News Perspective Online Summer 2020

Satellite Schools: Perkins Course of Study

Even as education grows increasingly virtual, place still matters.  

That’s why Perkins’s Course of Study program continues to play a vital role in preparing local pastors at three Satellite Schools: for Spanish-speaking pastors in the Western Jurisdictionat McMurry University and at the Oklahoma Indian Mission Conference (OIMC).  

“What remains important is the cultural context of our satellite schools, particularly for the OIMC satellite for indigenous pastors, and Western Jurisdiction satellite for Spanish-speaking pastors,” said Paul Barton, Director of the United Methodist Regional Course of Study School at Perkins. Even in a pandemic, the ministry realities don’t change. When these students come together, virtually or in-person, they are sharing their experiences and their stories of what it’s like to be in ministry in their localities and contexts.”  

Satellite schools are administered directly by the Perkins Regional Course of Study School and offer courses semi-annually (spring and fall). They offer a more convenient, localized option for students who wish to complete the Course of Study program prescribed by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM)– Division of Ordained Ministry of the United Methodist Church.   

Course of Study programs are open to part-time and full-time licensed local pastors, as well as certified lay ministers (CLMs) who meet certain criteria. GBHEM develops the curriculum, which consists of 20 courses, and keeps central records(Pastors typically complete licensing school first, then enroll in a Course of Study, but a few exceptions are permitted.)  

Enrollment for each Satellite School is typically small – up to 20 students, which allows for personal attention and guidance as students through the process.   

Oklahoma Indian Mission Satellite 

Launched in March 2020, OIMC is the newest of the three satellite schools, and is open to United Methodist indigenous local pastors within the conference and beyond (Local pastors who are not indigenous may apply, however, and are considered on a case-by-case basis.) The program met for the first time on a Saturday in March at the campus of the College of the Muscogee Nation, a public tribal college in Okmulgee, Okla.   

“It was a great setting, and we hope to continue to meet there once we’re past the pandemic,” said the Rev. David Wilson, OIMC superintendent. 

Due to COVID-19, the remainder of the course is being completed online, which presented some challenges for OIMC students.   

“In many places across the state, especially southeastern Oklahoma, it’s difficult to get the reliable high-speed WiFi you need to get online with Zoom,” said Wilson.  “We lost a few students who just did not have the capacity to join online, but that is the reality for many indigenous communities.” 

Wilson added that assistance from GBHEM’s Native American Ministry Sunday Scholarship Fund helped meet some of the additional needs created by the pandemic. 

The OIMC satellite’s inaugural course, 121 Bible I: Introduction, was taught by Rev. Justine Wilson, a clergy member in the OIMC conference, with an emphasis on the Native American context. When the class covered the stories of creation in Genesis, she invited students to explore the creation stories that are part of their tribal oral traditions.  

That was eye-opening for many students,” David Wilson said. “Students saw many similarities in the various creation stories. For any culture, the purpose for creation stories is similar — to answer the question, ‘Where did we come from?’”    

Bible I will conclude in September, and in October, Perkins faculty member Rebekah Miles will begin teaching the next course, 122 Theological Heritage I: Introduction. She is an affiliate member of the OIMC and “a good friend and ally of ours for some time,” according to David Wilson.  

Western Jurisdiction Satellite

The Western Jurisdiction Satellite program, begun in 2017, is taught in Spanish and recruits primarily from the Western Jurisdiction. It was launched after the closing of Claremont School of Theology’s Spanish-speaking COS program, which left few options for Spanish-speaking pastors. Travel to the only other Spanish-speaking programs (at Perkins or Garrett-Evangelical in Chicago) was cost-prohibitive and logistically difficult.   

“The majority of these local pastors are bi-vocational and work in secular jobs,” said the Rev. David Martinez, Director of Contextual Leadership Formation for GBHEM’s Division of Ordained Ministry.  The satellite school plays an important role in building a community of ministers. Students meet others who are doing similar work and meet people from other conferences.”  

The satellite program provides much-needed mentoring and guidance to Spanish-speaking students, Martinez adds.  

“We encourage our students to talk to the District committee of Ordained Ministry (DCOM) to make sure they fulfill all the conference requirements,” he said. “We have become a safe space for them in their ministerial process. 

McMurry University’s Satellite School is the longest running in the Perkins program, since 2012, primarily serving students in west and northwest Texas. The program typically offers one class per semester and to date has offered 17 different courses from the COS curriculum.  Last spring’s courses were taught online; this fall, the current plan is for Course of Study students to return to campus to meet three Saturdays in September, October and November.  

