Doctor of Pastoral Music Research Showcase

Perkins School of Theology invites you to join faculty, students, and alumni at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, in Bridwell Library. The Sacred Music program at Perkins will host the first Doctor of Pastoral Music Research Showcase. The event will include academic presentations by current doctoral candidate Roger Holland and Stanton Nelson, a graduate. Presentations will be followed by a reception at Bridwell’s Gill Hall.

We invite you to attend in person or virtually. Click on the link below and register to participate: 

Our speakers

Stanton Nelson is a music associate at Highland Park UMC in Dallas and leads a non-profit organization, Noted with Honor, in order to compose pieces for hospice patients to honor their lives of faith. Besides self-publishing over 250 pieces of music, Stanton has released seven original composition albums: Genesis, From the Launchpad, On This Journey, Respite, With These People, Offertory and Glory to God. He holds a Bachelor of Music (Piano Performance) from the University of Kansas and a Master of Music (Collaborative Piano Performance) from the University of Michigan, as well as a Master of Divinity from The King’s University and a Doctor of Pastoral Music from Southern Methodist University.

Roger Holland II is a Teaching Associate Professor and director of The Spirituals Project at the University of Denver. A graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Roger is also the editor of the In Spirit and Truth series published by GIA Publications, Inc., which focuses on the idiomatic expressions of Black music for Black Catholics. His presentation is titled “The Theosonics of Black Catholic Spirituality.”



Tree of Life

A .pdf version of this article is available here.

Nature’s Books, Health and Spiritual Medicine at Bridwell Library
by Anthony Elia, Director and J.S. Bridwell Foundation Endowed Librarian

In the antique lands of Central Asia, the many languages that spread along the Silk Road through desolate passes, over sky-reaching mountains and into remote oases often shared vocabularies with the itinerating travelers who roamed its landscape. The similarities of one regional dialect with another stretched far back to a parent tongue that had some common meaning. These verbal relationships often took shape through environmental markings, objects, or food. In a few languages, the roots of the words for tree and medicine were identical. 

Anthony Elia

This same phenomenon was not unheard of in Europe, where the use of nature to acquire medicine was widely recognized and often used. Most notably, the extraction of salicylic acid, which is found in willow bark helped to mitigate fevers. Though, it wasn’t until 1899 that the chemical formulation was manufactured industrially as aspirin for the populace. 

Trees themselves may serve as one of nature’s most important apothecaries, but they may also be the nexus of human sustainability, growth and cultural development. In fact, beyond these healthful extractions from many trees — like alder as an astringent for wounds; ash as a laxative; beech for respiratory issues; and willow for inflammation and pain relief — the dendrological contributions to the world are even more extraordinary. Today, we live in a world that not only relies upon the legacy of trees and their medical uses, we also live on a planet that requires trees to function as the healthful filters of carbon dioxide, to yield lumber for building and furniture, to produce fruits that go to market. And the very tissue of these organic miracles offers endless possibilities to how civilizations were founded and evolved. In the pulp of ground up wood we have gone from making paper more than a millennium ago to ingloriously adding cellulose (“saw dust”) to packaged parmesan cheese for longevity!

The seldom-used word codex — meaning “book” or “manuscript volume”— comes from Latin and is related to the earlier term caudex — or, “tree trunk” and “block of wood.” Here again, we see the great trees of the earth grow up and produce the foundations of our global societies — arguably through the codification of human ideas. Perhaps a circular definition, codification itself comes from code (“a systematic compilation of laws”), which itself comes from codex (“a book”). Therefore, there has come to be a human belief that once ideas are set into physical space, into a fixed location, into a book, then into law and regulation, they are final and determine how we need to live our lives appropriately in society. 

This fixity, though, is much more malleable and fluid than many of us might imagine. Books themselves have evolved and changed. We have gone through revolutions in papermaking, ink development and printing advancements. We have seen the handwritten word yield to Chinese woodblocks, then Gutenberg in Mainz during the 15th century, commercial steel presses in the 19th century, and now digital publishing where the role of trees, wood and paper are diffuse, attenuated and obscured, but not absent. 

At Bridwell, the curious connections of tree, wood, book and text have come together in innumerable and surprising ways — not just in vast collections of historical medical books, like the Sellers Collection, for example, but in the very formulation of books as healthful curatives and medicines for our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual ills. It is no coincidence that the very objects that are kept on shelves or in secured chambers and bookcases themselves resemble the chemist shops of medieval China or the ancient Near East. Very much in the way that we take our medicines, which we hope will affect us, change us and enhance us positively, the encounter with the book does the same, though in very different ways depending on how a book appears to us and what it actually says.

I have had many daily encounters with books throughout my life, and I have had equally as many distinct experiences and reactions, especially among the extraordinary tomes at Bridwell. We all have our favorite titles—in history, arts, music, literature, poetry, and social sciences—and these fields connect with our own interests and desires, just as they help us grow, learn and discern the world around us. Throughout my life I have been transformed by the entrancing prose of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, among many others. The content and fluidity of their writing are not just points of information that I ingest, but soulful remedies to ills I didn’t even know I had.

When I first came to Bridwell, I looked at our collections with great amazement and awe. The gorgeous and weighty tomes had embossments, illuminated pages of golds, reds and blues, and sundry articulations of fanciful imaginary beasts. In more recent years, I have come across other interesting and even innovative examples that push and force the boundaries both of what it means to be a book, and what it means to be art.And our thoughtful and creative staff at Bridwell continue to amaze us with the remarkable, the unexpected, the sublime and the exceptional creations and inspirational acquisitions that will further our mission and elevate our standing as an institution of distinction. 

