News Perspective Online September 2020

Letter from the Dean: Ten Things I Wish I’d Known When I Began Theological Studies

I mentioned in a recent Perspective article that my wife’s memory is superior to mine. There is one thing I do seem to be good at remembering, however: song lyrics. Play almost any top-20 hit from the 60s or 70s, and the words will probably come right back to me. There are a great many things I would prefer to be good at rather than this, but I suppose you have to be thankful for your gifts, whatever they might be.

Whether or not you share this peculiar aptitude, you might recall one particular line from Bob Seger’s 1976 song “Against the Wind”: “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” This cleverly flips the common adage, “I wish I knew then what I know now.” Thinking back on my own seminary career, I am hard pressed to think of things I wish I still didn’t know, though there are a great many things I wish I hadn’t forgotten. (At one point, I could recite in order the list of all the rulers of Israel and Judah. Please don’t ask me to do it now.) On the other hand, it is easy for me to think of things I wish I had fully understood from the beginning. Of course, the fact that I eventually did learn them is testament to the education I received, however belated the attainment.

It is common for one generation to attempt to pass on to the next things they hope will give their heirs a head start. In that spirit at the beginning of a new academic year, here is a short list of things I wish I had fully grasped from the outset of my own theological education:

1) Master’s studies are the foundation, not the whole building. There is no more presumptuously named degree than the “Master of Divinity.” Few great things can be mastered in three years—and certainly not divinity! Ideally, a theological education sets one on a lifetime course of study. Those few years in the classroom are less about the total accumulation of facts than they are about the development of perspective and the cultivation of tools and interests for decades of learning.

2) There are many things I will never know. In some respects, I expected too much of my theological education, and in other respects too little. Prior to starting seminary, I had read (indeed, color-coded) the entire Bible, memorized dozens of verses, attended countless Bible studies, and read a few dozen books on subjects related to Christian faith. I supposed that my formal theological education would more or less close whatever gaps existed in my knowledge. Instead, it tended rather to expose them. Moreover, I slowly came to realize that there were things I simply could not know, no matter how much I studied. I would love, for example, to be able to state definitively who wrote the Pastoral Epistles. I have an opinion, to be sure, but I know that it is only an opinion. Sufficient evidence does not exist to make a definitive case. The gradual procurement of such “epistemological modesty” is not the unique province of those studying theology. Intellectual humility is often the mark of true learning, whatever the field.

3) Good answers require good questions. We are all limited by our ignorance of our ignorance. Seminary helped me to see how little I truly knew. More often than not, I had fallen into the trap of taking account of only a fraction of the relevant evidence, usually because, unwittingly, I was not looking for it. We learn to ask better questions most often by being exposed to the questions and viewpoints of others. It is what we take for granted that most easily leads us astray. Over time, I came to see that the people who ask the most broad-ranging and penetrating questions nearly always arrive at the most insightful and satisfying answers.

4) Do not confuse unintelligibility with profundity. Theological students may be tempted to write long, complex sentences filled with imposing—and, presumably, impressive—technical jargon. I recall reading papers from some fellow students and being utterly perplexed as to what they were saying. It took me a while to realize that it is vastly harder to write clearly than it is to write incoherently. Obscurantism is often mistaken for intelligence.

I was for a time a college chaplain. Interestingly, the professors of theology who came to preach (including Rowan Williams, later Archbishop of Canterbury, and the theologian N. T. Wright) addressed the students directly, with clear and unforced, unadorned speech. The problem came when persons from outside appeared to feel the need to justify their presence in the college pulpit. We didn’t need to be impressed; we needed to hear God’s word.

5) Good writing is hard work. For the first time, I had professors who gave serious attention to my writing and were willing to expose its weaknesses in detail. In so doing, they forced me to think at a higher level. To this day, I seldom come to clarity of thought by any means other than writing. And writing clearly can be exceptionally difficult work.

As a professor, I have witnessed the same phenomenon countless times. Few students arrive at graduate school having had their written work carefully and thoroughly critiqued. The students I have most appreciated are those who took this criticism seriously, who realized that they were embarking on careers as professional communicators and so were eager to improve their craft.

6) Everybody has something to teach me. I arrived at seminary too oppositional, with too many conventional and convenient stereotypes. Slowly, as I got to know others as people and not simply as positions, that began to change. Being in the company of a diverse group of fellow students encouraged broader understanding and greater empathy. It is not so much that I came to think different things than that I came to think in different ways. In particular, I could now understand why someone with divergent life experience might reasonably come to divergent conclusions. Almost inevitably, such a shift in perspective also leads us to realize that we have far more in common with others than we had imagined.

