News October 2021 Perspective Online Top Story

Letter from Dean Craig Hill – October 2021

I am not surprised that there are disagreements in the church. That has always been the case. What both surprises and dismays me is the manner in which so many disagree­ments are conducted. In the sermon published last month’s Perspective, I contrasted the misleadingeven blatantly dishonest̶—tactics common to today’s political rhetoric with the example of Jesus. Most disturbing is the extent to which those same strategies have come to dominate discourse within American Protestantism broadly and within my own denomination, The United Methodist Church, specifically.

In the essay linked below, I have attempted briefly to bring to bear three critically important resources: perspective on our history, perspective on the wider church, and perspective on our sources.

Edmund Burke said that “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” You’d think that a movement that has seen as much splintering over the centuries as Methodism would face the present hour with an eye to its past, but that is hardly the case. It is as though substantial disagreement was an entirely new phenomenon, so we may freely disregard our own history.

Methodism in America has seen many dissenting offspring denominations formed over the past two centuries. For example, the Southern Methodist Church[1] split in 1940 based on its inerrantist view of scripture, which to this day requires it, for example, to prohibit the recognition of clergy “if either spouse is divorced, or has been divorced, except in the case of innocent parties who have been divorced for scriptural cause” [porneia, “sexual immorality” according to Matthew 5:31-32]. (Link) Likewise, no women are allowed to occupy the pulpit (1 Timothy 2:11-15). The more you learn about the conduct of prior controversies, the more perspective you gain on their contemporary analogs.

Next is perspective gained by viewing the church broadly. If we look at only a subset of the larger whole, we will likely overemphasize differences and overstate polarities. The UMC is not representative of the full spectrum of opinion found in the wider church. Imagining that it is allows us to portray those with whom we disagree as our polar opposites. What is in reality a spectrum is thus portrayed as a dichotomy. This encourages the widespread but deceitful stratagem of tarring with the same brush everyone with whom one has any degree of difference. This latter phenomenon in particular has become distressingly common­place.

Finally, sources. When Methodists face thorny issues, the so-called “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” is often referenced. It suggests that we might appeal to scripture but also to tradition, reason, and experience when forming our stance on issues of faith or practice. The standard view is that conservatives prioritize scripture and tradition while progressives lean most on reason and experience. This is partly but by no means wholly true. An examination of how decisions have actually been made tells a far more complicated story, especially with respect to matters of ethics.

Gaining perspective can guide us toward more humane and fairand, frankly, more Christiandialogue in the midst of controversy. I explore all of this further in my article Perspective Is Essential to Faithful Disagreement. I hope you’ll take the time to read it and think prayerfully on it. Bringing it home, I end with a story that, I believe, shows how Perkins faculty have modeled civility and constructive dialogue in the past, and how we might continue to do so going forward.

Grace and peace,

Dean Craig C. Hill


[1] Not related to Southern Methodist University.

News October 2021 Perspective Online

A Modest Proposal, Part 2: Faithful Disagreement

I am writing by way of follow-up to my sermon “A Modest Proposal: Let’s Tell the Truth About Each Other,” distributed in last month’s online Perspective. (Click here to read the sermon.)

In that sermon, I said that people are often tempted, especially in today’s highly polarized culture, to score points by misrepresenting their opponents and even themselves. I would like now to explore that idea further with particular (but not exclusive) reference to The United Methodist Church.

If we look only at one subset of the whole—in this case, at only one specific denomination—the distinctions within it will nearly always appear more polarized than they actually are. “Conservative United Methodists are all… Liberal United Methodists are all…” With respect to labels, I appreciate the point made by Rev. George Sinclair of the Anglican Church of Canada: “First of all, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are political, not theological, words. When you use words which are primarily used in the political realm to try and distinguish between churches and denominations, you will keep making mistakes about what the groups are like.” (Link)

Methodism in America has a long track record of dissensions and divisions. A surprising number of offspring denominations have been formed by breakaway groups over the past two centuries. It is instructive to study them. Consider the Southern Methodist Church (SMC)[1], headquartered in South Carolina. Here is the story of their founding in their own words:

The Birmingham General Conference [of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South] in 1938 decided to enter into a union with the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant Church. When the three were formally united in 1939, there were many in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South who refused to enter into the union because of the modernistic tendencies found in the United Church.

A layman’s organization for the preservation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South was formed and culminated in a convocation in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 14, 1940, at which four hundred (400) representatives of the Church set up a provisional plan for preserving the Church. The courts granted to the United Church all properties and the control of the name, Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The dauntless few, maintaining their earnest convictions to perpetuate true Methodism and fundamental doctrines, organized the South Carolina Conference. (Link)

A contemporary statement reiterates their mission: “The Southern Methodist Church seeks to carry out this Biblically-revealed purpose through adherence to the Biblical beliefs and historic traditions of Methodism.” (Link)

Among the biblical beliefs and church traditions that the Southern Methodist Church (SMC) continues to uphold are the following:

1) “We believe in the original manuscripts of the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, verbally inspired; by this we mean that inexplicable power which the divine Spirit put forth of old on the authors of Holy Scripture, in order to guide them even in the employment of the words they used, and to preserve them alike from all error and from all omission.” (Link)

2) It therefore follows that “The Genesis account of creation and early human history is to be accepted literally. God created man, animals, and plant life, and none of these were the result of an evolutionary process.  God completed the creation process in six days and rested on the seventh day.” (Link)

3) No one may serve in the ministry “if either spouse is divorced, or has been divorced, except in the case of innocent parties who have been divorced for scriptural cause” [porneia, “sexual immorality,” according to Matthew 5:31-32.] [Emphasis mine.] (Link)

4) “The Southern Methodist Church does not recognize women as preachers with authority to occupy the pulpit or to preach as ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ, nor does it authorize a preacher in charge to invite a woman claiming to be a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ to occupy its pulpits to expound the scriptures as a preacher. Such invitations and services are against the authority and order of the church.” (Link)[2]

From their perspective, members of the SMC could with justification regard nearly all United Methodists as radical cultural accommodationists and relativists.[3]

Of course, the reality is that all churches, including the SMC, make accommodations, whether or not they admit it. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, their parent denomination, split off in 1844 over the issue of slavery. The presenting issue was not a stance on biblical authority but rather the fact that a southern bishop, James Osgood Andrew, had inherited enslaved people from his wife’s family, and state law had been changed to forbid manumission (the freeing of slaves). The northern church wanted to suspend Andrew, but the southern church rallied to his side, leading the southern delegates to leave and form a separate denomination. Both sides subsequently used the Bible to their advantage (see below), but it is fair to say that one’s view of slavery was a better predictor of one’s interpretation of scripture than the reverse.