Among our favorite items that have recently been acquired are works that exist not simply as “traditional” or “regular” books but are themselves significantly beyond the boundaries of a traditional volume with pages and covers. Many so-called art books display aspects of sculpture and three-dimensionality that require the viewer to encounter the works in wholly new ways. 

These include: multi-colored pop-up books by Tauba Auerbach, rectangular tubal carved books by Ian Tyson, a pear and body-shaped book by Jan Sobota, the Circle Press wire and paper detachable puppet books by Ron King, and perhaps my favorite, the wood trunk “tree book” also by the same artist. Indeed, we have come full circle. A book that is a tree, now a tree that is a book, a reversal of time and process. Held with a leather cord binding, demonstrably unique in every way, it is connected to both nature and the earth. Different from the literary expressionism of my favorite writers, whose own words have transformed me for what they wrote, the Ron King “tree book” transforms us through encounter—like an experience of the divine, the participation in communion or the thoughtful meditation of prayer. I see it and behold it in shock, disbelief and uncertainty, only to be relieved in the acknowledgement that I’m privileged to experience such objects and they exist in Bridwell Library. The ability for us to transform after these encounters is crucial. That is the spiritual medicine of nature’s offering; it is also the medicine of the tree of life. 


Healing Ministries

A .pdf version of this article is available here.

Members of the Perkins community minister to the sick, the suffering, the marginalized and the dying, as chaplains, pastors and community leaders.

A 50-year-old man without health insurance walks into the ER at a county hospital with severe abdominal pain. After a few blood tests, a cursory exam and 12 hours in the waiting room, he’s given pain medication. He leaves the hospital with a huge bill — but no answers. And when the pain returns a few weeks later, he’s back in the ER again.

Now imagine repeating that scene again and again over the course of year.

The Rev. Freedom McAdoo tells this story to show how difficult it can be for uninsured people in underserved communities to navigate the healthcare system — and how the DFW Faith Health Collaborative, the nonprofit she leads, can assist.

“This gentleman didn’t know how to obtain a primary care provider within the hospital’s network,” said McAdoo, who is executive director and co-founder of the Collaborative. “He had no insurance and no idea how to get financial assistance for the hospital bill. He didn’t know the language to use to advocate for what he needed.” Volunteers in the Collaborative helped the man connect with a primary care provider and a gastroenterologist, who diagnosed an ulcer. Now he’s scheduled for a procedure which should help correct the problem.

That’s just one example of how DFW Faith Health Collaborative has helped people in marginalized communities. And McAdoo, who earned her M.Div. at Perkins in 2015, is just one of many members of the Perkins community —  alumnae/i, students and others — who are helping to minister to the physical, spiritual and mental health of the community. Here we meet just a few of them.

Freedom McAdoo | DFW Health Collaborative

DFW Faith Health Collaborative helps congregations create or strengthen their internal health ministry, establishing an avenue for local hospital systems to provide preventive information and local health resources. The Collaborative also trains a core group of volunteers in faith communities to support patients before, during and after hospital stays by assisting them in making healthier decisions, providing transportation to and from medical appointments, helping patients communicate their health needs with the appropriate care providers and connecting them to community resources that can help improve their quality of life.

Recently, the Collaborative deployed paid community educators to canvass homes in low-income neighborhoods to provide information on vaccinations. The Collaborative also offered COVID-19 education to the Fair Park community for more than six months and is currently supporting the programming of the vaccine distribution at McAdoo’s church, Abundant Life AME Church, as part of a partnership between the Collaborative, Abundant Life and MCI Diagnostics. (Dr. Michael W. Waters, a Perkins grad, is the church’s pastor.)

“We work with people in the community who need help understanding and navigating through the clinical space at hospitals and need to know how to advocate for themselves,” said McAdoo. “We have caregivers who partner and support their neighbors in navigating the health system. When that happens, we see better outcomes and patients live longer.”

Stephanie Bohan | Bonton Farms

Before Bonton Farms was established, access to healthy food in the Bonton neighborhood of Dallas was non-existent. Not surprisingly, the cardiovascular disease rate there is 54% higher than the rest of Dallas. Incidences of diabetes are 45% higher; cancer is 58% higher.

“So many of the diseases that are more prevalent in South Dallas are related to the lack of healthy food and the lack of access to preventative healthcare,” said Stephanie Bohan, an M.A.M. student at Perkins and Director of Health and Wellness Services at Bonton Farms.

Residents in the Bonton area also struggle with factors such as past incarcerations, poverty, underemployment and unemployment and lack of health insurance, all of which inhibit many from seeking health care.

“How do we get people well, rather than just treating disease?” Bohan said. “By offering easy-to-access preventive medicine and supportive services that promote wellness. Right now, people here tend to access medical care on an emergency basis. They don’t get routine primary care.”

Bonton Farms will soon build a 10,000-square-foot clinic, which will offer primary medical care provided by Parkland Hospital, as well as some specialty medical care. Bohan joined Bonton Farms recently, after ten years serving as executive director of the Agape Clinic, a free medical clinic in East Dallas.

“We hope the Bonton Farms Health & Wellness Center will become the medical home for our residents as well as a place where they come for exercise, nutrition, cooking classes and other educational programming that promotes health and wellness. We want to empower people to get healthy, so that we can break the cycle that has kept residents of south Dallas sick for so long.”

Bohan adds that her Perkins education — and in particular, the classes she has taken with Dr. Hal Recinos — are helping her better serve the mostly Black and Latino clients at Bonton Farms.

