the sick,” he said. “Thanks to my him, my house was always full of people when we were eating, and they became my family. In South Korea, family means eating together.”

Life as a pastor’s son, however, wasn’t always easy. His family never had much money. They often took in people in their home who needed medical attention. When his father’s good works drew the attention of a few large, wealthy churches, they tried to recruit him as pastor. But his father declined.

“To be honest, I wanted my father to accept their requests because I was tired of being poor,” Cho said. “He was a pastor, but I was not. However, he replied that while there are many people that wish to go to big churches with many members, there are very few who wish to go to hard and difficult ones, and thus, he could not leave his community.”

Over time, Cho said, he realized the wisdom of his father’s choices and how they gave him true happiness.

“I learned real ministry and real love from him,” Cho said.

Cho’s ultimate goal is to become a preacher who can reach people of all ages.

“I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ should be delivered to everyone in the world,” he said. “In order for the gospel to speak to people’s hearts, preachers have to be able to easily deliver the gospel to people, no matter who they are, no matter how old they are, and no matter how they are educated.”

Cho definitely has learned to speak to younger people. As a youth minister in the KMC, he is currently creating a series of lively, engaging online worship videos for preschool-aged children.

“Usually, female Sunday school teachers lead praise with dance,” he said. “However, I wanted to break the mold, so I danced, praising God. Thankfully, the children really love this.”

(The videos are in Korean, but the spirit and enthusiasm come through clearly; check one out here.)

Life at Perkins

At Perkins, Hebrew Bible is a key area of academic interest for Cho.

“The Hebrew Bible is a foundation of Christianity; when we read the Hebrew Bible carefully, it could enrich our Christian faith,” he said. “Also, I realized that Korean Christians are unwilling to read the Hebrew Bible because the Hebrew Bible is difficult to understand. They are struggling with law in the Old Testament. Thus, I decided to study the Hebrew Bible to teach Korean Christians easily.”

On the extracurricular side, Cho has enjoyed participating in Ministry Dallas – which gave him his first glimpse of Dallas when he arrived last fall – and now serves as Vice President of the Perkins Student Association. He has also enjoyed the monthly events sponsored by the Financial Literacy Program at Perkins.

“Each month, Jean Nixon prepared wonderful guest speakers to teach students how to use and save money wisely,” he said. “Thanks to this program, I could learn financial literacy skills. I even earned a $500 gift card as a reward because I attended 10 events out of 10!”

Cho says he particularly appreciates the diversity of the Perkins community. South Korea is a homogeneous society, he notes, and Koreans don’t have much experience in welcoming foreigners who are culturally and ethnically different. Refugees from Yemen and North Korea have fled to Korea in recent years, which has created fear and hostility among many Koreans.

“One of my classmates asked me how I feel from being a majority in Korea to a minority in the United States,” he said. “I was so glad because I got out of a homogenous community and I feel the dynamism of this diverse community at Perkins. As a member of a global village, I am learning how to communicate, understand, and love others who are different from me at Perkins!”

For his personal spiritual practice, Cho maintains a rigorous routine. He follows the worship schedule of the Korean Methodist Church, attending daily morning devotions at 5:30 a.m., and Wednesday and Friday evening worship services. He also practices contemplative prayer three times daily, at morning, noon and afternoon. (He once shared his tips from his contemplative prayer practice with the Perkins community at a Community Hour at Perkins (C.H.A.P.)) He tries to read through the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation, once a year.

Cho also begins each day reciting his favorite Bible passage, in Hebrew: Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ,” he said, citing Romans 10:17. “Confessing God’s uniqueness (oneness) is the heart of Christianity. And Jesus commanded ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, which is the first and greatest commandment.’ When we truly love God, we can truly love ourselves. When we truly love ourselves, we can truly love our neighbors.”

News October 2020 Perspective Online

Faculty Profile: Chuck Aaron

This photo was taken the first time Aaron preached in Spanish at Gracia Viva in Dallas. Pastora Isabel Marquez (right) invited him to preach; his teacher from Costa Rica (where Aaron attended a Spanish language immersion program) helped him translate the sermon.