Though not an offshoot of Methodism, a striking example on the other side of the ledger is the Universal Life Church, founded by Kirby J. Hensley in 1959. Hensley, originally a Baptist and then a Pentecostal, came to reject the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus while believing in reincarnation, though he did not require any such beliefs of church members. His overarching goal was the unification of all religions, which meant requiring as few specific beliefs and practices as possible. It is an example of a church in which the aim of “full inclusion” is of singular importance. Members include persons who self-designate as Christians, Jews, Wiccans, pagans, and atheists, among others.

The United States Army includes the following entry in its publication Religious Requirements and Practices: A Handbook for Chaplains:

The Universal Life Church has only one belief. They believe in that which is right and in every person’s right to interpret what is right. The Universal Life Church has no creed or authoritative book such as a Bible….The Universal Life Church is open and accepting of people of all religions. It is opposed only to those religions that attempt to deny religious freedom. Any minister in the ULC can ordain new members.[4]

It should go without saying that the overwhelming majority of United Methodists look downright “traditional” and “exclusive” by comparison. But even the inclusiveness of the ULC has its limits. What religions exactly are those that “attempt to deny religious freedom”? It all depends on what you mean by “religious freedom,” especially whether one is speaking about civil liberties or about religious particularism (that is, the making of truth claims, such as those contained in the baptismal liturgy, that may serve to exclude those who disagree).

The “Quadrilateral”

The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral is often referred to in The United Methodist Church. It suggests that we might appeal to scripture but also to tradition, reason, and experience when forming our stance on issues of faith or practice. The standard view is that conservatives prioritize scripture and tradition while progressives lean most on reason and experience. This is partly but by no means wholly true. For example, an obvious exception is progressives’ lifting up of biblical passages, especially in the prophets and the gospels, that make justice and social concern essential expectations of believers. Likewise, I have yet to meet a Christian, no matter how “traditional,” who defends slavery.

It is worth considering briefly three previous controversies and what they tell us about the way Christians have employed these sources.

1. Women’s Ordination

We have already seen that the Southern Methodist Church, based on its commitment to scripture, does not ordain women. It is therefore worth noting that Holiness-oriented conservative Methodists (in other words, Methodists who emphasized the importance of experience) were at the forefront of Methodist churches’ authorization of women as ordained elders. Of all the Wesleyan/Methodist denominations in the United States, the more liberal Methodist Church was dead last in ordaining women as full elders (1956). Moreover, the motion to ordain women as full elders at that general conference was made by the president of Holiness-oriented Asbury College.

What is true of the UMC is true more broadly of American Protestantism. Jarena Lee (1783-1864) believed that she had been called by God to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, but the denomination’s founder, Richard Allen, said that there was no provision for women preachers. Years later, Allen actually heard Lee speak, and on that basis changed his mind. In much the same way, women found a voice in Pentecostalism, which emphasized immediate experience of the Spirit. If Sister Jones has a gift from God, who are we to prevent her from using it?

I will say more about the role of experience in shaping belief below, but let me note that I am by no means suggesting that experience is an infallible guide, only that it often has indeed been a guide for persons of varying theological orientations. It is the chief basis on which a wide range of churches came to believe in women’s ordination. Churches that are much more grounded in tradition, such as the Roman Catholic Church, have typically resisted such change.

2. The Split of 1844

It was conservative Wesleyan groups like those that formed the Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Free Methodist Church that were staunchly abolitionist and regarded other Methodists—including the Methodist Episcopal Church—as seriously compromised for failing to advocate for elimination of human enslavement.

One could argue that the perspective of the Wesleyan and Free Methodists was in conformity with tradition, inasmuch as John Wesley himself had repudiated slavery. On the other hand, one could equally argue that Wesley himself had ignored the far longer tradition of Christian toleration of slavery.

Likewise, the position of scripture is at best ambiguous. While abolitionists could cite biblical paradigms (such as the Exodus) and broad theological themes (such as the inclusion of slaves “in Christ”; Galatians 3:28), pro-slavery Christians had much chapter and verse in their favor. For example, Abraham owned slaves (Gen. 12:16), the later Levitical law allowed Israelites to own slaves (Leviticus 25:44; the laws were much harsher for Gentile slaves), slavery is widely assumed in other books in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Proverbs 19:10; Isaiah 14:2), and it remained fundamentally unchallenged in the New Testament. Especially useful to slaveholders were passages such as 1 Timothy 6:1 and Titus 2:9 that require of slaves ungrudging obedience to their masters.

Reason and experience could also be thought to provide justification for either side. It was argued on the basis of what was thought to be rational observation that African slaves were at best an inferior sort of human, fitted by God for servitude. It was even argued that Blacks were happiest in that role and were incapable of functioning as free persons.  The great notoriety of Frederick Douglass was based on the fact that he was a Black man, a runaway former slave, with enormous and undeniable powers of reason and oratory. Which example did you believe? A lot depended on what you were in a position to see and, most especially in the case of slaveholders, what would best advance you economically.

A great many Christians died in defense of what we today would calmly dismiss as an indefensible position. When a controversy, even one as heated as this, is long in the rearview mirror, it is easy to regard its ultimate result as inevitable, obvious, and straightforward. At the time, it was nothing of the sort.

3. The Admission of Gentiles

Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. We often idealize the early Christians, and they did indeed evidence many heroic and noble virtues. Nevertheless, they like us sometimes disagreed amongst themselves. In my first book[5], I argued that the available evidence does not suggest that these disagreements were so basic as to signify the existence of fundamentally different Christianities.[6] That did happen in time, but not, I believe, in the first decades of the church.

The main point of contention concerned the relationship between Judaism and the new faith, especially as it pertained to Gentiles. Just as there is a spectrum of opinion today, so it was then. The “Judaizers” believed that Gentile Christians still needed to be fully proselytized into Judaism, including obedience to the commandments to circumcise males and to obey Jewish food laws. According to Acts 15, the church of Jerusalem offered a compromise: Gentiles did not need to become Jewish, but they ought at least to obey laws consistent with the Hebrew Bible’s expectations of “resident aliens” in Israel (e.g., see Leviticus 17:8-14 and 18:24-30). Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, came to occupy what we might call the “progressive” position: here and now, Gentile as well as Jewish believers were fully and equally members of the people of God and offspring of Abraham (Romans 9:7; Galatians 3:28). Further, obedience to laws that differentiated Jews from Gentiles, including both circumcision and food prohibitions, were now considered unnecessary (Romans 2:27-28; 1 Corinthians 4:17-18; Galatians 5:6).