“His classes are teaching me cultural awareness, diversity and competence,” she said. “It’s helping me to meet people where they are, to understand them, honor them and give them their agency in their health decisions. Each culture views health and wellness differently. We strive to respect the cultural emphases of each patient’s beliefs, values and spirituality as they relate to their illness and treatment.”

Julie Yarbrough | Serving the Underserved

In 1921, a men’s Sunday school class at First United Methodist Church in Dallas identified an urgent need for medical care for people in Dallas’s southern sector. On Christmas eve in 1927, Methodist Dallas Hospital in Oak Cliff opened its doors.

Today, the not-for-profit Methodist Health System continues to offer compassionate quality healthcare. In 2020, Methodist spent some $180 million of its net patient revenue on charity and uncompensated care to provide healthcare services to the underinsured and uninsured patient population in the southern sector of Dallas County.

Julie Yarbrough, a member of the Perkins Executive Board, is immediate past chair of the Board of Methodist Health System and has served on this fiduciary board for 13 years.

“Methodist was created as a healing ministry,” Yarbrough said. “From humble beginnings, Methodist Health System has become one of the leading healthcare providers in the North Texas area.”

She is especially proud of the system’s response to COVID-19.

“People in the southern sector of Dallas have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because of preexisting healthcare conditions and large numbers of family members in the same households,” she said. “From the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the response of Methodist Health System has been collaborative, compassionate and mission-focused in order to save lives and keep patients and staff safe. The vaccine clinic at Methodist Dallas has administered almost 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.”

Yarbrough also ministers to those who grieve as author of a series of books on grief. She was motivated to write about grief after the 2004 death of her husband, the Rev. Leighton Farrell (M.Th. 1953), a United Methodist minister for over 50 years, and the death of her father eight months later.

“When Leighton died, I felt that something good must come out of his tragic and untimely death,” she said. “The only way this seemed possible was to write about the pain and suffering of this enormous loss to my life and find a way to share in the experience of grief with others.”

Yarbrough hopes her most recent book, Present Comfort: Meditations on Modern Loss and Grief (Invite Press, April 2021) will speak to readers following the extraordinary losses and upheavals that have affected so many in 2020, due to COVID-19, racial reckoning and natural disasters.

“In writing about grief, especially in the context of our current culture, I seek to meet those who grieve where they are emotionally and spiritually by offering comfort, encouragement and hope,” she said.

Willacin Precious Gholston | Called to Serve

In 2003, the Rev. Willacin Precious Gholston traveled to Botswana to serve at an AME mission. At the time, Botswana had the highest number of AIDS infections in the world, with one in three people infected. Daily, she witnessed people succumbing to the dreaded disease.

“I had people literally dying in my arms of AIDS,” she said. “While I was equipped to run the administrative side of the mission, I left the mission field desiring to acquire ministry training for how to be with people who are sick, suffering and dying.”

Gholston’s experiences in global missions put her on a path that brought her to Perkins, where she earned a M.Div. in 2009, ultimately leading to her current position as manager of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Programs at Methodist Health System in Dallas. She ministers to patients as a chaplain and leads the training and education for chaplain students in the hospital system.

“I’ve always wanted to walk with others, to affirm them that they are not by themselves,” she said. “Not to rescue them, but to sit with them and to be a resource.”

An ordained elder in the AME Church, Gholston proudly notes that no one on the chaplain staff at Methodist Charlton Medical Center contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic. Through a partnership with a local nonprofit, Gholston was able to obtain PPE for her staff independently, keeping them safe without taking away from the medical staff.

Gholston first learned about CPE certification in a course taught by Dr. Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner at Perkins.

“I was sitting in Jeanne’s class and realized, ‘This is exactly the type of training that I want and need,’” she said. “I knew I wanted to minister to the sick, the suffering and the dying.”

Courtney Webb | Connecting with Children

Courtney Webb (M.Div. 2017) was drawn to the chaplaincy in college, when she got to know the chaplain at her great-grandmother’s nursing home.

“Chaplain Ralph was incredibly kind and understanding,” she said. “I didn’t know it was a job before meeting him.”

Today, Webb is an ordained deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and a staff chaplain at Children’s Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston, providing spiritual care in the ER, the pediatric and neonatal ICUs, labor and delivery and pediatrics, and for hospital staff.

For Webb, it’s a dream job.

“It’s amazing to get paid to be with people who just need someone to listen or support them during challenging times in their life.”

Her special passion is for teens with behavioral and mental health issues.

“A lot of my job is just being with kids going through difficult things, who need to be able to talk about it,” she said. “I try to create a space for them to express themselves through play.”

She uses a church-based curriculum called Godly Play, which incorporates Bible stories like the parables of the mustard seed and the good shepherd. Sometimes she works with Holy Listening Stones, a set of 28 symbols that help spark conversations with young patients.

“We get to use all these different ways to be with kids, to give them a safe space and a way to find emotional and spiritual and physical healing,” she said.

Her job also involves hospitality — shepherding parents and family members during traumas and medial emergencies. “

“Sometimes I’m helping the parents find where they’re going, or helping them call other family members or just bringing a cup of water,” she said. “It’s being with them during that initial shock.”

Practicing Parish Medicine

While chaplains worked the front lines, many Perkins grads in parish ministry also worked to help protect the health of their communities. Many pivoted quickly to support COVID-19 testing locations, and later, as vaccination hubs.

Hamilton Park United Methodist Church in Dallas hosted COVID-19 testing in the summer of 2020, and this spring, offered its parking lot as a vaccination hub.