John B. Faulkenberry Miller, Professor of Religion at McMurry, serves as Assistant Director of the program. Most of the students are pastors in the Northwest Texas, Rio Grande and Central Texas conferences. Until last spring, the program was open only to part-time local pastors, but now is open to full-time pastors as well.  Courses are taught by United Methodist clergy in the Northwest Texas Conference as well as McMurry faculty.  

To date, 34 students have attended the McMurry program, and six have completed the Course of Study.  

“All of our students have been local pastors who were actively serving a church when they took our classes,” Miller said. “For many part-time local pastors, another advantage is that we meet on three Saturdays during the semester, as opposed to meeting at the Perkins campus in Dallas for a longer continuous block of time during the summer.”  

(The Course of Study offered at Perkins in Dallas now offers courses in the fall and spring, but that is a very recent development.) 

The three Satellite Schools are part of a portfolio of programs offered through the Course of Study School at Perkins, which also offers hybrid courses, in English and Spanish, which were taught fully online this past spring and summer, due to COVID-19. The Perkins Regional COSS director also oversees three extension schools in the Texas, North Texas and Arkansas Annual Conferences.  

“These are not just fast track paths to ministry,” said Barton. “They offer options for people who received their calls later in life, who have jobs and other obligations, that preclude full-time residential programs.”  

News Perspective Online Summer 2020

Office of Enrollment Management: Fall 2020 Update

Much continues to be uncertain these days. For the Office of Enrollment Management, adaptability and innovative thinking are key. We are pleased to report continued success from our new approach to recruitment events and virtual student engagement.

This summer, we hosted eight virtual events.  Events were tailored to meet the needs of different student populations and focused on various topics. A favorite of our prospective students was the “Experience the SMU Perkins Culture” program, featuring Dean Craig Hill. Students were given the opportunity to informally chat with the Dean, learn about the school and to have an up-close-and-personal view of what it might be like to be a student at SMU Perkins. We hosted a Ministry Discernment Conversation specifically targeted to connect current Perkins students with prospective students to discuss personal calls to ministry. We also scheduled evening events as an added opportunity for those unable to participate during the day, with the focus on learning about the hybrid Houston-Galveston Extension Program. It, too, was a popular session. We are happy to report that each of these events was well-attended and brought prospective students from far and wide, resulting in the highest event registration numbers to date.

As final applications were considered for the fall 2020 semester, numerous applicants indicated that attending events influenced their decisions to attend this fall. With this momentum, we are eager to approach the 2021 recruitment season and have already planned to increase the number of virtual sessions by continuing our creativity of content, format and sensitivity to prospective student schedules.

As planning continues, you will soon be able to follow all of our recruitment event updates on our webpage, which is currently undergoing renovation and restructure to meet needs of recruitment in this Covid-19 era. As we move forward, we ask that you continue to keep SMU Perkins School of Theology in your prayers.


Caleb Palmer, Ministry Discernment Associate
Samantha Stewart, Ministry Discernment Associate


“The Virtual event was extremely beneficial as it allowed me to connect with Perkins at a time that worked for me. The ability to ask questions live, connect with current students and admissions staff provided a sense of community that is hard to capture via webinar or conference call alone.”

-Summer 2020 Recruitment Series Prospective Student

News Perspective Online Summer 2020

Development Update: The New Normal?

I recently read an article which argued that “normal” has not worked for many people, so why should we now seek a “new normal”?  The article reminded me of a survey taken many years ago at a theological institution at which I served.  The survey was designed to find the pattern of student attitudes about the curriculum.  The results?  We found that only 17 percent of students were in what we called the “normal” program.  There had been a time when almost 100 percent had been in that program—but those years were long gone.  We ceased calling that program “normal.”

Perhaps the future will not be normal at all, at least not as we have used that word in the past.  Think of just a few of the very recent changes:

  • Overall e-sales have increased 25 percent since March 1, and online grocery sales have increased 100 percent!
  • Most of us have not been inside a church for three months, although many of us participate online.
  • We are much more aware of personal hygiene and the cleanliness of those around us than we have been.
  • Increasingly, we are aware of those in need, those without jobs, those who struggle in many settings, including school, because of a lack of equipment and supervision.

Seminarians, like everyone else, are impacted by the fast-moving changes this year.  They are realizing that forms of ministry are being transformed radically, and, most likely, permanently.  Bishop Mike McKee, of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, recently commented that “now pastors and church workers need to retain the ‘old interpersonal skills,’ but must also add a ‘basket of new skills’ to interact virtually.”