This debate is perfectly understandable. Whenever someone proposes a significant reinterpretation of scripture, especially one that changes who’s in and who’s out, there is bound to be heated disagreement. There is some support in the Hebrew Bible, particularly in the latter chapters of Isaiah, for the notion that at least some Gentiles would become part of Israel in the (probably eschatological) future, but even there it was never said that they would not have to obey the Jewish law. On the other hand, persons such as Paul’s opponents at Galatia could easily quote scripture against him. Genesis 17:9-10, 14 appears to have been part of their repertoire:

God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised….Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

How was the admission of Gentiles justified with so little scriptural warrant? Most often by experience, which appears to be how it happened initially. Acts 10-11 tells the story of the conversion of the first full-blooded Gentiles, Cornelius and his family. Acts makes it clear that Peter, the obedient Jew, resisted going to Cornelius but was given little choice by God. Before he even finished his sermon—another signal that this was God’s doing, not Peter’s—the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, evidenced by “speaking in tongues and extolling God” (10:46). Peter therefore baptized them and returned to the Jerusalem church, where he was met with opposition. He recounted the event in detail and ended his defense with this crucial point, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17). Upon hearing this, the Jewish believers “were silenced” and then “praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’” (11:17-18).

The issue of Gentile admission was argued most heatedly in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. It is instructive that his first, simplest, and most powerful argument is this: “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2). Paul then turns to arguments from scripture, the first of which attempts to circumvent the obvious meaning of Genesis 17 by appealing instead to Genesis 15:6: “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” That might be a knock-down debating point to a Gentile Christian, but it likely didn’t cut much ice with his opponents, who could counter, “Why then did God subsequently command circumcision and even state that any male not circumcised has broken the covenant and should be removed from his people?”

The issue was never truly resolved, which is also understandable. Instead, the church gradually became an overwhelmingly Gentile institution in which the subject seemed increasingly irrelevant. The main point is again the influence that experience had on biblical interpretation. It encouraged the most radical and consequential change of practice in the history of Christianity.

Simplicity and Complexity

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. is quoted as saying, “For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.” One of our core problems is that we continue to reason on this side of complexity, which means that we don’t account for the actual complexity of our situation. In the sermon mentioned above, I listed several of the rhetorical stratagems employed to “keep things simple,” all of which require the misrepresentation of opponents. “All others are thieves and robbers!” What is actually a spectrum is portrayed instead as a clear-cut dichotomy. We ape the political speech of the day rather than treating each other honestly because, frankly, those partisan strategies work.

If we look closely at how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience have been employed down the years, it becomes clear that there is no simple formula by which Christians have resolved moral dilemmas and controversies about inclusion. Each element of the Quadrilateral is important, and each can be abused by being given, in effect, arbitrary veto power over the others.

We have examined the vital role that experience played in each of the three controversies discussed. This might lead to the impression that experience should exercise unfettered authority. That, I readily admit, would lead to chaos since individual experience is by its nature self-referencing. Anything could be justified on this basis. Its use has to be tempered in various ways, such as by asking critical questions about the fruits of the experience, the extent of its occurrence, and its cause, insofar as it can be determined. Beyond that are the checks of scripture, tradition, and reason. Of course, these themselves are not uncomplicated witnesses.

Tradition is likewise important but also problematic. There are core tenants of the faith that have been widely believed by Christians for two millennia. On the other hand, “traditional” Christianity has tolerated many things that nearly all United Methodists today reject. As with experience, we have to ask ourselves what controls we put on the employment of tradition as a marker of truth. Also, it has to be recognized that all but a few generations of Christians before us lived in a pre-scientific world. They did not know about the age and even the shape of the earth, about the causes of natural disasters, about DNA, genes, and genetic mutation, about germs and the nature of sickness, or about brain chemistry.

Reason is vitally important, but who decides what is reasonable? You would not by reason alone likely come to a belief in the resurrection of Christ, although you might well use reason to defend the assertion that early Christians staked their lives on their conviction that it was true (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:14). Does reason require the presupposition that God cannot act in human history or that God simply cannot exist? The question of what constitutes “reasonable reason” is at the heart of contemporary debates between religious believers and their secular detractors.

Finally, scripture. Would that biblical interpretation were always easy. As I hope the above examples demonstrate, it is not.  How we read the Bible, what we emphasize and what we overlook, is greatly influenced by our context. That is true of everyone. It is remarkable, for example, how so many denominations that claim to adhere strictly to scripture disagree with each other about what it actually says.

So that I am not misunderstood, let me say that scripture remains for me foundational and irreplaceable. It is always my starting point. I have devoted my life to studying and teaching it. Even as a teenager, I attended hundreds of Bible studies, color coded my entire Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible, read whole commentaries, and memorized stacks of Navigators Bible memory cards. I did not come to my current opinions quickly or lightly, nor do I believe that my faith has changed dramatically. I am still what some would call a “creedal Christian.” Nothing I have learned has encouraged me to throw off the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Nevertheless, I now recognize that things are not so straightforward as I once believed. With Paul, I can say in truth and in hope, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I often say that I belong to the “life is complicated” school of exegesis, though even that statement needs to be tempered. The commands to love God and love neighbor are not difficult to comprehend. The difficulty is in the doing.

One personal example. A scholar whom I greatly admire is a pacifist, and I have to admit that he has a strong biblical argument, especially from the gospels. Since most Americans are not pacifists, we might think this an inconsequential issue. It is not. At stake is whether Christians can kill other people, including other Christians. It is difficult to imagine a more foundational moral imperative. I am not however a thoroughgoing pacifist myself, though I abhor violence. As significant as this disagreement is, the two of us have remained in close fellowship for decades. He has not written me off despite our disagreeing over so important an ethical issue, nor to my knowledge have either of us ever mischaracterized the other’s position. In short, we needn’t turn others into outcasts because we disagree. They ought not to be our enemies but, if so, we are commanded to love our enemies.

A Matter of Perspective

Many great church leaders defy stereotype. E. Stanley Jones is fairly characterized as a conservative Wesleyan Evangelical. Among other things, he taught at Asbury College when on furlough from India. Still, he had enormous influence on global politics and progressive culture: he advocated Indian independence from the British Raj and was banned from India for many years for that reason. His little book on Gandhi inspired Martin Luther King, Jr.’s advocacy of civil disobedience as a way of protest in the U.S. civil rights movement.

Toward the end of his long career, Argentinian Methodist liberation theologian Jose Miguez Bonino became convinced that the Pentecostal movement in Central and South America had faithfully carried on the Wesleyan tradition of engagement with the poor. This was in contrast to American liberal Methodism, which tended to neglect or deride the role of Pentecostalism in liberation.

So much of how we characterize ourselves and each other is a matter of perspective. Let me give an example concerning perspective from another field, namely business. Below is a graph of a fictitious company’s revenue between the years 1995-97. The differences appear quite dramatic.

And here is a graph of that same company’s revenue between 1990-2000. In this chart, 1995-1997 would seem to be a period of exceptional stability.

Perspective matters. The more you limit your data set, the more pronounced the differences within it are likely to appear. The same goes for how those data are represented. Notice that the scale in the first graph is only from 10 to 15, but in the second graph it is from 1 to 21+. Also, the first chart is taller, and the second is wider. It is not hard to manipulate and thus to distort the significance of facts.

