Mark Stamm’s vocation centers on the study of Christian worship, theology and practice of the sacraments within Methodism. His vacations, however, tend to focus on baseball.
Rooting his academic work is a firm conviction that the way Christians worship affects much more than just what happens on Sunday mornings.
“There is not a hard boundary between worship life and the rest of our life as Christian people,” he said. “There ought never be a hard boundary. When we see worship as this walled off, pious practice that doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the world, then we’re in trouble.”
Stamm is currently working on an article for Doxology, an online liturgical studies journal, looking at intercessory prayer in wedding ceremonies. In his 2015 book, Devoting Ourselves to the Prayers: A Baptismal Theology for the Church’s Intercessory Work, he described intercessory prayer as a vocation rooted in church members’ common baptism. Intercession, he believes, should be directed to those in the church as well as those beyond the walls of the church.
“We never gather simply for our own edification,” he said. “It’s always with our eyes toward the rest of the world. One place we embody that is in our prayers. Prayer is an exercise in imagination, but we don’t imagine very well, if we haven’t thought deeply. Yes, we pray for the people we know, but we need to get beyond that. When we do that, our imagination and perception of the world is widened, and our sense of compassion grows.”
Stamm also performs a leadership role in worship in the Perkins community, as Chapel Elder, a job he jokingly calls “chief cat herder” for weekday worship services at Perkins.
He is also a longtime member of The Order of Saint Luke, a religious order rooted in Methodism and dedicated to sacramental and liturgical scholarship, education and practice. Because, as he says, “I tend to be the guy who remembers most of the stories,” he’s now directing an effort to collect narratives about the history of the order for its upcoming 75th anniversary in 2021.
“One of the things I love doing more than anything is hearing people’s stories,” Stamm said. He’s also working on a memoir of the late Horace T. Allen Jr., a Boston University theologian and Stamm’s doctoral advisor.
“Horace taught me a lot, and I’ve realized more and more how much of what he taught me lives in me,” he said. “My students probably get tired of hearing about him.”
Before coming to Perkins 20 years ago, Stamm spent 17 years in parish ministry, most of those in the Central Pennsylvania Conference. Since 2008, he has been a member of the North Texas Conference and still makes it a point to speak often on Sunday mornings in local churches. The COVID-19 crisis has created an interesting opportunity for what he calls a “resetting of perspective.”
“Much of what I do is an exercise in thinking about what it means to be baptized and what it means to live out the spirituality of baptism, which is really discipleship,” he said. “We’re figuring out how to sustain chapel and community worship during this time. In a way, we have to reconceive what it means to gather.”
When he’s not working in academia, Stamm’s attention often turns to a second passion: baseball. He’s a regular attendee at Texas Rangers games and an active member of the Society for American Baseball Research. On vacation, he likes to visit ballparks around the United States – and he’s been to many of them.
“I have been to all 30 of the major league baseball parks currently in use, and 38 in total,” he said. “I’m waiting to make it 39 at Globe Life Field in Arlington.”
With baseball season on hiatus, right now he’s making do by watching replays of key games, like the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Stamm’s love of baseball began at age 8, when he was a preacher’s kid living in Stewartstown, Pa. He recalled, “The Yankees had dominated the American League for 45 years, but finally some other teams were up and coming, and the Baltimore Orioles were just 45 minutes away.”
Rites of Christian initiation, the practice of “open communion” in Methodism, theology and practice of congregational intercession
Favorite Bible Passage
Stamm says he’s continually fascinated by Acts 2, a passage about the baptism of a group of converts. Afterward, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, NSRV)
“That really speaks to the way I perceive my life and my teaching,” he said. “There’s this connection between liturgical worship life and the way that, properly understood, that should overflow into all of life.”
Book on His Nightstand
He’s currently reading the 18th installment of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith, having already read the Professor Dr. von Igelfeld/Portuguese Irregular Verbs Series by the same author. Stamm calls Smith a “subversive traditionalist”; he discovered his work after SMU presented Smith with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 2009.
Fantasy Dinner Party
Stamm would invite just one guest: the late baseball great Frank Robinson, the only player to be named Most Valuable Player of both the National League and the American League, and the first African American manager in Major League Baseball. “He had about every job you could have in Major League Baseball from 1955 until the early 2010s,” Stamm said. “I regret that I never had the chance to meet him.”
Stamm and his wife, Margaret, an RN, celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last summer. The couple has two grown sons, Timothy and Matthew.