What most disturbs me about the present state of the church and our country is the fact that we have moved so far in exactly the opposite direction. Those with opposing perspectives are widely regarded as evil, stupid, or both. Ironically, the proliferation of media has allowed us to isolate ourselves in ideological foxholes, from which we lob grenades at the other side. At best, this is a recipe for poor and, at worst, disastrous thinking.

7) Character matters more than grades. I already must have sensed this as a seminary student, but the truth of it became unmistakable once I became a seminary professor. There is no simple correlation between students’ GPA and their potential for fruitful ministry. I have seen outstanding students founder in the pastorate and less stellar students flourish. Of course, that is no excuse for academic laziness. We honor God by using our capabilities to their fullest. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that academic excellence is all that matters, or that it is what matters most in ministry. Ideally, of course, one hopes for excellence of both heart and mind.

8) Vocation is more important than career. This applies to one’s time in a theological school but is especially relevant to the years after when one may be tempted to envy fellow clergy who win more attention and seem to be living the life we imagined for ourselves. Ever so subtly, the focus shifts from serving the other to advancing the self. A bishop once told me, “Many of the most unhappy clergy in this conference are in their mid-to-late 50s. They’ve come to realize that their career aspirations will not be fulfilled, that someone else got the appointment they had worked for and thought they deserved.”

One of the most delightful aspects of teaching theological students is that few of them have yet fallen into this trap. They have not, as the book of Revelation put it, “abandoned their first love” (2:4). If they can maintain their focus on vocation and not career, they likely never will.

9) Ministry is a present as well as a future calling. While in seminary, you might imagine that ministry is something off in the future for which you are preparing. That is true in a sense, but only in a sense. A theological school is an excellent place to practice, not simply to prepare for, ministry. You do not magically become a different person at the moment of graduation or ordination. Who you are in seminary is essentially who you will be when you take that first full-time pastoral appointment. So, how you behave toward fellow students as well as professors and staff should be little different from how you anticipate behaving toward future parishioners. You don’t put on the role when you put on the robe.

10) Ministry is more gift than attainment. Surely, I already knew this on some level, but it has become increasingly evident over the years. To be self-focused is a dead end. You find yourself by giving yourself to others, and ministry offers innumerable opportunities to do just that. It is an incredible and unearned privilege to be allowed into people’s lives at so many significant moments. Yes, there is tedium and frustration in almost any form of ministry, but that is true of most jobs. To be called to ministry is a special grace, an exceptional opportunity to live close to the center of life’s meaning.

News Perspective Online September 2020

Office of Enrollment Management: Our Recruitment Challenge in Pandemic Times

Caleb Palmer
Ministry Discernment Associate

It is impossible to say what the future has in store for higher education. A flurry of speculation and predictions abound on best practices and how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis for the fall 2021 recruitment season.

At Perkins, our approach is strategic and centers on demonstrable success. Our aim remains to increase the number of prospects who are a fit for Perkins, ultimately matriculate and graduate so that they can play a role in making contributions wherever they may land for the transformation of the world.

Adaptation to new practices is essential. Flexibility to quickly implement creative approaches for increasing our pool of prospective students is our focus. We are keenly aware of the need to remain accessible to prospective students. This is especially true for the students in geographic locations where we will no longer, for the foreseeable future, be physically present. The data we have (2018-2020 spring and fall enrollment) provides benchmarks for future recruiting, thus strengthening our potential for more accurate intentionality. Virtual travel and events, a new communications strategy, email campaigns, and virtual, geographic marketing is driving our 2021 enrollment management plan. Our currently enrolled students have proven to be strong allies for recruitment. We’re looking forward to tapping our new fall 2020 students for recruitment initiatives, as well. They will be a strong support as we navigate a new normal in recruitment, expanding our connection with prospects for vocational ministry.

While our plan incorporates our former targeted areas, new trends (and places) of recruiting and communicating are part of the new plan. Recruitment fairs, conferences, Wesley Foundation events, on-campus visits, informational sessions, and the like, are taking on a new life nationally and internationally. The Office of Enrollment Management will participate as schedules and resources allow. Be assured that we are fully vested in high visibility and participation.