Many faculty members are challenged to stay connected with the “outside” world beyond the walls of academia. For Charles “Chuck” Aaron, the challenge tends to run in the opposite direction. As co-director of the Intern Program at Perkins, he has been — at least until the pandemic struck –out and about, visiting churches and other institutions where students were interning or may intern in the future.

“My bigger challenge has been keeping up with the academic world,” he said.

Still, Aaron seems fairly productive in the scholarly realm. He has published two books recently and is working on another. In September, Wipf and Stock released Preaching in/and the Borderlands, which Aaron co-edited along with J. Dwayne Howell.

“The book arose out of a panel presentation that we sponsored in 2016 at the Society of Biblical Literature,” he said. (At the time, Aaron was chair of the SBL’s program unit in Biblical studies and homiletics.) “Afterward, Dr. Howell and I decided that the papers submitted for the panel needed to be available beyond that presentation. The book offers a variety of perspectives on preaching and immigration and It fills a need, because I’m not aware of anything else out there like it. We think this can be a valuable resource for the church and very timely.”

Cokesbury also recently published a Bible study that Aaron wrote, with the theme of Encounter and focusing on salvation and what it means through example and explanation.  

Aaron is also working on co-editing yet another book, on preaching and the wisdom literature, a festschrift for Alyce McKenzie. It’s a collection of essays and sermons contributed by colleagues and friends as a celebration of her career. Several Perkins faculty members are involved in the project.  Jaime Clark-Soles is co-editor; O. Wesley Allen is a contributor. Professor emeritus John C. Holbert contributed a chapter, and Angel J. Gallardo contributed a sermon.

Aaron heading out for a walk/light jog in solidarity with Ahmaud Arbery.

An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, Aaron also preaches by invitation. That was more frequent before COVID, but he’s scheduled to speak on October 11 at Casa Linda United Methodist in Dallas. Aaron is a Perkins grad himself, having earned his M.Div. in 1985, in addition to his B.A. from Lambuth College, a master’s in counseling at the University of Memphis and a Ph.D. at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va.

Before the pandemic changed everything, Aaron spent much of his time visiting the churches and other agencies or institutions where Perkins students served in internships. This year, it’s all happening by Zoom. Among the places he’s shepherded Perkins interns: Dallas Bethlehem Center, a ministry in South Dallas where the intern worked with children of color on lower socioeconomic scale; United Methodist Women in New York, where the intern was based and traveled around the country giving presentations on various issues of UMW concerns; and the North Texas Conference’s Zip Code Project, where the student worked in a Dallas area neighborhood where poverty is most concentrated.

This job has afforded me the opportunity to meet many different pastors and learn about a wide variety of ministries, including hospitals, nonprofit ministries and many different kinds of churches,” he said.

Research Interests 

Biblical Studies. Apocalyptic Literature, Prophets. Pentateuch. Preaching from the Old Testament. Prophetic Preaching, Prophetic Ministry. Homiletics.

Favorite Bible Verse

Isaiah 55:10-11: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Said Aaron: “That verse has sustained me in ministry all along. I trust that, the work we do, God will use it for something.”

Aaron playing classical guitar at House of Blues as part of a recital for Guitar Center, where he takes lessons.

Book on His Nightstand Now

The Julian Way by Justin Hancock, a history of the church’s ministry with persons who are differently abled.  (Hancock, a Perkins grad, is an ordained deacon and uses a wheelchair.) 

Fantasy Dinner Party

Aaron would invite Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter, the martyred Bishop Óscar Romero and the late virtuoso classical guitarist Andrés Segovia. “I’d ask them, ‘How, in the midst of all the injustice of the world, do you keep from giving in to despair?” he said. “How do you keep going in the midst of frustration?” Three of the four guests experienced that challenge; Aaron added Segovia because he’s taking classical guitar lessons himself and speaks a little Spanish.


Wife Sandra Aaron is a computer programmer.


Aaron works out with a Soloflex exercise machine. In the past, he ran 5Ks, and hopes to get back into that again soon.

Question He’d Ask at the Pearly Gates

How in the world are we all going to live together once we get up there? We’re so divided down here, how are we going to live in community up there?”