In Conclusion

Decades ago here at Perkins School of Theology, John Deschner was employed as a faculty member. He was a politically progressive Neo-Orthodox theologian who wrote his dissertation on Wesley’s Christology under Karl Barth at Basel (photo at left is of Barth with Deschner’s book on his desk). John gave his life to Faith and Order (ecumenical) work, writing significant portions of “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” and serving as foil to another faculty member, Schubert Ogden, who represented the progressive/liberal/Modernist side. They co-taught the foundational two-semester “Credo” course. Despite occupying quite different places on the theological spectrum, they developed over time a keen ability to work well together even while sharply disagreeing.

It is possible.

John Wesley’s sermon on “The Cure of Evil Speaking” defined “evil speaking” as “speaking evil of an absent person,” of those who did not have an opportunity to speak for themselves. Can you imagine what The United Methodist Church would be like if we all followed that counsel?


[1] Not to be confused with Southern Methodist University. To muddy the water even more, the SMC’s institution of higher education is Southern Methodist College located in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

[2] In 1920, the Methodist Episcopal Church granted women the right to be licensed as local preachers, expanding women’s opportunities in 1924 to include the possibility to serve as local elders or deacons, while still denying them conference membership. In 1930, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South (from which the Southern Methodist Church was born) rejected clergy rights for women. Full clergy rights were not granted to women by the larger merged Methodist Church until 1956.

[3] Not mentioned in the SMC’s doctrinal statements but maintained by other Christian denominations are the biblical mandates that women cover their heads in church and wear their hair long (1 Corinthians 11:6), that they submit to their husbands (1 Peter 3:1-1, 5-6; Ephesians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:18, etc.), and that they not “braid their hair” or wear “jewelry or fine clothes” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

[4] U.S. Department of the Army, Religious Requirements and Practices: A Handbook for Chaplains (2001), p. VII-47-49, quoted in numerous sources, including The ULC has come under criticism particularly for offering quick and easy online ordination, often used by lay persons who wish to conduct weddings. “The Universal Life Church believes that all people are naturally endowed with the right to control their own spiritual life, and thus that all those who feel so-called should have access to ordination.” (Link) Many millions of such ordinations have been authorized globally. Some wags succeeded in having their pets ordained (“That’s Rev. Bowser to you!”). Understandably, the ULC has taken steps to minimize such embarrassing occurrences.

[5] Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division within the Earliest Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).

[6] This is often postulated by those with an interest in defending their own different form of Christianity. A prominent example from the 19th century is a Christianity cleansed of Jewish influences.


News October 2021 Perspective Online

Office of Enrollment Management: Nixing “Summer Melt”

Welcome to Our Incoming Classes of Fall 2021

By the Rev. Dr. Margot Perez-Greene
Associate Dean of Enrollment Management

Join me in welcoming the 55 new master’s students enrolled in the Dallas and Houston-Galveston degree programs! We are especially thankful to have them with us after what was a challenging recruiting season.

As with many other institutions of higher learning, recruiting for Perkins School of Theology’s 2021-2022 school year was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Although we met our goal – 55 new master’s students – that goal had been reset, due to the significantly diminished opportunities for fall and spring recruitment related to continued interruptions caused by the pandemic.

Sixty-one percent of the incoming students are enrolled in our Master of Divinity degree program, which remains our program of choice. Sixty-eight percent of our incoming class are affiliated with the United Methodist denomination. The average age of our new class is 37, and there are more women (57%) than men represented (43%). In fact, of the 16 new students in the Houston-Galveston Hybrid Extension program, only one is male!

Many institutions, including seminaries, experience what recruiting professionals call “summer melt” – the loss of students who are admitted, but over the course of the summer, decide not to follow through with their graduate education.  We took a proactive approach with our new “Summer Melt Program,” and had great success. Individual Zoom meetings welcomed every admitted student during the summer months. These Zoom meetings were brief, congratulatory, informational and hospitable. As a result, we did not lose one student due to the dreaded summer melt. Kudos Office of Enrollment Management (OEM)!

Fortunately, the SMU pandemic protocols allowed for us to gather in-person for Orientation that included a Welcome Reception for Dallas students at the Meadows Museum (see photo). This reception was sponsored by the Financial Literacy Program (funded by the Lilly Foundation, Inc.) and offered the perfect chance for new students, faculty and staff to mingle and greet one another. Christina Rhodes, Financial Aid Coordinator and Financial Literacy Coordinator, offered a welcome and brief introduction to the Financial Literacy program events planned for this fall. Orientation was one of the best ever (according to student evaluations!)  I wish to give thanks and recognition to the OEM team who gave special attention to make this event the special program that it was.

Finally, our Executive Board members were asked to submit names of prospective students for this fall term. We are grateful for their response and wish to thank them for their continued support. As usual, thank you all for recommending prospective students to us, and we ask that you keep Perkins on your prayer list as we face another recruitment cycle already in place.


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

News October 2021 Perspective Online

Office of Development Update: Perkins Scholars

As I’ve stated in this column in the past, scholarships represent one of the most important uses of funds donated to Perkins School of Theology. Not only do these scholarships aid deserving students, they help Perkins to attract the best and the brightest.

As we start a new semester at Perkins School of Theology, we would love to introduce our community to our outstanding group of Perkins Scholars. The Perkins Scholars program provides additional scholarship support to exceptional Master of Divinity candidates; the scholarship follows them through all three years of their M.Div. education. Here are our 2021-2024 Perkins Scholars!

Name: Azeez Akande
Hometown: Shreveport, LA
Undergrad Institution: Texas Wesleyan University
Degree: Psychology and Religious Studies

Call to Ministry: I have wanted to be in ministry since as far back as I can remember. The pull of ministry has been a major factor in my life, leading me to start my work as a minister in 2016, attend Texas Wesleyan and to apply to SMU.

Name: Macy Block
Hometown: Montgomery City, MO
Undergrad Institution: Central Methodist University
Degree: Religion and Church Leadership

Call to Ministry: God called me into ministry when I was a senior in high school; the plans I had for myself didn’t end up working out (who would’ve known, right?) and I decided that I loved Jesus, loved going on mission trips, and loved working with younger people. Then, the passion for youth/young adult ministry started to rise and I learned the necessary steps to become an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. I still plan on being ordained as such, with a focus on youth/young adult ministry, I am so excited to see where the Lord leads me in my future with Perkins School of Theology!

Name: Michaela Calahan
Hometown: Carrollton, TX
Undergrad Institution: University of Texas at Dallas
Degree: Sociology

Call to Ministry: My life purpose is to live authentically and show the love of the trinity though lifestyle evangelism and generosity. I am pursuing my M.Div. to ensure that my passions and beliefs are theologically sound. I am from a church background and know the work the church can and should do to support faith journeys, communities through outreach, and the fight against systematic inequality.

Name: Sara Cowley
Hometown: Brea, CA
Undergrad Institution: University of Arizona, undergrad; U. of Illinois Chicago, master’s degree
Degree: Creative writing, undergrad; master’s degree in Disability and Human Development

Call to Ministry: I am called to sit with human pain and examine the reparative relationship humanity has with God.