We are hopeful and inspired by the direction we are moving. With new initiatives underway, the Office of Enrollment Management staff is encouraged that this could be a very strong year for recruitment. The pandemic offers us new opportunities, and we are committed to lean into an unknown future that allows us to consider new practices for recruitment. Flexibility, adaptability, and accessibility are keys to our success.

Caleb Palmer
Ministry Discernment Associate

News Perspective Online September 2020

Office of Development Update: Perkins Scholars

This fall, Perkins welcomes a fourth cohort of Perkins Scholars. The Perkins Scholar designation is given to students who have distinguished themselves in their undergraduate studies, have demonstrated leadership abilities, and are enrolled in the Master of Divinity program leading toward ordination. Each year’s cohort is made up of ten M.Div. students selected from the entering class. Those students each receive a scholarship totaling up to $21,000, spread over three years, in addition to other scholarship awards they may receive.

In the spring of 2016, the Perkins Executive Board took up the challenge to put this project in motion. The members of the Executive Board, an advisory board to the Dean, care deeply about Perkins School of Theology and the student body. Members of the Board pledged ten awards, each pledge being $21,000. Several members pledged more than one scholarship!

Members of the first cohort of Perkins Scholars have now obtained M.Div. degrees and graduated in May. The second cohort is entering the final year of M.Div. studies, looking forward to finishing in May 2021. The third cohort is entering the second year of M.Div. studies and has become acclimated to, and is excelling at, life at Perkins.

With the scholarships pledged for the entering class, our faithful donors have contributed more than $800,000 of increased scholarship funds for these outstanding students.

The newest cohort of ten Perkins Scholars, funded by Executive Board members, was welcomed to the Perkins family this fall. Among the new Perkins Scholars are:


Hunter Barnett
McKendree University

Pamela Brantley
Michigan State University, University of Michigan Law

Julia Castleman
Baylor University

Brennan Cummings
Missouri Southern State University

Tripp Gulledge
Auburn University

Steven Lefebvre
Belmont University

Brady McQueeny (right)
University of Arkansas

Emma Ward
Lee University

Preparing outstanding pastors and leaders for the Church and society is one of the ongoing missions of Perkins School of Theology. This exceptional assemblage of new Perkins Scholars joins a host of outstanding graduates from years past—women and men who have made a difference in our world.

If you or your church would like to participate in the Perkins Scholars program, please let me know. I can always be reached at or 214-768-2026.

Wishing you a safe fall,

John A. Martin
Director of Development

News Perspective Online September 2020

Fall Convocation

Registration opens September 8 for the annual Perkins Fall Convocation, “Leading Into Change,” with author Tod Bolsinger of Fuller Seminary and Grammy-award winning gospel music icon Kirk Franklin. The annual event will take place online on November 15-16, 2020.    

The convocation usually occurs at Highland Park United Methodist Church and on the campus of SMU. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers moved to an online format.  Tuition for the Virtual Conference is $75 for the full conference or $15 for Sunday night only.  

Kirk Franklin will kick off the event on Sunday evening, November 15, 7 – 8:30 p.m., with a presentation, “Kirk Franklin Speaks from the Heart about Leading Into Change,” followed by a Q&A. Franklin is a Grammy Award-winning choir director, singer, songwriter and author of the New York Times bestseller The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life’s Storms (Gotham/Penguin). Franklin also hosts the gospel talent show “Sunday Best,” the highest-rated gospel program in BET network history, now heading into its fourth season.   

Tod Bolsinger will present three Plenary programs on Monday, November 16. His morning talk, from 9:30 – 11:05 a.m., will focus on “Leading in Uncharted Territory.” He will also deliver a midday Plenary (11:15 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.) on “Trust, Conflict, and Transformation in Uncharted Territory” and an afternoon Plenary (2:50 – 4:30 p.m.) on “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change.” Participants will have ample opportunity to interact with Bolsinger as well as each other; each 35-minute plenary talk will be followed by breakout sessions lasting 30 minutes, then everyone will reconvene for a Q & A.   

Bolsinger is the author ofCanoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. He serves as Vice President and Chief of Leadership Formation and Associate Professor of Leadership Formation at Fuller Theological Seminary. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1993, Bolsinger was senior pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church from 1997 to 2014. He has extensive experience in church and nonprofit consulting and executive coaching  

Fall Convocation attendees may also attend an online worship with global music performed by Izibongo (a highlight of last year’s fall convocation) and Monday afternoon workshop (1:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.) exploring the “Leading into Change” theme. Each participant may choose one workshop from the schedule:  

Approaching Change with Curiosity and Resilience: An Introduction to Dialogic Processes in Polarized Times.” Leader: Dr. Jill DeTemple, Chair of Religious Studies, SMU. 