We are all stretched by the changes, and Perkins is no exception.  The Administrative Council is examining our curriculum and changes are already underway.  A course called “Social Innovation: Creating World Changers with Emerging Digital Ministries” will be offered this fall (and in a virtual setting, no less).  A full curriculum review is scheduled to begin soon, as noted in our self-study presented to the Association of Theological Schools.  Undoubtedly, in that review, new modes of pedagogy and ministry will be explored and implemented.

Recently, I asked members of the Perkins Executive Board to set up a fund to allow all of our students access to online courses, as a number of international students need upgraded computers and internet access.  The response was overwhelming.  However, we will undoubtedly have more needs of this type and many others as the semester unfolds. This fund will be part of the SMU Fund for Perkins, which Dean Hill can use at his discretion.

I ask all alumni and friends of Perkins to join in funding needs of this type during these days of change.

To give online, click here to visit our giving website. The first item in the drop-down menu is the SMU Fund for Perkins.  Please make a gift, of whatever size.

If you would rather give by check, make it out to “SMU” with a notation, “SMU Fund for Perkins” and send it to:

John A. Martin
Perkins Development
PO Box 750133
Dallas, TX 75272-0133

Next month I will be sharing backgrounds of our newest cohort of Perkins Scholars.  Until then, be careful, stay safe, and follow your best judgment.

John A. Martin
Director of Development

News Perspective Online Summer 2020

Fall Course Delivery

Many students and faculty will return to campus this fall, but life at Perkins will look quite different. Like most educational institutions, Perkins School of Theology has adjusted its schedule and programming this fall in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Perkins faculty and administration have worked tremendously hard over the summer to come up with a plan that we believe will be hospitable and attentive of the health concerns of students and faculty while allowing students to continue to learn this fall,” said Hugo Magallanes, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

Courses taught at the Dallas campus will be offered fully online and in the Hyflex format, a combination of in-person and online; the Houston-Galveston program, normally hybrid, will move entirely online. The academic calendar has been adjusted to discourage students from traveling, and many events have been cancelled or moved online.

Dallas Campus

Following SMU’s recommendations, the decision was made to offer Dallas campus courses in the Hyflex format, combining in-person and online options in both synchronous and asynchronous manner, as well as some fully online courses.

Each HyFlex course will be taught face-to-face and online by the same instructor at the same time. Students may choose to return to campus or stay home. Those who attend in person will be in their assigned classroom but with reduced seating capacity.

Inside Higher Education describes the HyFlex model “as perhaps the most flexible and for many will be the most attractive. It is also possibly one of the more difficult approaches for faculty.” All Perkins faculty have undergone training in the HyFlex or online teaching approach from SMU.

Inside Higher Education also notes that this approach often requires “real-time in-class help (a TA or course assistant to manage the online students), an intentionally designed classroom and a great deal of patience from both the students and faculty.”

Houston-Galveston Program

Perkins School of Theology’s Houston-Galveston Extension Program will be taught entirely online during this semester. Since the fall of 2018, Houston-Galveston students have reported to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and to Houston Methodist Hospital to attend many of their classes. (The hospital provided classroom space, along with tech support and meals, for the two one-week sessions in which students gathered in person every semester.)

“Given that most of our students must travel from other areas to attend classes in Houston, we felt that online-only was the safe option at this time,” said Magallanes, who is also Director of the Houston-Galveston Extension Program.

Calendar and Events

To discourage students from leaving campus and then returning from other parts of the country, holidays and breaks have been suspended for the Fall 2020 semester. Classes will be held on Labor Day and there will be no fall break in October. After Thanksgiving, all classes will be online so that students do not travel around the country or overseas and then return to campus with possible infections. Most universities in the U.S. this fall are following this practice.

Many events that take place each fall have been cancelled, postponed or moved to a virtual format.

SMU held its university-wide commencement on August 15; however, Perkins 2020 graduates will be recognized by Perkins at the school’s May 2021 degree conferral service.

The Houston Lay School, originally scheduled for Saturday, August 22, was cancelled. Organizers hope to hold the next lay school in person in August 2021.

The Fall Convocation, featuring author Tod Bolsinger and gospel icon Kirk Franklin, will take place virtually November 15-16.

View the Perkins Fall 2020 Academic Calendar here.

Additional Safety Measures

Other safety measures that will be in place this fall include:

*Smaller numbers of students will be in physical classrooms to maintain safe distancing.

*Students will be required to wear masks while in class or at other in-person gatherings.

*Classrooms across the university have been assigned to maintain restricted capacity.

*Martin Hall, a former Perkins residential hall located within the Perkins campus, has been designated as the isolation site for students with COVID.

*All faculty are prepared to pivot quickly to online, should a university-wide lockdown occur.

“There are still many unknowns,” said Dean Craig C. Hill.  “We expect the fall semester will demand patience and flexibility from all of us, but I am confident we are up to the task.”