Name: Colin Craft
Hometown: Irving, TX
Undergrad Institution: McMurry University
Degree: Religion

Call to Ministry: I was called to ministry when I was in high school. Since high school, I have explored and discerned that God is calling me into ordained ministry in the UMC.

Name: Jacob Dunn
Hometown: LaRue, TX
Undergrad Institution: University of Texas at Tyler
Degree: History

Call to Ministry: I received my call to ministry at 15 while at Lakeview Summer camp. My granddaddy is a preacher, so I initially ran from my calling. A year later, I surrendered to God, and ever since, I have followed the path to be an elder in the United Methodist Church, where I believe God is calling me.

Name: Pauline Henry
Hometown: Midland, TX
Undergrad Institution: Texas Tech
Degree: Bachelor’s degree in nutrition and pre-professional health; master’s degree in Business Administration

Call to Ministry: In all honesty, parenting was the holy interruption that led me to a place of discernment.  It was in the weight of such love and responsibility, in intercession, and letting go that I’ve experienced a shift in consciousness and realized the gift of prayer.  I started seeking parents that might need a place to be in community and started the Be Encouraged group at Flower Mound UMC in 2017.  The women are amazing and I feel so humbled to witness their stories.  I believe in the church and the community that we find there!  I’ve taught children’s Sunday School, chaperoned youth at their confirmation retreat, and continue to work as the Adult Discipleship chair.   I found that there’s important work in small groups. This is where we engage the scripture, engage souls in discussion, and where we ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirt and it gifts us with the mecca of inspiration; the promptings to pursue, to learn, to create, and to grow!  I have yet to name what that will become of this call and the soul work that is still at work.  In the meantime, there’s much to do in fully participating in the work of the church, in practicing compassion.

Name: Leslie Norris
Hometown: Hoover, AL
Undergrad Institution: Millsaps College
Degree: Communication Studies

Call to Ministry: I feel called to be ordained as a deacon in the United Methodist Church. I love working in local missions and community outreach, but I also am passionate about serving the church with my knowledge of communication and marketing.

Name: Luke Thomson
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Undergrad Institution: Texas A&M
Degree: Political Science

Call to Ministry: I’ve been drawn to ministry my whole life and believed God was calling me to vocational ministry by late middle school. However, by the time I was starting at A&M, I had decided ministry may be somewhere down the line, but it was not for me anytime soon. A few days at the Texas A&M Wesley Foundation and prayer helped change my mind. I decided to pursue my call to ministry. I’m working towards ordination as an elder in the United Methodist Church and am excited to be studying at Perkins for the next phase of my call to ministry.

Name: Lily White
Hometown: Austin, TX
Undergrad Institution: Mary-Hardin Baylor
Degree: Bachelor’s degree in church music

Call to Ministry: After 14 years in the hospitality industry, I am answering a call from God to ministry.  I believe God has called me to utilize the best hospitality has to offer to help the church be a beacon of light for everyone, a source of love and acceptance to people who have experienced little of either, and a safe place for people of faith to ask questions and learn truths.

Name: Rachel White
Hometown: Sumter, SC
Undergrad Institution: Stetson University
Degree: Religious Studies

Call to Ministry: After going on my first mission trip six years ago, I knew ministry was where I was supposed to be. Throughout the remainder of my high school and college career, I took every opportunity available to me. I went on five more local mission trips, as well as a month-long internship in Nakalanda, Uganda. I was also able to intern at my local United Methodist Church in the children’s and youth ministry department. This provided me with the necessary skills to take on a full-time youth director position upon completing my undergraduate degree. While I have only been a youth director for a few months, I have already seen the amazing ways God is continuing to use me and my spiritual gifts. I am beyond blessed to continue my education at Perkins with the goal of becoming an ordained minister for the UMC.

Name: Tricia Wilkinson
Hometown: Zachary, LA
Undergrad Institution: Louisiana State University
Degree: Biochemistry

Call to Ministry: It has taken me a long time to accept my call to ministry. As a child, I had a dream where God told me the purpose of my life was to serve him. Even though I didn’t really know what that meant. That has stayed with me since then. I am currently serving as a supply pastor in the Louisiana Annual Conference and plan to pursue ordination as an elder after graduation.



John A. Martin
Director of Development

News October 2021 Perspective Online

Perkins Fall Convocation: Speak Up! Keynote Speakers

Perkins Fall Convocation

An amazing lineup filled awaits attendees at the Perkins Fall Convocation, November 15-16, 2021. With the theme, Speak Up! Stories for a New Day, the hybrid event features storytelling, music, dance, worship, conversation, top-notch resources and riveting speakers.  Attend virtually or in-person at Highland Park United Methodist Church. Visit the event page for more information and to register here.

Click the names below to read preview Q&As with each of the Fall Convocation keynote speakers:

Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt Divinity School offers her take on the Parables of Jesus.

Lillian Daniel, pastor and author of When ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ Is Not Enough, discusses how the pandemic is changing the way we tell stories in church.

Patrick B Reyes, Chicano educator, administrator and institutional strategist, describes how closing the “purpose gap” means embracing life as a community.

News October 2021 Perspective Online

Q&A with Amy-Jill Levine

Many United Methodists will recognize Amy-Jill Levine from Disciple Bible Studies. A leading expert in New Testament, she is featured in several video segments in the Bible course.  Levine, who is Jewish, doesn’t claim the New Testament as sacred herself, but she enriches Christians’ understanding of the text with insights into Jesus’ Jewish identity. She’ll be speaking at Perkins at the Fall Convocation, which takes place November 15-16 on campus and virtually.

Levine is Rabbi Stanley M. Kessler Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Hartford Seminary and University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies Emerita, Mary Jane Werthan Professor of Jewish Studies Emerita, and Professor of New Testament Studies Emerita at Vanderbilt University.

We asked Levine about her planned topic for the Convocation; here are her answers.

Perspective: Given that you are Jewish, how did you end up devoting much of your career studying Jesus and the gospels?

Amy-Jill Levine: The study of Jesus and the Gospels is the study of Jewish history: Jesus and all his initial followers were Jews living in the Jewish homeland. More, Christian understandings of Jesus and the Gospels have, throughout history, had negative impacts on Jews. Thus, I seek both to recover Jewish history and to correct the mistakes Christians have made about Jesus’ Jewish context.

You’ll be focusing on some of the parables as part of your keynote at the Fall Convocation. Why the parables?

The parables are primarily stories told by Jesus rather than stories about Jesus; they are fabulous Jewish stories told by a talented Jewish storyteller. I do not believe in Jesus as Lord, but I find his parables speak to universal concerns, from family values to economics to the need to envision a more generous society. The more we know about the parables’ historical context and connections to Israel’s Scriptures – what Christians traditionally call the Old Testament and Jews the Tanakh – the more profound they become.

By the way, I have no problem with the term “Old Testament” for the Christian Bible part I. I’m old; old is good in countless ways.