“Leading in the Midst of Chaos.” Leader: Lisa Hancock, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Restorative Communications. 

Not on My Watch.” Leader: Rev. Virzola Law, Pastor, Northway Christian Church. 

Communicating the Why Behind the Change.” Leader:  Shanterra McBride, Founder of Marvelous University, leadership development for girls and women. 

Outside Suburbia: Leading into a New Normal.” Leader: Rev. Denise Peckham (M. Div. ’08), Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Sherman, Texas. 

“Reimagining Faith and Community: Adaptive Ministries and Movements in Fluid Urban Times.”  Leader: Drew SmithProfessor of Urban Ministry, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  

Finding Your Footing When Things are Swirling.” Leader: Rev. John Thornburgretired Vice President of Area Staff,TMF.   

Details are available online for the full convocation schedule and the workshops.  

This year’s Fall Convocation is made possible with the support of the North Texas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, the Claudia and Taylor Robinson Lectureship, the Paul Elliott and Mildred Fryar Martin Lectureship in Practical Theology, the Howard-Holbert Endowment, and the Center for Religious Leadership at Perkins School of Theology.  

Continuing-education credit (.8 CEU) also is available for an additional $15. Click here for more information or to register online, or call (214) 768-3664 to register by phone with a credit card or debit card.   

News Perspective Online September 2020

Student Spotlight: Gerry Hubbs

Gerry Hubbs has a favorite Bible passage. But in truth, it’s a three-word mantra that has truly sustained her in her journey at Perkins: “You got this.” 

“I don’t know who said it, or where I heard it first,” Hubbs said. “But those words meant so much to meWhen I came to Perkins, I had been out of school for more than 20 years. I left a good job. It took a lot to make that jump.” 

Hubbs, 52, has been active in her local United Methodist Church since fourth grade, participating in small groups and music programs, and teaching Disciple Bible Study. But she first felt strong stirrings toward ministry in 2013, while visiting Wesley’s Chapel in London on a tour with her church’s handbell choir. 

“At the time, I was contemplating whether to go to a different church or even another denomination,” she recalled. “But when I walked into Wesley’s Chapel, I had this unbelievable sense of home. I thought, ‘I’m supposed to be a part of the United Methodist Church.’ After coming home from the trip, I visited a smaller United Methodist church in town, and I felt God was saying to me that I could grow there and help others grow there.”  

However, Hubbs wasn’t ready to make the leap into ministry. She had a good job, managing the testing and tutoring center at Polk State College in Florida.    

“I knew I wanted to go away to school,” she said. “But my mom was in Florida and I didn’t want to leave her by herself.” 

But then, in 2017, Hubbs’s mother passed away. Not long after, her sister turned to her and said, “Gerry, you can go to seminary now. That’s what Mama would want you to do.”  

Things quickly fell into place. Hubbs sold her mother’s house within a few weeks. She started looking at seminariesPerkins, she said, immediately felt like home.   

“When I visited the campus, I saw such a sense of community among the students, staff and faculty,” she said. “I attended Dr. Lee’s class and he asked us to introduce ourselves. He even invited us to email him if we had questions.” 

“Community was really important for me because I’m single, and I was moving to Dallas from Florida just to go to seminaryI didn’t know anyone in Dallas.” 

Hubbs began her studies at Perkins in the fall of 2018, while still grieving the loss of her mother. She took advantage of the eight sessions of counseling that are available free to each SMU student – an option she wishes more students took advantage of.   

“Because of that counseling, and because of the caring of the students, faculty and staff at Perkins, I was able to grieve,” she said. 

At Perkins, Hubbs got involved in campus worship. She enjoyed daily lunch with fellow students at the Refectory. Last year, she was elected president of the Perkins Student Association and began focusing her efforts in two areas of student concern – parking and health insurance. Then the pandemic hit.  

“It’s been a weird year,” said Hubbs.   

Now Hubbs, a certified candidate for ordination in the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, is devoting her third year to her Perkins internship, by serving in student appointments at two small congregations in north central Florida: First United Methodist of Reddick and Citra United Methodist. The two churches are about eight miles apart, between Gainesville and Ocala. In July, at the age of 52, she delivered her first sermon.   