News Perspective Online Summer 2020

Breath of Life

Barbara Taylor didn’t know the woman, only that her name was Carolyn. But it was Carolyn, a passerby who spontaneously joined and then summed up the “Breath of Life” gathering, just as Taylor had envisioned.

“This is what love is supposed to feel like,” Carolyn said.

“Breath of Life” took place on June 28, a day of prayer for healing from social injustice, racism, racial profiling and stereotyping.  Taylor (M.Div. ’22) was one of about 50 members of the Perkins community and others who attended the two-part program, sponsored by an alliance of student, faculty and administrative organizations at SMU.

The event started with an impassioned email that Taylor sent to members of the Perkins community on June 2.

“As a world changer being shaped at SMU …  I am requesting pastors, liturgical leaders, and students to unite as models of righteousness in organizing a peaceful communal gathering of prayer or march in protest of the death of George Floyd,” she wrote. “We must serve as God’s mouthpiece against social inequalities and racial injustices to unweave the threads of immorality and prejudice that course through this nation. If SMU speaks, the city will listen. If the church speaks, people will come.”

When Maxwell Urbina (M. Div. 21) read Taylor’s letter, he contacted her and encouraged her to “dream big.” As Senator of SMU-Perkins, as well as a human rights advocate in the United States and a Nicaraguan activist working for justice, liberty and democracy, Urbina offered his assistance to make the event a reality.

“Together we decided to promote this event and create history within our Perkins community on behalf of our Afro-descendant and vulnerable communities,” he said.  Tracy Anne Allred, Assistant Dean of Student Life, assisted with the organizing, and Julian Hobdy (M. Div. ’22) handled the program and marketing.

The June 28 program began in the morning on the lawn of SMU’s Dallas Hall, and concluded in the afternoon at Dallas City Hall. Students led a series of prayers at each venue, and there were addresses from community leaders and elected officials. To minimize risks of COVID-19, participants observed safe social distancing practices and wore masks.

“When I heard Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson say the city needed prayer, I knew we had to take action as a community,” Taylor said.  “This event focused on egalitarian prayers for healing from repeated injustices against Black African Americans and all marginalized persons.”

“We felt it was important, as students of theology and as theological voices, to give a theological response to what is going on,” said Hobdy, who is chair of the Justice and Action Committee of the Perkins Student Association. “The church has a powerful opportunity to respond that is different from that of political and civic organizations. Because it’s not just a civic issue. Racism, at its core, is a spiritual issue. Our understanding of community, at its best, is that when one hurts, we all hurt.”

At the Dallas campus portion of the event, Dean Craig Hill welcomed those gathered, and Perkins student Wallace Wyatt III, president of the Black Seminarians Association, offered the keynote. He cited the story of Jesus and the cleansing of the temple as inspiration.   

Like Jesus, we will continue to come in and out of this temple,” he said. “When we do so, we will heal, teach, and engage in conflict with the religious authorities here. We will heal our hurting brothers and sisters by sharing love.  We will teach our brothers and sisters to dream like Martin, lead like Harriet, fight like Garvey, write like Maya, build like Madam CJ, speak like Frederick, educate like W.E.B., believe like Thurgood, challenge like Rosa, and inspire like Obama. Why?  Because we will not be silenced, and we say, ‘Enough is Enough!’”

Dr. Melinda Sutton, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at SMU, also spoke to the crowd.

“On our own campus, we recognize that our students, faculty, and staff of color do not always feel welcome, seen, or valued,” she said. “That needs to change.”

Sutton noted that Perkins was the first part of the university to integrate and admit African American students in the early 1950s – but that more work needs to be done. “I am proud that SMU chose to lead at that time, and I believe we are called upon to be leaders during this time as well,” she said. “SMU’s tagline is ‘World Changers Shaped Here.’ I’ve given this statement a lot of thought over the last few months and last few weeks, in particular. It is important now – perhaps more than ever – that we as faculty and staff take this charge particularly seriously so that our students – in turn – can live up to this idea. We need change in our world; this change needs to start on our own campus, and it needs to start now.”

Other speakers at the campus gathering included James Parobek, president of THR Hospital in Dallas, and the Rev. Lacie Jefferson, chaplain at THR Hospital.

In addition, Urbina led those assembled in a prayer: “We pray for our communities. Where there is division, may we bring restoration. Where there is inequality may we bring justice. Where there is powerlessness may we lift up the broken hearted. Where there is damage may we bring healing.”