In your preview video, you say that Jesus “gets to the heart of Torah and the heart of the prophets.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

I have met many Christians who regard Torah as legalistic and lifeless; who picture the divine in the Old Testament as wrathful, and who regard Judaism as a toxic system that Jesus seeks to eliminate. These views are not just wrong, they are deadly.

The Torah, from a Hebrew term meaning “Instruction,” is central to ancient Israelite identity, to Jesus’s teachings, and to Judaism today. Necessarily, interpretations change over time. Without addressing new understandings – of slavery, of women’s roles, etc. – religions stagnate.

Jesus makes Torah more rigorous rather than less. For example, to the commandment against murder, Jesus adds a commandment against anger.

In debating fellow Jews on how to follow divine will, Jesus places himself within rather than against his tradition.

Jews and Christians, most often out of ignorance rather than out of malice, bear false witness against each other. It is my hope that my talks can correct the errors, encourage people to appreciate the gifts that both Judaism and Christianity offer, and help people see Jesus as affirming Jewish tradition rather than dismantling it.

In the video previewing your talk, you say, “I’m inspired by (Jesus), I learn from him, sometimes I’m even indicted by him.”  Is there a parable that speaks to you in particular?

The parable of the “Prodigal Son,” which is a bad title for the parable (better: the Parable of the Father and Two Sons), along with the accompanying parables of the Lost Coin and Lost Sheep from Luke 15, should force us to attend to the overlooked, to make everyone feel counted, and to recognize our responsibility in preventing the marginalizing of others.

You plan to talk about what Luke had to say in his four verses devoted to Mary and Martha. Anything that might surprise people?

The story of Martha and Mary is not, contrary to one popular reading, an account of how Jesus invents feminism by teaching a woman. To the contrary, women were not only students but also educators in Jewish culture. There’s much more going on here, from questions of women’s ministry to the definition of hospitality to the biblical motif of older and younger siblings, to the identification of Jesus as Lord.

Many United Methodists know your name from Disciple Bible studies. Do you ever get recognized?

I’ve never seen the Disciple Bible films – I don’t even have a sense of how I look on camera. Nor have I seen the tapes done for the Abingdon Bible Studies on Advent, the Passion, the Sermon on the Mount, and most recently the Difficult Words of Jesus. I worry that if I review these films, I’ll consistently find fault: I should have been more clear; I should have given another example.  I’m not a celebrity; I’m a teacher who really likes talking with others about Jesus, the Gospels, and Second Temple Judaism.

News October 2021 Perspective Online

Q&A with Lillian Daniel

Storytelling is central to the work of the church — and it’s time to rethink how we tell stories, says the Rev. Lillian Daniel. She’ll talk about that, as one of three keynote speakers slated for the Perkins Fall Convocation, November 15-16, focused on the theme, “Speak Up! Stories for a New Day.”

Daniel is senior pastor of First Congregational Church in Dubuque, Iowa, and author of Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To. That book, which is generating international conversations about the changing religious landscape, continues the theme of her previous book, When ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ Is Not Enough, about the growing number of people claiming “none” as their religious preference.

Perkins Perspective spoke to Daniel in advance of her November keynote; here are excerpts.

Perspective: You plan to talk about how storytelling changed during the pandemic, as many pastors switched to online, video formats.  What were the key changes you saw?

With in-person worship, to people in the pews, you’re the person they’re watching from a distance. It is very theatrical in that sense. But when we started just recording that kind of worship service, it didn’t feel intimate when you watched it. It was as if viewers were eavesdropping visually and orally on people worshiping. Some of the formal ways in which we speak in worship in person seemed extra corny on video.

During the pandemic, many of us started preaching to a camera. It was much more intimate. You have to be more conversational, and it’s much harder to keep people’s attention on video.  So the role of conversational storytelling became really important. A lot of pastors learned to do that in settings, like I’m doing right now, at my desk, on Zoom.

I think stories are the best way to communicate in those times. I remember, at the beginning of the pandemic, I started to type an email, where I had to say, “We’re shutting down. Y’all can’t come this Sunday.” I remember thinking, “I can’t just write this as a newsletter. I have to do this as a video. That let me turn an announcement into a story, in which I could say, “If you told me this would happen a week ago, I would’ve said you were crazy.” When you create a story, it’s not just culture wars and fighting about whether or not you’re a scientist. Instead, you’re telling a story that people are included in.

You’ve said that you’re hoping to get people to tell a different story about the church. Talk a little about that.

The book that I’ll be talking about a lot is Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To. I’m looking at all the stereotypes about church. Like the one that says we’re all a bunch of fundamentalists who do whatever the charismatic pastor says, and all the church members are lemmings and don’t think for themselves.  If I could find a gig like that, I would take it! (Laughs.)  Never, in my life, have I experienced church that way. It doesn’t really happen, certainly not in mainline Protestantism or Catholicism. So that’s a bad, inaccurate story about religion, right?

But many of the people who could tell a different story about churches are afraid of offending people by talking about their faith, so they just say nothing. They let other people dominate the conversation.

You’ve also said, because of the pandemic, people are finding their way back into the story of church in unexpected ways. Can you elaborate?

This is the gift of that move to technology. Even those small, tech averse, congregations that never expected to embrace online worship — almost all of them have a joyful story about it. Such as, “I couldn’t believe it, but my aunt who lives in Nebraska was tuning into our worship,” or, “Total strangers have been listening to our worship,” or, “We finally did Zoom coffee hour, and now my relatives can meet my fellow church members.” The flip side is that I think almost all of us later experienced a dip back down in numbers of views after the initial euphoria and excitement. I think everybody got sick of staring at screens.  But online worship also created an opportunity for people to stick a toe in the door of the church, without physically coming in the door.

I think this means that we have to be even more conscious that there are people “in the room” who are invisible to us, who may not have any idea what we’re doing or why. We cannot run church as if we all know the same story, as if this is episode three and we just presume everyone there saw episodes one and two.

I always do this thing when I preach, I do an introduction to scripture where I explain, here’s where we are. So I say, “This is from a letter written by somebody named Paul who was starting churches.” You cannot assume that people know who these people are. There’s nothing that makes you feel less interested in a story than realizing you’ve missed some of the essential plot.

Obvious question: What’s the definition of a story?

I think a story implies a plot or a series of events where something happens, and something changes.  It’s not an interesting story to say, “I sat at my desk all day,” right? There needs to be movement in a story, which is different from making a declarative statement or a doctrinal statement.

There’s also needs to be conflict.  If you see where it’s all going, it’s not an interesting story. There’s got to be a moment where it takes a turn and something that happened causes something else to happen. And the Bible’s full of great stories like that.

You talked about personal stories in worship. I tend to think of them as preachers’ bread and butter.  Can pastors overdo the personal stories? 