Personal Spiritual Practice

In addition to walking and exercising, Aaron enjoys singing hymns while playing the piano, but not with an audience. “I only do this where nobody can hear me,” he said. “I don’t sing that well.”

Something Most People Don’t Know About Him

In middle school, Aaron was a drummer in a Monkees cover band.

News October 2020 Perspective Online

Center for Preaching Excellence Receives Fowler Foundation Gift

The Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU has received a $250,000 gift from the Robert H. and Beverly U. Fowler Foundation of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The gift will allow the Center to launch innovative initiatives and continue its current programs from a foundation of financial stability in years to come.

“In these tough times, good preaching has never been more crucial,” said Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie, Director of the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU.  “We are grateful for this gift, which will allow us to continue to inspire and equip those whom God has called to the preaching task through the work of the Center.”

The Robert H. and Beverly U. Fowler Foundation, established by Dr. McKenzie’s parents in 1998, generally gives gifts to non-profit organizations in central Pennsylvania that work against hunger and support literacy and the arts.  However, the trustees – Dr. McKenzie’s siblings, Susanna Weil, Robert Fowler, Jr., and Wade Fowler – saw an opportunity to make a significant contribution to the life and vitality of the United Methodist Church through this grant. They view it as a way of honoring their parents’ legacy by investing in a venture that combines elements of those things that were most important to them: their Christian faith, education, history, and community service.

Founded in 2013, the Center’s mission is to “enhance transformative preaching in local congregations.” Its motto is “Share the Story, Shape the World!”  The Center forms and supports preaching peer groups of pastors in the field, pairs experienced pastors as mentors for Introduction to Preaching students, and sponsors continuing education events for students and area clergy. Recently, it has increased its online resources to offer webinars and a series of informative interviews called “What’s A Preacher to Do?” that focuses on the challenge of preaching in a “twin pandemic” of COVID-19 and systemic racism.

The Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU was originally funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc. as part of its Preaching Initiative Grants given to several seminaries in 2013.  That Endowment has cited the Center as a stellar example of what it hoped to accomplish through the grant.

Robert and Beverly Fowler, lifelong Methodists and natives of North Carolina, met at Guilford College in the early 1950s. Their shared love of history and literature inspired a publishing venture that became Historical Times, Inc. In the early 1960s Robert (1926-2002) turned his passionate interest in the Civil War into a magazine titled Civil War Times Illustrated just in time for the centennial of the Battle of Gettysburg. As time went on other magazines were added to the repertoire including American History Illustrated, Early American Life, British History Illustrated, Fly Fisherman and Bow Hunter.  Along the way he wrote seven historical novels, most notably Jim Mundy which many critics considered on par with The Red Badge of Courage. Beverly Fowler, who passed away in January of 2020, was not only an invaluable partner in these enterprises, but also the author of a popular weekly human-interest column in the Perry County Times for 30 years, and a supporter of libraries and literacy in central Pennsylvania.

In a letter to Wade Fowler, retired newspaper editor and the executor of the Fowler Foundation, Perkins Development Director Dr. John Martin wrote: “Your gift is a sign of confidence, not only in your sister Alyce’s leadership and accomplishments, but in the importance of the ministry and mission of Perkins School of Theology in these changing times. The Center not only enhances the preaching skills of current students, it also continues to be instrumental in improving the level of communication in many United Methodist conferences and in other denominational groups. Thank you for your generosity to SMU, Perkins School of Theology, and the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence.”

In addition to directing the Center, Dr. McKenzie serves as the Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins and as an Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor at SMU. A prolific author and popular teacher, preacher, and workshop leader, she is a former president of the Academy of Homiletics, and in 2015 was chosen to offer the prestigious Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale Divinity School.

In directing the Center, she works closely with her colleague Dr. O. Wesley Allen, Jr., Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics at Perkins who, in her words, “acts as an invaluable consultant in both the visioning and implementation of the Center’s programs. “

Reflecting on the gift to the Center from the Fowler Foundation, Dr. McKenzie says, “I’m honored by my siblings’ generosity and look forward to living out our Center’s motto ‘Share the Story, Shape the World’ in the years to come.”