“Over the pandemic we developed a strong relationship with our neighbors and we want them protected,” said Dr. Sheron Patterson (M.T.S. 1983, M.Div. 1989, D.Min. 1996). “We spent the summer as a COVID-19 testing site. It was imperative that Black and Brown communities be tested. So it was only natural that we offer the COVID-19 vaccine. Also there is a hesitancy about the vaccine in our community and the church is a trusted voice.”

St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in Mesquite, Texas, helped replenish the Red Cross’ critically low supply of blood, starting in March 2020.

“We wanted to not only serve our congregation during this time but also to respond to the pandemic itself — to help support the public health effort and public health officials who were working to turn the tide,” said Dr. Geoffrey Moore (M.M. 2003, M.Div. 2010, Ph.D. 2020), the church’s lead pastor.

Brian Moeschler, a member of the church and a regional donor services executive with the American Red Cross Blood Services, alerted the church to the need. Sponsors of blood drives that had been scheduled for months were canceling, and the country was within days of running out of blood.

“All we needed to do was open our doors and provide space,” Moore said. “Of course, space was something we had in abundance. Our building was eerily silent and empty.”

The American Red Cross provided the staffing and followed protocols to ensure the safety of donors and volunteers. The first few drives were held in classrooms, but as the need grew, the church moved the drives to the sanctuary.

“Like the community that prayed there every week to become ‘the body of Christ for the world, redeemed by his blood,’ this community, too — or, perhaps, more literally — would be providing redeeming blood for a world in need,” Moore said.

Over the course of the last 16 months, the congregation of 150 people has hosted 31 drives and collected more than 900 units of blood, impacting more than 2,700 people.

“And more importantly, more than 900 people from the community around us — people who would never had known who we were — have come forward as donors to partner with us in this effort,” Moore said.



Bringing the Seminary to the Hospital: Q&A with Charles Milliken

A .pdf version of this article is available here.

Starting in the fall of 2018, students in Perkins School of Theology’s Houston-Galveston (H-G) Extension Program began reporting to Houston Methodist Hospital to attend many of their in-person classes. (Due to the pandemic, H-G classes shifted temporarily to fully online in 2020, and this year the program is meeting at another location.) The partnership between Perkins and Houston Methodist was shepherded by Dr. Charles R. Millikan, an ordained United Methodist clergyman and the hospital’s vice president for Spiritual Care and Values Integration. Millikan shared his perspective on how the two institutions work together to help students prepare for holistic ministry.

Q: How did Perkins H-G classes come to be located in a hospital?

A: A few years ago, Dean Craig Hill and I talked about re-invigorating the H-G program. At the time, the program was hosted at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, which was under construction and could no longer provide space for classes. So we got creative and put together a consortium of places in Houston where we could hold classes: St. Paul’s United Methodist in Houston, Moody Memorial Methodist in Galveston, St. John’s United Methodist in downtown Houston, and the hospital. So we have four sites, with Houston Methodist at the center. In non-pandemic times, most 
in-person classes are taught at the hospital, with some offered at the other three locations. H-G students spend 40% of the class time face-to-face and 60% online. Usually, the students attend the in-person classes in the evenings for one week at the beginning and end of the semester.

Houston Methodist became a center because it has phenomenal resources, including IT and food service. The hospital hosted the classes at no charge and provided meals to the students for free. The hospital also has tremendous conference space that can house as many students as need be, as few as 10 or as many as 50 students. We’re also located in the center of the Houston Museum District, which might lend itself in the future to interesting venues for courses, such as the Museum of Fine Arts or the Holocaust Museum.

The move to Houston Methodist took place in 2018, the same year that H-G launched its program in the hybrid format, combining in-person and online coursework. Full-time students may earn the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) in three years, or Master of Arts in Ministry (M.A.M.) degree in two years, without having to take courses at the Dallas campus. Houston-Galveston students take courses with many of the same professors as those students based at the Dallas campus, so this is a very appealing option to students who work in full-time ministry or in secular jobs.

Q: You also played a key role in the inception of the H-G program in 1994.

A: Yes. At the time, I was senior pastor at Moody Memorial Methodist, and there was no ATS-accredited seminary in the Houston area. I discussed the possibility of an extension campus with Dr. Robin Lovin, then dean at Perkins.  We held an Inside Perkins event in Houston at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church to gauge interest, expecting a dozen or so potential students. More than 150 attended and 64 enrolled! Moody donated $400,000 to help launch the program and St. Luke’s provided office space. United Methodist Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey and BJ Hightower (now a senior chaplain in the Houston Methodist system) were among the students in the first classes in the program.

Q:  What are the advantages of situating theology classes in a major medical center?

A: Perkins shares a similar culture and sense of mission as Houston Methodist, which is a faith-based hospital system. As a Methodist institution, the hospital treats patients holistically, where spiritual care is seamlessly integrated into the physical care. The partnership provides a great training ground for anyone who aspires to go into ministry, and especially for those with an interest in the chaplaincy.

Another advantage: at the hospital, you’re around other people, not just theological students. We’re in the center of a very large Methodist institution. Students are studying in a place where birth, death and healing are taking place round the clock.

The partnership has sparked some unique collaborative courses, including an elective course called Health Care Holy Care, usually offered during the January term. Taking advantage of the hospital setting, students “shadow” chaplains at Houston Methodist and attend lectures on pastoral listening skills, bereavement, spiritual care, confidentiality, compassion fatigue and topics such as suffering and God’s will, or how to deal with patients who pray for miracles, or those whose religious beliefs may lead to harm. This course is open to all Perkins students regardless of their campus location but tends to attract students who have a particular interest in chaplaincy.