I’m completely inconsistent on this because I use stories all the time. And, of course, when I use them, I think it’s artfully done in service to the Gospel, but when other people do it too much, it’s narcissism. (Laughs)

I think most preachers, if we are healthy, have a suspicion of our own personal stories. We know that if we talk about our cat or dog, there’s going to be a guaranteed group of people in the congregation who are going to say, “I loved church today because I also have a cat or a dog.” We often get really positive feedback for “telling personal stories.” But is it in service to the Gospel? Do people in the pews even remember the day’s Gospel passage or do they only remember the story about your cat or your dog? And is that just a sort of cheap connection?

I think that, particularly when we couldn’t be in person together, people got very didactic in their points of view, in politics and media. A story is a way to defuse that. So, in church, rather than saying, “Because I believe in science, I have decided in my own logic and intelligence to shut down worship,” maybe you can instead turn that into a story.  You could say, “I used to think COVID was a hoax. Then my mother got it and got really sick, and I changed my mind.” That’s a story with a plot, which is different from saying, “All you anti-vaxxers are killing us.”

I do have rule of thumb:  if you tell a story about yourself, you should never be the hero.  You should be the character who learns something. A good story might be, “I used to think this, and then this wise person showed me that.” But if the story is, “People used to think this, and then I showed them, in my wisdom, this other thing,” that’s not so good.

News October 2021 Perspective Online

Q&A with Patrick Reyes

Americans tend to see the “hero’s journey” as a solo expedition. Patrick B. Reyes wants us to rethink that journey as a communal one. He will talk about that as one of three keynote speakers at the Perkins Fall Convocation, November 15-16. Reyes is a Chicano educator, administrator, institutional strategist and author of The Purpose Gap: Empowering Communities of Color to Find Meaning and Thrive.

Perkins Perspective interviewed Reyes about his planned topic for the Convocation; here are excerpts.

Perkins Perspective: Youve written a book about the purpose gap.” What is it?

I define the purpose gap as all the education, opportunity, resource, housing and wealth gaps that exist in the country.  For young people of color — who are more like the community I came from, who are more likely to go to prison than go to college – there’s an opportunity gap. The purpose gap is the limitation on their imagination to dream those big dreams, to do what they want to do in the world, to imagine all the many possibilities in their lives, that some of us just haven’t had access to. Some people in our communities are staring down what it means to survive, as opposed to, “What do I want to be when I grew up?”

Could you summarize for us what you see as the key tasks needed to begin to close that gap?

We need to reimagine the hero’s journey. In this country, we think of the hero’s journey in terms of the solo individualist.  You go on a quest; you get the resources and people that help you imagine your future. Or, as Paulo Coelho says, “The universe will conspire to help you on your journey.” Well, that is just bogus b**t for so many people in marginalized communities who are just trying to survive.

Closing the purpose gap closing is about re-imagining. How do we think about this less as an individual journey? How do we recapture vocation as a communal venture? How do we create conditions for all of our people to thrive? How do you connect to ancestors? How do you connect to your descendants? How do we take care of this earth that we live on? We will be re-imagining purpose, so that all of our children may thrive, so that way future generations will thrive in communities that we built together.

Your book tells the story of your cousin, whose life turned out quite differently than yours, and that led to a revelation for you. Can you share that briefly?

After my first book came out, I was touring the country and talking about meaning and purpose. I was talking to first-generation college students, to Latinos like myself, and I was really excited to have this conversation. And then I get this phone call from my dad that my cousin, Bro, had passed away.

I had reflected on him in my first book, about how he went to prison. The story that immediately came to mind was my grandma telling me, when I was staying in her house, “Mi hijo, that bed is not yours.” The bed that I was sleeping in could’ve been [my cousin’s] as well.  I couldn’t help but feel survivor’s guilt.  What was I doing? Talking about meaning and purpose, when my cousin, who was equally as gifted, joyful to be around, just a loving person, when he wasn’t here, wasn’t breathing?

I realized, this really isn’t about me. There’s no reason why I’m alive and he’s dead. We should be thinking about meaning and purpose in a way that would mean that you could be talking to Bro now.  I would love for you to have met Bro. He was a great dude. I want to think about meaning and purpose in that broader sense, for the whole community

In addressing the purpose gap, do faith communities and faith leaders have a specific role that perhaps other institutions (schools, social services, etc.) cant easily provide?

Yes. It really is about the spiritual and religious leaders, the practices, the traditions that we inherit, the traditions that we’ve been charged with, preparing a community, leading a community. This is what’s in the Hebrew texts. This is what Jesus was doing, wandering around. When he went back home, they were like, is this really Joseph’s son? Who’s claiming that he can lead all of us? Then Jesus collects some homies and goes on a journey of healing and restoring the community. For me, that is what we’re called to as religious leaders — to leverage those spiritual religious practices to heal our communities. To help folks find their place in God’s story and our story and our communal story.

So many religious leaders are trying to figure out how to survive right now, about how to keep their doors open. But, at least as I read scripture, we are called to the spiritual and religious transformation of our communities. That means addressing these deep hurts and deep needs. If we got back to that as our core vocation, as a church, we could close the purpose gap. I have a whole chapter dedicated to the vocation of the church, the call of the institution. I absolutely believe the church is called to do this work.

What about churches that are largely white, affluent, suburban churches. Do they have a role to play?

Yes. Those churches are absolutely implicated in closing the purpose gap in this country.

When I was a teenager, I remember sitting at the dinner table with an Anglo friend’s family. My best friend’s little sister said, “Patrick, we got a new pig.  We named it Patrick, because it eats like you, it smells like you and it’s from the same part of town that you are.”

This is a tiny kid, maybe first or second grade. She didn’t know that, as a Latino, when people put food in front of you, you eat it. I was being polite. It was just such a cultural miss, this lack of imagination, this lack of understanding that we were part of their community. So, yes, affluent white churches absolutely have a role to play in closing the purpose gap. It is to expand the imagination about who is human for their people.

We later had intervention with my friend’s little sister, where the mom said, “Look, Patrick’s a beloved member of this family. He’s not from pig fields. We should’ve never done that.”  It’s about restoring the humanity of other folks and not just assuming that they deserved inequality, that somehow the privileges, the wealth, the opportunities, that come with being in a wealthy white neighborhood should not apply to everyone in this country.

Who should come to your keynote?

The two audiences that I’ve focused on are youth ministers and educators. These are the folks who are in the community talking directly to those young people who are on the margins, who are wondering if they’re going to make it another day. That’s the primary audience. The secondary audience would be all of those adults, those parents, those family members, who have young adults or children trying to dream and imagine new ways of being. I think of my grandma, Carmelita, who barely had a high school education, but she was doing my religious and spiritual training daily. I have a lot of education, but I got my formation from her. I think there are many folks like her who are doing that work daily.

News October 2021 Perspective Online

Dante Festival @ Bridwell Library

Even though Dante Alighieri died 700 years ago – on September 14, 1321 – his work and his spirit came alive for three days at the Dante Festival, held August 31- September 2 at Bridwell Library on the campus of Perkins and SMU.