Asked to cite a favorite Bible verse, Gerry Hubbs would choose Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  

Those words ring true for Hubbs as she continues her later-in-life journeyBut in moments of uncertainty, she still leans on those three words, heard early in her career at Perkins, for courage and confidence. 

“You got this.”  

News Perspective Online September 2020

Faculty Profile: Karen Baker-Fletcher

Two central concepts of the Christian faith have inspired Karen Baker-Fletcher’s latest theological work: crucifixion and resurrection.  She witnessed both in a trip to El Salvador seven years ago, and now they’re part of her next bookInspired Dust, Resurrected Dust: Womanist Reflections on Resurrection. 

The seeds were planted on 2013 Perkins faculty immersion trip to El Salvador, led by Hal Recinos, which included a visit to the chapel where Archbishop Óscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass. Group members saw the robe, ridden with bullet holes, in which Romero was killed.  

Romero’s story, Baker-Fletcher said, is a story of crucifixion. 

“We live in a world of crucifixion where people are being unjustly killed daily,” she said. “It did not begin or end with Jesus Christ. We were never promised that crucifixion will end when we want. It’s an ongoing struggle.”   

The group visited a classroom at the University of Central America and heard a lecture on the school, its history, and the El Salvadoran Civil war.   

I finally made the connection between standing up for truth and justice in the lives of Óscar Romero and Martin Luther King Jr., and how that transcends countries and places and spaces,” she said. “It’s living the way of Jesus Christ to the point of knowing that you will probably be killed for standing up for truth.  The Greek meaning of the word ‘martyr’ is simply someone who stands up for truth, not necessarily someone who dies doing so, but who does so regardless. 

The phrase “inspired dust” in the book’s title was coined by fellow Perkins faculty member, Theodore Walker, Jr., as he taught Baker-Fletcher’s earlier book, Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit: Womanist Wordings on God and Creation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998). 

“I use the term to emphasize that we human beings are literally dust and spirit,” she said. “We’re a little bit of matter and a large percentage of water.”  

For stories of resurrection, the new book also looks to Coretta Scott King and Rufina Amayathe sole survivor of the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which 800 civilians were killed by the Salvadoran Army. 

“Coretta Scott King and Rufina Amaya both went on to continue movements for truth,” said Baker-Fletcher. “Amaya led a resurrection in the lives of the El Salvadoran people, who continue the struggle for truth, justice, and freedom. That was very visible to me in the faces of people who were prepping for Oscar Romero Day during our visit in 2013. The human rights movement has never died. It continues today, with Black Lives Matter.” 

Baker-Fletcher is currently shopping the manuscript for Inspired Dust, Resurrected Dust with publishers. She is also working on a second book, Homemade Psalms – Womanist Poetry and Prose.   

I’ve been writing poetry since I was a child,” she said. “My grandmother was poet laureate of her church and her local library. My poetry is very much connected to what is going on now, and to humankind’s lived experiences, and specifically, the lived experiences of black women and African Americans.”  

Baker-Fletcher is a member of St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church in Dallas, another source of inspiration for her work.  

“The church has a history of civic involvement and of standing up for truth and justice,” she said. “The books that I am writing are directly connected to my church and community life. 

Baker-Fletcher balances her busy schedule with regular contemplative practices. She’s enrolled in Perkins’ Certification in Spiritual Direction program and sits about twice a week at the Maria Kannon Zen Center.  (Perkins faculty member Ruben L. F. Habito is founding teacher of the Zen Center, which is currently holding its meditation sessions online.)  

“When you’re meditating, whether it’s in the Zen tradition or the Christian tradition, you’re sitting still and immovable, like Mount Fuji, or Mount Sinai,” she said. “You learn to see distracting thoughts as just clouds. You don’t pursue them. You don’t push them away.”   

I enjoy sharing a variety of contemplative practices with others, encouraging them in their own journeys and their own discovery of their relationship with God and with ultimate reality.  

Research Interests 

Concepts of God, divine love, process theism, ecology, relational theologies, women and theology, contemporary and historical African American religious thought, 19th century holiness women, global theologies, Wesley’s concepts of divine grace and perfect love, intercultural constructive theology, religion and literature, religion and culture. 