The H-G Extension Program also occasionally offers an elective in Bioethics, team-taught by Dr. Dallas Gingles, site director of the Houston-Galveston Extension Program, and Baylor University’s Janet Malek, who is also director of the Houston Methodist Biomedical Ethics Program. We have incredible resources of people here who can assist Perkins professors in teaching specialized courses without having to travel.

I believe that offering training in hospital chaplaincy will open up additional job opportunities for Perkins graduates. Many churches are no longer hiring ordained persons, so graduates need to find places where their ministries can flourish.

Q: What natural connections do you see between theology and health?

A: It’s imperative to understand that there are certain social determinants of health that get in the way of healthy living. Wesley’s understanding of theology is that we’re all to live healthy lives. A hospital is not just a place you go when you’re ill; it’s a place you go to stay well. We are constantly looking at ways to help people find ways to remain well. Part of that is educating ourselves on having regular checkups, understanding what it is to combat these social determinants of health, such as the lack of transportation, the lack of food, the lack of medication, as well as providing spiritual and emotional support when a person is going through a trial of some kind. So, we see the very two as very closely related.

Q:  Talk about how COVID has affected the H-G program and how it might change the program going forward.

A: Since the pandemic began, we have ministered to more than 17,000 COVID-19 patients. At the peak of the pandemic, Houston Methodist had more than 800 COVID patients in the hospital. During the pandemic, in-person classes were suspended for H-G students. We had hoped to be able to resume face-to-face classes at the hospital in the fall, but the Delta variant of the coronavirus made that impossible, unfortunately. Instead, H-G students are meeting in person this fall at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston.

Interestingly, very few people have had the flu during the last 18 months or so. That’s because they have been social distancing, wearing a mask and keeping their hands clean. When I started working here, I kept catching colds. A medical colleague asked me, “How often are you washing your hands?” Apparently, not often enough! I started washing them often, and it really makes a difference.

Q: Do you see opportunities for further initiatives in the partnership between Perkins and the hospital?

A: We’re looking into creating a program for a doctorate in clinical theology that would be open to social workers and physicians who have a lifelong desire for learning. Many people who work here have a desire to understand how spirituality can be researched — how to do research with faculty and with students.

We also hope to offer additional courses and seminars down the road for physicians and other hospital staff with an interest in spirituality and medicine. Houston Methodist is part of Texas Medical Center; the complex is home to 50 different medical agencies — hospitals, clinics, medical and nursing schools — and employs 100,000 people. People who work in the hospital setting love to learn. We have many people here who are interested in exploring their spiritual side. Perkins can offer opportunities to talk about culture, purpose, mission and philosophy in a high-quality academic education.

Q: Many low-income people have no access to good healthcare (or health care). How can hospitals ensure care is extended to all who need it?

A: I’m proud of how Houston Methodist Hospital has worked to make medical care more accessible to more people. We understand that once we have a patient, they are a patient for life. Every patient at the hospital is given a doctor and an appointment within 30 days after leaving the hospital. We make sure they have a medical home outside of our medical departments.

Houston Methodist also has a very robust charity program, where we donate more than $1 billion in medical care for patients who cannot pay their bills. Roughly 20% of our budget goes to charity care. We also partner with federally qualified and charity clinics in Houston neighborhoods. During COVID-19, for example, we brought the vaccinations to these clinics to help our vulnerable neighborhoods.

Q: What “fruits” do you envision will result from the partnership in the future?

A: Collaboration and partnerships work best when you’re in the church and in ministry. There are several things that Houston Methodist could learn from SMU, and that Perkins could learn from us.

This hospital is a parish. We can do things united that we possibly never could have done separately. For Perkins to be conjoined with one of the country’s top hospitals for patient care, research, and education helps pastors cope and learn and work with people who excel in the medical industry.

I’m proud that Houston Methodist is connected with Perkins in Dallas, and we’re proud to contribute to the success of SMU.


Physician of the Soul

A .pdf version of this article is available here.

Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner teaches students to practice self-care

As professor of pastoral care and pastoral theology, Dr. Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner sees the many connections between theology, health and medicine. When pastors understand those links, she says, they are better equipped to serve and to practice self-care. Stevenson-Moessner, an ordained clergyperson in the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), shares her insights into the links between the disciplines.

Q: How did you become interested in the interconnectedness of theology and health?

A: A catalyst for me was a conference in Boston at Deaconess Hospital sponsored by Harvard Medical School called Spirituality and Healing that I attended in the 1990s. It was led by a Harvard cardiologist, Herbert Benson, who wrote a groundbreaking book in 1975 called The Relaxation Response. He showed that cardiac patients undergoing heart surgery did better on the operating table and post-operatively if they were involved in some relaxation response before surgery. By “relaxation response” he meant a bodily state of deep rest brought on by prayer, yoga, chanting or repetitive motion as well as other forms of meditation from other faith traditions. Through statistical, empirical, quantifiable research, this was clinically proven. Similarly, research has suggested that patients who are prayed for (by people they do not know, with the patients unaware of the prayers) have significantly better medical outcomes. This research is a bit more ambiguous, and still ongoing, but the possibilities fascinate me.

I began to see that theology is not just relegated to the soul. Theology, to me, underscores the interrelationship among the soul, the body, the mind and culture. I became fascinated by the term “physicians of the soul.” It came from John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th century C.E., who talked about dis-eases of the soul. I’m beginning to look at the term, to see if we can reclaim that concept as we religious professionals work in partnership with other healers. 