“Dante still has much to inform us on; just as we have much that we’re still learning about Dante’s work that helps us navigate our world,” said Anthony J. Elia, the festival’s organizer and Director and J.S. Bridwell Foundation Endowed Librarian, Bridwell Library.

Dante is best known as the author of The Divine Comedy, the multi-part classic outlining Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. The poetic masterpiece created “a visual and literary roadmap of an afterlife, replete with a detailed overview of how punishment and redemption came to the swath of society,” according to Elia. Dante remains a well-known figure in the popular imagination today.

“Part of the goal of this festival was for people today — scholars, artists, composers, musicians and the community — to engage the present with the legacy of Dante,” said Elia. “We got composers to write new music around Dante’s legacy; and poets and artists to do the same.  It was fantastic.”

The activities also highlighted materials held in Bridwell’s collections related to Dante and included screenings of Dante-inspired films, an art show and reception, a day-long conference on Dante’s legacy, a 13th-century Tuscan banquet with a poetic Dante performance, and a concert of traditional and newly commissioned works for the festival inspired by Dante’s works.

The idea for the festival arose last spring.

“My colleague in World Languages, Brandy Alvarez, who teaches Italian and has taught Dante for years, alerted me to the anniversary and suggested we do something,” Elia said. “I thought about it, and it started to come together in a bigger event.  I just ended up going ‘all out’ with the event.”

SMU faculty, staff and students participated, along with artists, composers, musicians and members of the community, who traveled from five states for the program. Some 200 people attended the “Dante Cookies and Coffee” event on the Boulevard and opening reception on Wednesday, Sept. 1, and about 100 were on hand for a 13th century Tuscan banquet held on Thursday evening.

For the Dante Festival Concert after the banquet, an original piece composed by Marcell Steuernagel, based on a renaissance dialogue in music (a duet) for two male singers, was performed at the event. Other Perkins faculty and staff participated as panelists and moderators, including Jim Lee, who spoke on Augustine and Dante; Robert Hunt on Dante, Inculturation, and Time; Arvid Nelsen on Dante, Modern Art, and the Contemporary Book; Ruben Habito on Buddhism and Dante; Susanne Scholz, moderator; Natalia Marandiuc on Immigrant Experience, Queer Theology, and Dante; Chris Anderson on Dante and the Pipe Organ: Playing Reger’s Inferno; and Harold J. Recinos on Dante and Writing Poetry Today.

The festival concluded on Thursday evening with the banquet followed by a concert. D.C.-based actress Vivian Allvin performed one of Dante’s works, engaging conversationally with the audience during the banquet. A concert of Dante-inspired music and poetry, involving several works commissioned for the event, followed.

Avant-garde composer Gabrielle Cerberville of Michigan composed a contemporary work, where the music was represented with images on plexiglass-type discs (symbolizing the nine circles of hell) and then interpreted by local pianist Kory Reeder. Others performed classical works on lute and organ, with a finale performance of Liszt’s famous Dante Sonata by Spanish pianist Raul Canosa.

So how does one go about getting a caterer for a 13th century Tuscan banquet?

“I did a bit of research,” said Elia. “I looked up not just recipes, but also what foods existed, or did not exist, in Europe, and specifically in Tuscany and Florence at the time of Dante’s death and before.  Tomatoes and potatoes, for example had not yet arrived on the Italian peninsula.”

Addison-based Axcess Catering & Events, which has a track record for specialized events, prepared the meal.

“They outdid themselves,” Elia said. “The whole banquet was exquisite, extraordinary, and as many guests kept saying, ‘magical.’”

News October 2021 Perspective Online

International Students

New and returning international students at Perkins were welcomed over tea and coffee, at the September 14 Community Hour at Perkins (CHAP), Tea Time with the International Students, organized by the Office of Student Life. Seven students from Korea, Kenya, England, Brazil, Canada, Ghana and India shared favorite teas and coffees from their native countries at the gathering of more than 40 Perkins students, faculty and staff.

Soohyun Suh, a student from Korea, shared packets of a sweet milk coffee and a sweet tea that’s prized for its medicinal properties in her native land. Suh, who grew up in a Presbyterian church, arises each morning at 4:30 a.m. to drive to her church in Fairview, north of Dallas, to attend daily 5 a.m. worship and prayer service.  “It makes me feel comfortable and strong for the rest of the day,” she said.

Mykayla Turner, a new M.S.M. student, grew up a rural church in southwest Ontario, Canada, and is part of the Mennonite tradition. She brought a package of Tim Horton’s coffee. “I don’t know if it’s good coffee,” she said, “but there are Tim Horton’s coffee shops everywhere in Canada, and everyone is always carrying a Tim Horton’s!”

Fela Hnia-Um brought a fragrant chai tea from India. Hnia-Um, a Baptist pastor, described the importance of tea in Indian hospitality.  “If I visit my friend, and if they did not offer me tea, I would feel disappointed,” he said.

Fernando Berwig, a first year M.S.M. student, admitted that he’s a bit homesick for his home country of Brazil. He talked about Carnival, the annual festival held a few days before Lent, and Brazilian musical traditions like samba. Brazil is a communal culture, so a cup of coffee might be shared at a gathering (although that tradition has been set aside during COVID.)  He brought a special communal cup from home to show the group.

Faith Kubai, a second year M.T.S. student, noted that coffee is a significant cash crop in her native land of Kenya, a beautiful country with many different animals. Kubai is an ordained minister in the Methodist church in Kenya.

Richard Pokoo, a second year M. Div. student from Ghana, came to Perkins from a background in engineering.  “Theology is an entirely different kind of study,” he said. “My professors at Perkins have helped me understand what I am here for.” Pokoo is working to establish a Methodist church in the Dallas area for immigrants from Ghana. “By the grace of God, we bought a house inn Cedar Hill just before the pandemic,” he said.

Ally Stokes didn’t bring tea from her home country of England, but she did contrast English Christmas traditions from those in America. “We dress up for Christmas – dresses and suits and ties,” she said. Stokes is married to an American; when her mother visited and discovered that Americans dress casually for the holiday, she joked, “I thought my mother’s head was going to explode.”

Faculty and staff members at the gathering shared their own international backgrounds. Sabina Hulem, assistant to the director of the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence, noted that tea is also crucial for any social get-together in her native land of Poland. “We drink tea all day,” she said. “You don’t say, ‘Will you come to my party?’ You say, “Would you have tea with me?’”

Hugo Magallanes, associate dean for academic affairs, shared that he was born in northern Mexico and grew up across the border from El Paso.

“It’s great blessing to be here and to see our wonderful international students,” he said.

The Perkins student body includes a total of 21 international students this fall. Students hail from Cuba, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong, Tanzania, Indonesia and Singapore, in addition to those countries represented at Tea Time.  This year, there are eight students at Perkins from Korea, including Soohyun Suh.