Gathering at City Hall

As the SMU gathering concluded, participants caravanned to Dallas City Hall, escorted part of the way by SMU police. Brenda Smith (M. Div. ’21), treasurer of the Black Seminarians Association, coordinated the City Hall portion of the program. Her aunt, Curtistene McCowan, mayor of DeSoto, Texas, was one of the speakers at that location.

“We can talk all day long about all of the violence, and the discrimination, and the things that are happening to our Black men, and Black boys, and Black women, and Black girls, but the Bible says, ‘God will heal our land,’” McCowan said. “And so, my brothers and my sisters, I am here this evening just to say that we can make a difference. This event today is just another beautiful example of how God is using each and every one of us to make sure that his word is not left void.”

Sponsors of the event included Perkins School of Theology; Perkins Black Seminarians Association; Perkins Student Association; Perkins L@s Seminaristas; SMU Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life; SMU Black Faculty and Staff Association; Hillel at SMU; South Dallas/Fair Park Faith Coalition; Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Foundation; and Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square.

“This event was organized by students but reflects our entire community’s commitment to racial justice and equality,” said Dean Craig C. Hill.  “The church has work to do. But I’m optimistic about the future because of the passion and gifts our students bring to this effort.”


Event Photo Gallery

Click to enlarge images.
All photographs by Hillsman Jackson, SMU Photography.


News Perspective Online Summer 2020

Student Spotlight: Victoria Ayala

A dwindling number of young people are connecting with church, and many are turning to other avenues for spiritual expression. To some, those trends may sound discouraging. For Victoria Ayala (M. Div. ’21), they pose fascinating questions.

“The question is, what can we do to mend that gap?” she said. “What is the church going to look like 10 years from now? What can we do to make ministry more than a church or a building? What can we do to be the hands and feet of Jesus? How can we support those marginalized communities that don’t feel at home in church?”

Those questions drive her passion as she enters her third year at Perkins and contemplates career options in non-traditional ministry. They’ve also led her to internships in non-traditional ministries: currently, at Union Coffee Shop, which ministers to the LGBTQ community in the Oak Lawn area, and earlier, as an undergraduate at Abilene Christian University, at a Boys & Girls Club and at the International Rescue Committee, which helps relocate refugees and assists them in getting settled in the U.S.

“These experiences have been avenues for me to explore: ‘What does the church like outside of the church?’” she said.

Called at 16

Coming to Perkins was the natural outgrowth of a call that Ayala first felt on a church youth group trip at age 16. Ayala grew up in the Catholic church, but her family left the church after her parents divorced when she was 9.

“At that point, I didn’t have any spiritual connection,” she said. “I always joked to myself that I wanted to become a vet because animals were easier to deal with than people. But I hated science.”

Then, she got plugged into a youth group at a nearby United Methodist Church that soon became her second home.

“On our way to a mission trip to Oklahoma, we stopped at SMU and toured Perkins,” she recalled. “I decided right then that, when I graduated, I would apply to Perkins.  When I was accepted, it was a really big dream come true.”

That’s a little ironic, she adds, because “When I was younger, I didn’t like reading or writing. That’s literally all I do now!” Reading and writing became more enjoyable, she said, because she’s learning about the Bible and studying theology. Perkins has exceeded all of her expectations.

“I’m having amazing professors and love it here even more than I thought I would,” she said.

After graduation, she plans to pursue ordination in The United Methodist Church.

“I’d like to work in a church and then expand and see what church planting looks like and experiment with new forms of ministry,” she said.

Ayala’s extracurricular activities at Perkins have included Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE) and L@s Seminaristas, a group of Hispanic female students.

“I am Mexican American and being able to partner with the Latinx community is very important to me,” she said.

Yoga and meditation have helped her get through the challenges of the last several months, as the COVID-19 pandemic led Perkins to move classes online and shut down student gatherings. She picked up the meditation practice last semester in Dr. Ruben Habito’s World Religions class, which included weekly meditation sessions.

One more thing you need to know about Ayala: she loves coffee! The internship at Union Coffee Shop has had the added benefit of allowing her to pursue that passion, too.

“I’m a coffee enthusiast,” she said. “I love iced coffee, espressos, lattes, pour-overs, all that fancy schmancy stuff.”

News Perspective Online Summer 2020

Faculty Profile: Marcell Silva Steuernagel

If there’s one Bible verse that summarizes how Marcell Steuernagel embraces his multi-faceted, multicultural life, it’s Isaiah 30:21:  Whether you turn to the right or you turn to the left, your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

“That’s kind of been my motto for over 20 years now, because it emphasizes the unpredictability of life,” he said. “One of the temptations of the Christian journey is to posture as if we know what God is doing. This verse is a good picture of my relationship with God throughout the journey of life.”