Q: What makes you so passionate about this personally? 

A: I grew up in a medical family. My father was a physician specializing in internal medicine. Among other family members, I also had two uncles who were surgeons. My family was involved in the care of the body, which I thought was separate from theology, which only related to the soul. But then I discovered that in ancient cultures, and even in not-so-ancient cultures, the religious leader and the healer were the same person. That was a real awakening for me. I began to open up to the impact of spirituality on healing of the body. 

I remember talking to my dad in his office at Methodist Hospital in Memphis. He had stacks and stacks of medical journals on his desk. He was behind on his reading, he said, because he spent much of his time listening to his patients. He heard their aches and pains inside, not just what was going on bodily. He made house calls. He sat with patients who were elderly and alone, who were dying, who had no one. His manner was a wonderful example of the art of medicine. 

As he talked about listening to people’s stories, I thought, ‘That is what I want to do. I want to listen to people’s personal pain and hear about their invisible aches.’ I didn’t know how I was going to do it but that is what I wanted to do. Growing up as a woman in a southern, conservative home, medicine was never an option. But eventually, at Princeton Theological Seminary, I learned how to listen to the internal aches and pain and scarring of people. I didn’t have the chance to become a medical doctor, but I could be a physician of the soul. That’s part of pastoral care: being a good listener and allowing people to talk about the scarring they’ve endured. 

It’s also become clear to me that any violation of the body is a spiritual issue.  

The rape, battering and mutilation done to the bodies of womenthose are theological issues. Protestants have been impoverished because we have not done much with Mary. We were afraid we might idolize her, so we went the opposite direction, and lost some of the importance of the incarnation. God became flesh – not just spirit – in the body of a woman. God dwelt among us in a physical body. That’s a huge part of my understanding of the connection between theology and health.

Q: Pastors and clergy have always played a role in caring for the sick. Has that practice evolved over the course of your career?  

A: Pastors have learned to care for themselves, to protect themselves against compassion fatigue. There were a couple of studies that triggered this. One study out of Austin Theological Seminary showed a very high rate of burnout among clergywomen who were in years 3-5 of their ministry. They gave it their all, sometimes while caring for children or aging parents, and it just overcame them. This was alarming. Similarly, Duke University did a comprehensive study in 2008, as part of the Clergy Health Initiative, where they interviewed almost every United Methodist minister in North Carolina, then compared them to their nonclergy peers with the same demographics. The results were shocking. In almost every category, UMC ministers were less healthy in mind, body and soul. They had more instances of problems like diabetes, arthritis, and depression than their non-ministerial peers. 

We’ve woken up to the fact that, yes, we can continue caring for the sick, but foremost, we need to make sure we care for ourselves. That’s one of the most significant changes in the years that I’ve been in this field. 

Q: You teach an elective course in Pastoral Self-Care. Talk a little about that. 

A: Yes, it’s an entire course in self-care, anchored in the Holy Scriptures. We look at other faith traditions as well, but mainly the Christian tradition. Luke 10:27 says to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” The last injunction, “love yourself,” has been largely neglected in religious circles. 

In the course, we bring in experts who talk to students about financial and nutritional health. We have an SMU nutritionist who talks about caring for the body with nutrition. We bring in someone from the Texas Methodist Foundation who talks about getting one’s financial household in order. We have someone from the health center talk about depression, which is a high risk among clergy. 

We’re training students at Perkins to realize there are three loves: love of God, neighbor and self, and they’re interconnected. Students are graduating from here not feeling guilty about working a self-care program for themselves. We’ve had this elective course in place since 2005, and as far as I’m aware, we’ve not had any former students who’ve dropped out of ministry due to compassion fatigue.  

Q: What is the career outlook for students who specialize in pastoral care? 

A: It’s excellent. As examples, our graduates are serving in hospices and other palliative care organizations. We have a number who are chaplains in hospitals. There’s one in the oncology unit at Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas. We have a number of alums who are Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) supervisors around the country. One graduate is at C.C. Young Retirement Community in Dallas, working in palliative and elder care. We have a graduate who is working with justice issues and the underserved at CitySquare. Another graduate, the Rev. Deanna Hollas (M.Div., 2015) is minister of Gun Violence Prevention for Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. She’s the first in the nation.

Q: How has COVID-19 changed the pastoral care profession? Do you envision ways that pastoral care may change long-term, even after the pandemic is over? 

A: One thing is clear: more senior ministers will be leaving the ministry soon. A recent Barna survey of Protestant pastors of all denominations found that 29% had given “real, serious consideration to quitting full-time ministry” during the COVID pandemic. Pastors are tired. During the pandemic, they didn’t have in-person contact. They couldn’t make visits in hospital or home. They’ve had to instead concentrate on video productions. There’s a kind of electronic fatigue that set in. Also, politics sometimes take over the congregational life. That sometimes gets very acrimonious. Many senior pastors are thinking, “Maybe it’s time for me to retire.”

On the positive side, some of our younger graduates, who are ten years or less into ministry, have asked for help during this very hard time. That is something we ministers have not done in the past. It was seen as a sign of weakness. Now we’re teaching that to ask for help when you need it is a sign of strength. That’s been a huge shift. We had a group of alums that formed a support group during the pandemic. They met for several weeks during the pandemic. Bravo. Our students have learned the importance of support groups and of having conversation partners. They have learned to ask for help when they need it. That’s progress. 


Healthcare Chaplaincy

A .pdf version of this article is available here.