Favorite Bible Verse

Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.  “I am a very active person and a social person,” Baker-Fletcher said. “I always have projects. I’m always doing speaking engagements, at churches, schools, or radio shows. I need the reminder. Also, systematic theology is conceptual. The reality we are talking about is more than concepts and words. After teaching, I’ve got all these concepts running through my head. Being still and knowing God is helpful for letting that go. 

Book on her Nightstand Now

The Gathering, A Womanist Church by the Rev. Dr. Irie Lynne Session and the Rev. Kamila Hall Sharp (Eugene Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2020). (The authors are co-pastors of a church by the same name in Dallas.) 

Fantasy Dinner Party

Baker-Fletcher would invite her ancestors, including one named Dilcey, an enslaved woman originally from the West Indies. “We know nothing about her except that her baby boy was taken from her arms,” she said. “That child was Steve McBeth, my maternal great-great-great grandfather. He was sold to another part of the world, Brandon, Miss., and raised in the home of Robert Lowry, as his own son. Later, Steve McBeth’s brother came looking for his family and introduced himself.  He told the family that he and his brother had been separated. I just want to know the truth. 


Baker-Fletcher’s spouse, Garth Baker-Fletcher, also is a theologian and ethicist who taught for many years, as well as a musician and composer. He’s retired now and is in the MSM program at Perkins in composition. The Baker-Fletchers have three adult children; Kristen and Desiree, both SMU graduates, and Kenneth, a personal trainer. Also, the family has a cat named Ray.  

Favorite Travel Destination

Anywhere near the ocean, and locally, the Dallas Arboretum.  

Something About her that Most People Don’t Know

Baker-Fletcher has a brown belt in karate.  

Signature Dishes

For the holidays, she cooks traditional soul food: greens with smoked turkey, sweet potato casserole, corn bread, stuffing with lots of sage, and blackeyed peas with smoked turkey.  

Question She’d Ask at the Pearly Gates

Are you going to let me in?    

News Perspective Online September 2020

Barton Lectureship

Dr. Luis Pedraja, president of Quinsigamond Community College (QCC) in Worcester, Massachusetts, will deliver the 2020 Barton Lecture, “Living in the Margins: Theology and Education in the New Decade, presented virtually on Monday, September 21 at 7 p.m.  To learn more about the lecture and register, visit the website by clicking here.

The Roy D. Barton Lectureship was established in 1995 to honor Dr. Barton for his distinguished service to the seminary and to the Hispanic United Methodist Church. The purpose of the Barton Lecture is to disseminate knowledge of Hispanic/Latin@ theology and ministry for the benefit of the academy, the church, and the wider public. 

With more than 20 years of higher education experience as an administrator and professor, Dr. Pedraja is an advocate for increased access for groups historically underrepresented in the higher education system. In advance of the lecture, Dr. Pedraja spoke to Perkins Perspective writer Mary Jacobs; here are excerpts. 

In advance of the lecture, Dr. Pedraja spoke to Perkins Perspective writer Mary Jacobs; here are excerpts. 

You accepted the invitation to lecture about a year ago. Are you revising in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Yes. As I see it, we have multiple pandemics. One is the COVID-19 virus that it is affecting people across all the sectors. That pandemic raises theological questions, equity questions, educational questions, and COVID is forcing us to confront those.  

At the same time, we also have the whole pandemic that has been in existence far longer — of racismparticularly systemic racism. This is so embedded in our society and has lasted for centuries and has once more become critical. That affects the church, the academy and education, as well as other aspects of society. And it’s definitely an equity issue.  I would also add a third pandemic — the economic gaps that exist.  

Originally, I had planned to talk more about some of the disconnects that exist between the church and theological education, the role of education in general and how the equity gaps play a role. That’s still a topic of the lecture, but it’s become more urgent in light of the pandemic   

Talk about that disconnect. 

[The early church theologian] Tertullian asked that famous question: “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?”  There’s a disconnect between the academy and the church that has been aggravated in the recent decades. Theological education has lost some of its relevance to the church and to the faith of the people. And in turn the faith of people has lost the vibrancy of theological engagement. That’s a detriment to both.  

In the academy, theologians and religious scholars tend to talk more to themselves. It’s become an academic enterprise that has lost its practical application to the life of the church and the life of the people of faith. In the church and society at large, faith and religion have devolved, with the growth of science, the availability of media, the availability of information. We’ve been exposed to more religious thoughts as well as philosophy and ethical ideals. Our society has become more secular to some degree, but also, civil religion has usurped the place of denominations.   