And what a journey it has been. Originally from Brazil, Steuernagel served for over a decade as the Worship, Arts and Communication minister at a Lutheran church in Brazil.  He and his family moved to the United States five years ago when he began his Ph.D. studies at Baylor University — with no intention of staying in Texas or the U.S.

“I’m very much a Brazilian and a Latin American at heart,” he said. “For me, to live here means more than just uprooting my life and moving somewhere else. It’s about fully embracing multiculturality. I’m happy because Perkins is a place where I get to do that. I can speak Spanish with colleagues. Sometimes I’ll pray in Portuguese during meetings and it’s fine. I’m grateful for this place and the work we get to do.”

If you don’t hear his Brazilian accent, that’s because Steuernagel spent several years in Chicago as a child, while his father earned a Ph.D. in theology.

“I was five when we got there, and I guess English just stuck in my ear,” he said.

Steuernagel just finished a manuscript in July, Church Music through the Lens of Performance. The book will be published by Routledge, a British academic press, likely next year.

“’Performance’ is a bad word in church,” he said. “There’s this idea that performance is not sincere, it’s not real worship. So, you might hear, ‘This is not a concert, it’s a worship service.’ But from the perspective of performance theory, everyone who goes to church is performing. Not just those on the platform but also the ushers and the people in the pews. We’re performing together.”

A simple example illustrates this dynamic. Should people clap in church?  A Euro-American mindset that emphasizes modesty in church as an appropriate response to the Divine might answer “no.” But at a Pentecostal church, clapping is an expression of endorsement and appreciation.

“If we assume that we’re all performing, then we need a vocabulary to talk about worship as performance,” he added. “I’m not interested in prescribing what churches should do. As a scholar, I’m more fascinated by how different churches and traditions negotiate these questions.”

Steuernagel sings and plays piano, guitar and percussion, but most of his time is devoted to either conducting or composing, his key areas of expertise. His work often takes him beyond the SMU campus. He composes music, both popular and for the concert hall, plays at area churches, at the churches of area alumni, and also at his own church, Life in Deep Ellum.

This fall semester, he’s also diving deep into the digital space. Along with Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of the Global Theological Education Program at Perkins, Steuernagel is co-teaching a new course entitled “Social Innovation:  Creating World Changers with Emerging Digital Ministries.” The course is designed to help students develop theological reflection about “online” or digitally mediated ministries (DMMs) and draws on expertise from Perkins faculty —who have created nationally distributed resources during the COVID-19 pandemic—and other global experts. (Read more about the class here.)

“This is not just a response to COVID-19, but also a recognition that training people for ministry needs to include an online, digital component,” he said. “We’re focusing not so much on the technology as on the theological update that has to accompany digital ministry.”

Research Interests

Church music, performance studies, intercultural worship, global song, global hymnody and decolonial church music scholarship. Composition in church music. Contemporary worship music in the U.S. and globally, and the intersection of music, culture and Christian music culture.

Books on His Nightstand

Steuernagel recently finished The Narnian, an intellectual biography of C.S. Lewis, by Baylor professor Alan Jacobs (2008) and Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture by Frank Owen (2003), about the rise of club culture in New York in the 80s and 90s.  He’s also reading Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms by Nicolette Hahn Niman (2009).


Steuernagel and his wife Caroline have been married for more than 16 years and have three kids: Arthur, 12, Davi, 10 and Alice, 9.


Steuernagel loves to cook, and before COVID-19, he and his wife entertained a lot at home– Brazilian-style. “In the U.S., if you go to someone’s home for dinner, you arrive, eat and leave after maybe two hours,” he said. “In Brazilian culture, on a weeknight, you might have people arrive for dinner at 8:30 p.m. and leave at 1 a.m.  When we moved to Dallas, we took it upon ourselves to entertain the Brazilian way. We sit on our balcony and talk for hours.” 

Signature Dishes

Pizza, ossobuco and venison burgers.

Personal Spiritual Practice

Steuernagel has been practicing martial arts for almost 25 years, earning a black belt in kung fu and a purple belt in jiu jitsu.  “It became part of my identity,” he said. “I try to train twice a day, mornings and evenings, six days a week. I got started when I was young. I was getting mugged all the time. I just got tired of it. Martial arts teaches you how to manage situations so you don’t have to get into a physical altercation.  My kung fu practice is a very prayer-filled moment, a deep spiritual time with God.”

News Perspective Online Summer 2020

Bishop D. Max Whitfield Retirement

Bishop D. Max Whitfield began his career at Perkins, and soon, he will wrap it up at Perkins.

