Rev. Deniece Mason, Perkins COSS alumna 2019.

At the conclusion of her first career, as a stay-at-home mom who raised five children, Deniece Mason felt a calling to ministry. But attending seminary wasn’t in the cards.

“I didn’t want to go back to school full time, and taking out loans at my age was not an option,” said Mason, who recently turned 60. Instead, she chose Perkins’ Course of Study School (COSS), which allows students to prepare for ministry through summer and part-time study. She completed the curriculum in 2019, and today, the Rev. Deniece Mason is pastor of Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church in Sachse, Texas.

The May 15 application deadline is nearing for the Course of Study School’s two 2020 summer sessions, which run July 6 – July 24 and July 27 – August 14. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer’s courses will be taught online.

“In the past few years, students have been on campus for the first week of classes and then completed the work online in the following two weeks,” said the Rev. Dr. Paul Barton, who directs the program. “This year, the program will be fully online for the health and safety of our students and faculty.”

The Course of Study School (COSS) is a program of The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) of The United Methodist Church, in partnership with and administered by Perkins. It provides a basic theological education, as prescribed by the United Methodist Book of Discipline (par. 1421.3d), to licensed local pastors. The Basic Course of Study is a 20-course curriculum required of all licensed local pastors who are not enrolled in a seminary degree program. In late March, GBHEM staff recommended that all regional programs not hold classes on their campuses in June and July.

Mason says she received a rigorous education, including classes with many of Perkins’ faculty members: Old Testament with John Holbert, Early Christian Church History with the late Bill Bryan, Ethics with Hugo Magallanes, and Worship and Sacraments with Mark Stamm, among others.

“We had the opportunity to study with some of the best professors, who really invested their time into the program,” she said. “At the same time, I feel we were uniquely prepared to do the practical work that a pastor’s job involves.” Mason took courses in Church Administration and Pastoral Counseling, for example, which taught skills she now uses almost daily.

Spanish Language Program

At Perkins, Course of Study School summer classes are offered in both English and Spanish. Perkins is one of only two theology schools in the United States authorized by GBHEM to provide the Course of Study in Spanish. Enrollment in the Spanish language program has grown steadily as Perkins’ Course of Study School expanded on a number of fronts. Last year, 90 students were enrolled, 27 of them in the Spanish language program, the highest total in recent years.

In 2017-18, the program transitioned to a hybrid format, combining both residential and online learning, allowing students to spend just one week on campus and complete the remaining two weeks online. Barton expects the program will return to that hybrid format after the pandemic.

“Once the outbreak of COVID-19 has passed and public gatherings are safe, we will return to our normal manner of delivering COSS,” he said.

In February 2020, the program expanded from its previous summer-only schedule to begin offering two courses in the spring semester and even more courses in the fall semester at Perkins. In addition, Perkins oversees three extension schools that offer courses for part-time local pastors: the Texas Annual Conference Extension, taught on Saturdays, with six courses in the spring (March – May) and fall (September – November) semesters; the North Texas Annual Conference Extension, which offers classes in the spring, summer and fall; and the Arkansas Annual Conference Extension, which offers Saturday classes at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark.

The program also recently added two satellite schools – in 2018, one in the Western Jurisdiction, taught in Spanish; and in 2020, at the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. Those are in addition to the established satellite school at McMurry University, with classes meeting once a month on Saturdays in the spring and fall.

This year, the program is also opening up opportunities to audit courses for continuing education to certified lay ministers involved in full-time ministry, and to clergy and pastors from United Methodist churches as well as other denominations.

“We are always looking for ways to adapt to changing times,” Barton said.

The Basic Course of Study curriculum includes 20 courses in four tracks: Theological Heritage, Pastoral Identity, Congregational Ministry and Bible. Students receive a certificate of completion when they complete the entire 20 courses. Completion of the Basic Course of Study makes the local pastor eligible for Associate Membership in the annual conference. Those who complete the Basic Course of Study may opt to continue in the Advanced Course of Study, which is designed to fulfill requirements for probationary and full membership in an annual conference and ordination where a non-seminary option is offered.

“It’s not just an easier way to get prepared for ministry,” said Mason. “It’s an opportunity for people who didn’t get this call early in life to follow their call. I’m just grateful that Perkins does this.”

For questions about registration, please call 214-768-2265 or email coss@smu.edu. Download the Course of Study School brochure here.