What do you mean by civil religion?

Especially among radical conservatives, we see those who associate Christianity with patriotism and ideas of freedom, some that go counter with the basic tenets of Christianity — where the flag has become as significant as the cross. That’s also aggravated the divide in equity, especially where we’ve become more associated with our own identities and our positions to others that we see as threats 

When you have an embedded civil religion that basically has a knee jerk reaction to social concerns, we lose the foundation of what the essence of Christianity is. It’s the faith of a Jewish carpenter who believed that we all are children of God, that we all were created in God’s image and equal, that the poor are blessed, that the lowest will be the ones that should be brought up, and that we should live a life of compassion and forgiveness. It’s a faith that says God is not like a ruling monarch or king of power.  It’s a God that manifests itself in humility, and that manifests itself as loving, forgiving, and seeking reconciliation rather than alienation and punishment.   

News Perspective Online September 2020

COVID-19 Warriors

Houston Methodist Hospital, home to Perkins’s Houston-Galveston Extension program, is in the center of the battle against COVID-19.  As infections surged in Texas this summer, the hospital has opened one intensive care unit after another for the most critically ill patients, many of whom are Latino.  

The New York Times has been embedded in the hospital and filed this moving report on the struggle, with video and audio clips from patients, their families and front line medical professionals.  

Many of these patients endure cascading tragedies, with multiple relatives struck by the virus,” the story reports. “A man recovers and goes home from the hospital, but leaves his critically ill wife behind. A patriarch with two dozen ailing family members fights for his life after attending his son’s funeral. A grandmother may die because she celebrated a grandchild’s birthday. A father of three undergoing cancer treatment is thought to have been infected at the hospital. 

Since the fall of 2018, students in Perkins School of Theology’s Houston-Galveston Extension Program have reported to Houston Methodist Hospital to attend many of their classes. The hospital provides classroom space, along with tech support and meals, for the two one-week sessions in which students gather in person every semester. Perkins and Houston Methodist are both affiliated with the United Methodist Church.  

News Perspective Online September 2020

Retirement Celebration

Humility. Kindness. Wisdom.

Those were a few of the words repeated often at the retirement celebration of Perkins Bishop in Residence D. Max Whitfield, held virtually on August 20.

Bishop Whitfield officially retired on August 31 as Bishop in Residence and as Director of the Center for Religious Leadership.

Noting that Whitfield launched his career from Perkins – he earned his M.Div. in 1969 — and now was concluding his career at Perkins, Dean Craig Hill said, “You’re coming full circle. You’ve had a 50-year relationship with Perkins. Instead of retiring, you came back to continue to shape church leaders.”

Nearly 30 Perkins faculty, staff and students were on hand for the Zoom gathering, as well as the bishop’s wife, Valerie Whitfield, and their five children, Kevin Whitfield, Rodney Whitfield, Kristen Laughlin, Laurie Bishop and Karen Maleare. A few of the couple’s 12 grandchildren made appearances too. Betty Self, a friend of the Whitfields, was also on hand.

Colleagues recounted Whitfield’s contributions to a range of initiatives at Perkins, and praised his humility, problem-solving skills, and reassuring presence.

Priscilla Pope-Levison, Associate Dean for External Programs, noted that Bishop Whitfield will be especially missed by the Office of External Programs, because he was a regular for monthly staff lunches at La Madeleine — always turning up at the French bistro in a cowboy hat.

Speaking on behalf of the Center for Religious Leadership advisory board, Pope-Levison also noted Whitfield’s work initiating and leading the Academy for Adaptive Leadership, a weeklong gathering of denominational leaders at Lake Texoma.

“When you add that up, Max, that’s been more than 50 pastors that you have worked with, closely, to strengthen their ministry and in turn to strengthen the church’s ministry,” Pope-Levison said. She concluded by expressing her appreciation to Whitfield “as a mentor, a listener, a guide, an advocate, a steady presence, and a friend.”

Rebekah Miles, Professor of Ethics and Practical Theology and a fellow Arkansas native, praised Whitfield as a “United Methodist polity genius” and as a beloved pastor who spent 30 years serving churches in Arkansas.

“I talked to several pastors from his district, including among the most conservative and the most progressive of our conference, and they all praised his unfailing graciousness, his humility and his good humor,” Miles said.