Bishop Whitfield (M. Div. ’69) officially retires on August 31 as Perkins’s Bishop in Residence and Director of the Center for Religious Leadership. He returned to Perkins in 2012 to serve as Bishop in Residence after 12 years as Bishop of the New Mexico and Northwest Texas Conferences of The United Methodist Church. Prior to his election to the episcopacy, Bishop Whitfield served as Superintendent of the Batesville and Fayetteville Districts in the Arkansas Conference UMC, after more than 30 years as senior pastor in various United Methodist congregations in Arkansas. He was ordained deacon (1967) and elder (1970) in the North Arkansas Conference.  In addition to his M.Div., he earned a D. Min. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1983.

Bishop Whitfield spoke to Perkins Perspective writer Mary Jacobs on August 7; here are excerpts.

Why retire now?

Part of the reason is that a Bishop in Residence works on a four-year contract and this is the end of my second four-year term.  Also, age is creeping up on me. I’ll celebrate my 76th birthday in October.

What’s next?

There are a several different things that my wife Valerie and I have been wanting to do. We’ll always stay in contact with the Perkins community, but we will be less active.  We live in Richardson and are planning to remain here. We also plan to continue our involvement in our local church, First UMC Richardson. We’re both involved in Sunday school. I’ve done some teaching and some pastoral and hospital calls from time to time and will continue to do that.

If we can ever get back into Bridwell, I’d like to look at some polity issues and research the background of those issues. I’m intrigued with a question that my wife raised: “When did the Methodists take the word ‘obey’ out of the marriage vows?” I found out that the words “serve and obey” were both removed in 1864 by the Methodist Episcopal Church during the civil war. The MEC was involved in the abolition of slavery, so both words were taken from the ritual.

We look forward to doing more with our family. Between the two of us, Valerie and I have five children and 12 grandchildren and look forward to doing more with them. We’ve been married for 27 years; we were both in our 40s when we widowed, and we met and married.

Valerie is the artist in the family and has been doing some stained-glass work. I’d like to try that.  When it’s safe to do so, we also want to do some traveling and see the remaining states we haven’t yet seen. We’d like to visit New England.

What does a Bishop in Residence do?  

When I took the job, Bill Lawrence was the Dean at Perkins at the time, and I asked him that question. He said, “You reside.” I didn’t know what that meant. I spoke with Bishop John Wesley Hardt, who had served as Bishop in Residence (1988-2000) previously, and who was still active and still very sharp at the time. He told me, “Well, you find out.  Each bishop will do different things and you’ll do whatever you want.” For the past eight years, I’ve been trying to figure out what a Bishop in Residence does. But I would say that I was more of a pastoral presence. That’s is a role I’ve played, and I’ve certainly enjoyed it.

When I took the position, Dean Lawrence told me I wouldn’t do any teaching.  But a few months later, he asked me if I could teach UM Polity. I said yes and ended up teaching that class 15 times over the past eight years. Also, the faculty has been just marvelous in their willingness to let me be part of the community.  They’ve shared their scholarly research and allowed me to attend various committee meetings and decision-making bodies.

The last few months of your career at Perkins have been under the restrictions of COVID-19. Is that a source of regret?

Yes, that has been a regret — missing the graduation, the awarding of diplomas and honors, the worship service that we do at the end of each year.  We look forward to seeing the students come back after their internships and meeting their families at graduation. I’ve missed that very much. I would add that teaching online has been very hard. In the classroom, I loved being able to see the eyes of the students and to see their expressions. I missed that a great deal.  I taught a course online this summer. The students were still able to learn a great deal, but only through hard work and extra effort.

In 2014, in addition to your position as Bishop in Residence, you were named Director of the Center for Religious Leadership at Perkins. Any highlights you’d like to share from that work?

Leadership has been an interest of mine for a long time. I served on a board of ordained ministry for years. I realized there are three things we need from clergy: leadership, leadership, leadership.

I’m especially proud of the Academy for Adaptive Leadership, an intense five days of helping clergy who’ve been out of seminary 8-10 years. We had about four or five different groups over the years. The pastors who participated were great individuals. Seeing them grow, develop, and acquire leadership skills was a delight. I enjoyed helping to design that program and to see that come to fruition.

Looking back over the past 8 years, what makes you most proud?

Just seeing the students grow and develop. To see them grow in their faith, to grow intellectually, to see them prepared to go forth and to serve Christ and to serve the church, and to think that, in some small way, that I was contributing to what they are becoming and what they are doing — that is the greatest achievement. The faculty at Perkins is outstanding. Some are world-renowned scholars. I think we are providing a superior theological education. Just to be part of that community has meant so much to me. Most of my work has been around the lunch table — visiting students as they’re dropping by and talking, just being able to answer some of their questions, to point them in directions they may not have considered before. Being a part of that has been a joy.