M.Div. Concentration prepares students to minister to those who are suffering

When she was just 17, Genie Potes’s mother was murdered by her stepfather. Potes had the support of family in the aftermath, but in retrospect, she didn’t receive the kind of spiritual guidance she needed during that agonizing time.

As a result, “I turned my back on God for 20 years,” she said.

Genie Potes

Potes did find her way back to faith — and to a calling to help others in crisis as a chaplain. She served as a Stephen minister in her church and as a lay chaplain at Houston Methodist Hospital.

Now, as a Perkins student preparing to become a full-time, board-certified chaplain, Potes is grateful for the new concentration in Healthcare Chaplaincy offered at Perkins School of Theology.

The program was launched last fall and is open to all Master of Divinity students. To date, four have enrolled.

“This is a unique opportunity for students to study theology and learn from seasoned chaplains and hospital administrators at the same time,” said Dr. Hugo Magallanes, associate dean for Academic Affairs. Most in-person classes for the Houston-Galveston (H-G) program are taught at Houston Methodist Hospital as part of a partnership that creates a number of opportunities for Perkins students interested in chaplaincy.

In addition to the basic requirements of an M.Div., students who enroll in the concentration must complete 12 hours of required courses, including Level 1 Clinical Pastoral Education, Bioethics, and Health Care/Holy Care, a January term immersion course that gives students hands-on experiences at Houston Methodist Hospital. In addition, students must complete six hours (two courses) in core electives, choosing from 13 options, including; Disability Studies; the Bible and Theology; Patristic Anthropology and Soteriology; Ethics, Theology, and Children; Ethics, Theology, and Family; Contemporary Moral Issues; and Evil, Suffering and Death in the New Testament. Students are also required to participate in two one-day events (one per semester), that include a lecture sponsored by Houston Methodist Hospital, participation in a shadowing program, and sharing their personal reflections with seasoned hospital chaplains and administrators.

Michele Mrak

Students currently enrolled in the concentration say the coursework provides solid spiritual and intellectual grounding for their planned careers. Michele Mrak, a part-time M.Div. student, praised an elective course, Evil, Suffering and Death in the New Testament, taught by Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles.

“She probed into death and dying from a scriptural perspective that was so powerful and so enlightening,” Mrak said. “That really brought out for me why we’re doing this kind of work in the world. It’s about the transformative love of God.”

Potes praised Pastoral Care Special Problems, an elective taught by 
Dr. Charles Millikan in 2020.

“We learned about other people’s faiths, to be able to take the good from them and help us grow spiritually,” she said. “There was a section dealing with end-of-life issues, including the debate about quality of life versus quantity of life. We also studied a book, Tales from the Bedside, about one minister’s work in pastoral care in hospitals. Of all the classes I’ve taken so far, this one has spoken to me the most.”

Professional Preparation

The Healthcare Chaplaincy concentration is one step toward certification as a professional chaplain, which also requires a bachelor’s degree, an M.Div., and a full year in a clinical pastoral education (CPE) residency. Houston Methodist is one of the largest CPE programs in the state of Texas, with 31 CPE students in the hospital system.

Claudia Stephens

Claudia Stephens, a part-time M.Div. student enrolled in the concentration, earned the first unit for her CPE last summer at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

“I worked everywhere they would allow us to go — the emergency room, surgery, labor and delivery and the ICUs,” she said. “This was during COVID, but I loved every single minute of it. You’re helping people who are in crisis. I want to be there for people. I want to encounter them at this critical crossroads.” The Healthcare Chaplaincy concentration is open to Perkins students in Dallas as well as those in the Houston-Galveston program. Dallas students must travel to Houston in order to complete the additional course requirements not available online or in Dallas. There is no required timeline as long as students earn sufficient hours/credit to fulfill the requirements of this concentration.

Program leaders say the Healthcare Chaplaincy concentration responds to student interest as well as market demand for chaplains.

“We are seeing a large number of students and prospective students who are interested in chaplaincy, especially hospital chaplaincy,” said Dr. Dallas Gingles, site director of the Houston-Galveston Extension Program. “There is also a growing demand in clinical settings for chaplains and others who are capable of serving the spiritual needs of their people (both patients and providers), as well as for those who are capable of serving on ethics boards and helping to shape the culture of the institution. We think that this concentration will help our students develop those skill sets.”

Chaplaincy offers career opportunities at a time when employment options for M. Div. graduates are dwindling. A growing number of other institutions — hospitals as well as corporations and the military — will look to add chaplains in the coming years. As an example, Houston Methodist’s staff has grown over the past 15 years, from a dozen to 85 chaplains (36 part-time and full-time staff chaplains, 18 affiliated chaplains, and 31 chaplain residents and extended students).

Wounded Healers

Like Potes, each of the students enrolled shared a personal experience that shaped their interest in the chaplaincy.

Bryan Hoff

Bryan Hoff was in the room when his wife’s aunt passed away in 2013. It was a sad occasion, but also a pivotal one. Death, he believes, is a sacred transition, like birth and marriage. He hopes to serve patients and their family members in this difficult time.

“That’s why I’m so drawn to palliative care,” said Hoff, a second-year M.Div. student. “I feel a call from God that is humbling. It’s not a sense of heroism but a sense of mourning and crying with those who experience a genuine loss.”

A series of deaths in her family also led Claudia Stephens to choose the Healthcare Chaplaincy concentration. She lost her husband, mother, father, sister and several extended family members within the space of just a few years.

“Each death was different, but all engaged me at a powerful emotional and spiritual level,” she said. “Some might wish to run from that. But I felt loved, protected and upheld by God, the world and other people during those horrible days. I want to be with people who are in those situations, to help them connect with their spirituality.”