She also recounted a gamble that Whitfield made at a swim party in 2000, shortly after his name was put forth for bishop. He promised to get a Speedo swimsuit if elected – a safe bet, because no Arkansas pastor had been named bishop in the past 40 years.  When he was elected, Arkansas clergy members presented him with a Speedo – but a Speedo t-shirt, not a swimsuit.

Whitfield retires as Bishop in Residence after serving since 2012. Previously, he was Bishop of the New Mexico and Northwest Texas Conferences of The United Methodist Church from 2000 – 2012. He was ordained as an elder in 1970 in the North Arkansas Conference.  In addition to his M.Div., he earned a D. Min. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1983.

At the gathering, Whitfield said that he’s retiring to spend more time with Valerie, his wife of 27 years, and to enjoy some traveling.

“The Perkins community welcomed me with open arms in 2012, just as it did when I was a student,” Whitfield said. “You treated me as a colleague, which is the greatest honor that could be bestowed. These past 8 years have brought great joy and fulfillment.”

News Perspective Online September 2020

Student News

Steven James Wins GCAH Award

Steven James
June 18, 2016
Izamal, Yucatan

Steven James (M. Div. ’21) has been named the winner of this year’s John Harrison Ness Memorial Award from the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH). The Commission offers the annual award to M. Div. students in United Methodist seminaries who submit papers on aspects of Methodist history.  James’s paper, The Conferences of Missions and Missionary Boards Working in Mexico: The Road to Autonomy, was written for Professor Ted Campbell’s United Methodist History course in December 2019.

James did primary research on the records from 1910-1939 of ecumenical movements as well as ten mainline Protestant denominations and their succeeding work in Mexico. Among the denominations were the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The goal was to change their missionary model in Mexico and produce a new plan to carry out in Mexico. However, none of the delegates were Mexican. “The Conference of Missions and Missionary Boards believed themselves experts of Mexican culture, and capable enough to carry out the plan without Mexican input,” James wrote. Not surprisingly, efforts to establish self-sustaining Methodist churches in Mexico were slow; conference leaders called for the development of strong church leaders, unaware that strong leaders were already active in the Mexican church. “The discrepancy between the decisions by the Conference and the work done by Mexican church leaders shows a lack of understanding between the assessments of the Conference and the viewpoints of the Mexican leaders,” James wrote.

James’s interest in the topic was spurred by several trips to Mexico, first as an undergraduate student in journalism at the University of North Texas and later to visit friends there. The first-place award includes a $500 prize.  This year, James is a Communications and Development Intern at Wesley-Rankin Community Center in Dallas and is President of L@s Seminaristas.


Summer Entrepreneurs

Students and others in the Perkins community with an interest in non-traditional ministries participated in a variety of learning opportunities this summer.

Three Perkins students — Kay Smeal, Collin Yarbrough, and Rachel Mumaw — attended Creator Institute, a 20-week virtual program designed to take participants from ideation to a publishing deal. Based on Georgetown Professor Eric Koester’s award-winning Book Creators course, the Creator Institute programs are open to high school, college, and graduate students as well as working professionals.  Each author in the program is paired with a professional editor who offers coaching and writing feedback.   Creator Institute and Professor Koester have set an ambitious goal to help 10,000 authors in the next 10 years; the open course is designed to make the book creation and publishing experience accessible to all.

The Perkins students learned of the Creator Institute by way of Jennifer Ebinger from Incubator@SMU, a dedicated workspace encouraging the formation and growth of new organizations on the SMU campus. The Incubator welcomes all types of entrepreneurial enterprises, including profit or not-for-profit, technology-based businesses as well as products or services.

During the summer, the Incubator hosted three sessions of the Summer ELAUNCH series for Ministry Entrepreneurs, aimed at students and others interested in developing non-traditional ministries such as a coffee shop or pub church.

Jim Hart, director of the Arts Entrepreneurship program at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, led an ideation workshop. (Ideation is the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas.) Hart has created many experiential entrepreneurship exercises that are used at universities across the U.S. Among those attending this event were Perkins students, the Rev. Dr. Blair Thompson-White (D. Min. 2018, M.Div. 2012) and Tom Locke of Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF), and

In addition, Professor Jake Batsell of Meadows led “Intro to the BUSINESS CANVAS,” with tips on developing a plan to navigate from ideation to startup, and Karen Leeseberg of SMU Libraries led “Beyond Google & Effective Market Research,” providing tips for ministry entrepreneurs on conducting research for non-profit ventures.