It is impossible to overemphasize how blessed I have been in the ways the faculty and staff welcomed and included me.  Dean Hill welcomed me as a member of the Perkins Administrative Council and asked me to serve as the Parliamentarian at Faculty Meetings.  These opportunities provided me with a perspective to understand the heart and mission of the Perkins community. I have had the privilege of functioning in a wide variety of settings. Serving Perkins in this position produced unspeakable joy.

News Perspective Online Summer 2020

Student News

Masking with Love

Masks have sparked much political debate, but Amber Benson, an M.T.S. student and faculty member at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, sees a theological issue to consider. In a blog post, she compares mask-wearing to the Christian tradition of the kiss of peace. “It is an act of Christian solidarity that signals to the culture at large that there is value in every human created in the image of God,” she writes. “It declares to everyone who sees it that their life has immeasurable worth. That there is no self-interest that can usurp their wellbeing.”


New Book by Wallace Wyatt III

Wallace Wyatt III has announced that his new book, He’s Worth the Weight, is now available. In his autobiographic book, he writes, “Even after all the anger and demonization one may experience from [feelings of] lack, isolation and infiltration, fear and failure, and enslavement, God is worth enduring the weight of the journey. For more information or to order, visit

News Perspective Online Summer 2020

Faculty Update

Bill Lawrence Webinar

Check out this webinar from the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), “Methodism and the Academy in the 2020s and Beyond“? You can view the full recording here and learn what Dr. Bill Lawrence, professor of American Church History and former dean of Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, had to say about the future of United Methodist-related higher education.


Adult Bible Studies Fall 2020 Student

Dr. Charles Aaron, Co-Director of the Intern Program and Associate Professor of Supervised Ministry, is the author of a new Bible study published by Cokesbury.  Centered on the theme of Encounter, the lessons focus on salvation and what it means through example and explanation. Check out the book online at Adult Bible Studies Fall 2020 Student | Cokesbury



Digital Ministries Course

Perkins School of Theology is launching a new online course this fall to equip church leaders in emerging digital ministries for planning worship, preaching, teaching, pastoral care and other congregational leadership needs. Co-teachers are Dr. Marcell Silva Steuernagel, Assistant Professor of Church Music and Director of the Master of Sacred Music degree program, and Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of the Global Theological Education Program at Perkins. Drawing on expertise from Perkins faculty—who have created nationally distributed resources during the COVID-19 pandemic—and other global experts, the course is entitled “Social Innovation:  Creating World Changers with Emerging Digital Ministries.”  Read SMU’s announcement about the course here and an explanation of the need for the course in Inside Sources.

Webinar on Racism

Dr. Alyce McKenzie and Dr. Wes Allen of the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence recently led a webinar for clergy of the Northwest District (part of the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church) on the topic of “Preaching in a Pandemic of Racism: Strategies for Preparing Sermons that Offer both Challenge and Hope.” The courses led participants in an exploration of strategies for intentional self- awareness and preparation of sermons that address issues of systemic racism and our national narrative.

“Their wisdom, insight, and expertise challenged and provided practical methods for preaching about racial justice in our congregations,” said the Rev. Todd Harris (M.Div. ’90), District Superintendent of the Northwest District.  “I’m also grateful for the talented and committed preachers of the NW District who are laboring in the vineyards of the district and proclaiming the Good News of God’s work to liberate us from the sin of racism and guiding us toward a new future where God’s Kingdom is on earth as well as in heaven.”


Inviting Diversity

“If you drive through Dallas looking for religious institutions, you’ll see this sign over and over: Everyone Welcome,” writes Dr. Robert Hunt. “Practically speaking, everyone means no one.  Folks don’t go to church because everyone is welcome. People go to church because they were specifically welcomed in all their particularities.” Hunt wrote this in a recent op-ed in the Dallas Morning News entitled, “Welcoming diversity isn’t enough. We must invite it.” Read the op-ed here.


Natalia Marandiuc Selected as Templeton Fellow

Dr. Natalia Marandiuc, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Perkins School of Theology, has been selected to participate in the New Visions in Theological Anthropology (NViTA) Templeton Grant as a recipient of a Fellowship in Science-Engaged Theology. Administered by the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, this $3 million grant in science-engaged theology from the John Templeton Foundation aims to facilitate greater collaboration between scientists and theologians. Marandiuc is one of eleven scholars from the U.S., Canada, and Europe in the 2020 Cohort, which will gather through video links during the next months and at the University of St Andrews in 2021. Marandiuc’s focus will be her next monograph, provisionally titled Love and Human Thriving: A Feminist Soteriology. Read the press release here.