Potes concurs, adding that she’s grateful for this Healthcare Chaplaincy concentration. Said Potes, “It’s preparing me to do what I feel God’s calling me to: meeting people in those sacred spaces where they are hurting, and trying to lift them up spiritually, knowing that the mind, body and spirit are all connected.”



Body and Soul

A .pdf version of this article is available here.

Among the early public health advocates was none other than John Wesley, Methodism’s founder.

John Wesley founded the Methodist movement, which would lead to the creation of Methodist seminaries, among them the Perkins School of Theology.

The 18th century Englishman remains a figure of interest at Perkins, and one who can be studied in various ways.

There’s Wesley the evangelist, Wesley the preacher, Wesley the theologian, Wesley the organizer, Wesley the abolitionist.

And there’s John Wesley the wellness advocate, who advised people on how to take care of their bodies as well as their souls.

“He’s almost like a woke health nut, constantly talking about what you should be eating and what you should not,” said Ted Campbell, Albert C. Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins, and editor of three volumes of Wesley’s letters.

Wesley recommended a “vegetable diet,” lots of walking and horseback riding, abundant consumption of water and very little of strong alcoholic beverages.

He was fascinated by electricity and even operated a machine that gave people jolts for headaches and other ailments.

“Some people say he’s the inventor of electric shock therapy,” Campbell said.

As a young man, Wesley read medical texts for his own edification and to prepare himself for his missionary stint in colonial Georgia, ministering 
to Native peoples.

Back in England, working as an itinerant, revivalist Anglican clergyman, he recognized that many people had little access to healthcare or even basic information about diet, exercise and medicine.

Wesley sought to fill those gaps and his efforts had a theological dimension, suggests Elaine Robinson, who earned her M.T.S. at Perkins in 1995, and now is professor of Methodist Studies and Christian Theology at Saint Paul School 
of Theology.

“I view Wesley’s holistic concern for health through the lens of the incarnation,” Robinson said. “The Word became flesh, as if to remind us of the goodness of our physical bodies. Wesley understood that the body is the ‘temple of God.’ Our bodies experience and share the gospel with others. If we don’t care for our physical wellbeing, our spiritual lives will likely suffer as well, making it difficult for us to go on to perfection in love.”

Wesley’s correspondence is a good place to witness his concern for others’ health.

“He’s always giving medical advice in the letters,” Campbell said.

Among the original, handwritten Wesley letters at SMU’s Bridwell Library is one he wrote on June 15, 1789, to a friend in London.

“It gives me much satisfaction to hear that sister Dickenson’s health, both of soul and body, increases,” Wesley begins. “Certainly, exercise is the best medicine for both. Therefore, you should encourage her to use it constantly and, as far as may be, in the open air.”

In another letter at Bridwell, dated Oct. 13, 1784, Wesley describes nettle tea as “the best bracer in the world” and as a backup suggests “elixir of vitriol,” noting precisely how it should be diluted, and recommending that it be taken at either 10 a.m. or 11 a.m.

In the Bridwell collection is a Nov. 20, 1769, letter in which Wesley writes to a friend: “If you love the souls or bodies of men, recommend everywhere the Primitive Physick.”

That was the short book in which Wesley compiled his health advice, and it was a best-seller. Primitive Physick “crossed the Atlantic Ocean and made it into the saddlebags of Methodist itinerants and into the homes of the laity,” wrote historian Elizabeth Georgian.

Bridwell has six 18th-century copies of Primitive Physick, said R. Arvid Nelsen, curator for rare books & manuscripts and librarian for special collections. The earliest is dated 1747, the year of the book’s publication.

Primitive Physick has some curious remedies — such as, for headaches, applying to each temple “the thin yellow rind of a lemon” — but also sound tips about exercise, diet and rest.

“If we Methodists followed Wesley’s advice, we would have healthier congregations today!” Robinson said.

Campbell notes that Wesley had lots of ailments of his own and often was convinced he was near death, causing him to rewrite his will several times, with consequences for the Methodist movement.

But Wesley lived to age 87 — an extremely long life in the 18th century.

Wesley’s attention to wellness is memorialized in the Wesley Nurse program operated by Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas.

The program places scores of registered nurses in United Methodist churches of the Rio Texas Conference, headquartered in San Antonio. These parish nurses work closely with pastors, including some who studied at Perkins.

The Rev. Cathe Evins is beginning her fifth year as pastor of First United Methodist Church of Sequin, Texas, and Danna Meyers has been a Wesley nurse there for more than 11 years.

“Danna attends our weekly staff meetings and is truly an asset in planning our ministries and programming,” said Evins, who earned her M.Div. at Perkins in 2000 and serves on the Perkins Alumni/ae Council.

Meyers has set up blood drives, flu shot clinics, parenting classes, grief support classes and Alzheimer’s support groups. For low-income residents, she operates a diaper bank and helps arrange for financial help with prescriptions, housing and utilities.

While based at the church, Meyers is out and about often, a health-care-providing equivalent of the circuit-riding Methodist preachers of yesteryear.

Evins could preach all day on the benefits of the Wesley Nurse program.

“To me, it is a very holistic approach to caring for people — meeting spiritual needs but also meeting physical, mental and emotional needs,” she said.

Many people who get help from a Wesley Nurse are non-Methodists who have no idea who Wesley was.

But as a Perkins student, Evins came to appreciate John Wesley’s life and ministry.

“I don’t think he would mind his name being associated with a Christian-based approach to health and wholeness that meets needs both within the church and in the community.”