January 2021 News Perspective Online

Zooming Out

The pandemic has “grounded” faculty at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. Many normally travel regularly for lectures, conferences and other speaking opportunities — most of which were cancelled in 2020. But, if there’s a silver lining, the pandemic sparked a move toward virtual programming, dissolving constraints of geography, eliminating the cost of travel, and sparking innovative projects and collaborations.

In many ways, Perkins faculty members have expanded their reach and connected with new audiences. Since the pandemic closed down travel in March 2020, Perkins faculty have preached, lectured, led webinars and taught virtually overseas and across the U.S. Marcell Silver Steuernagel preached via Zoom to virtual gatherings based in Norway and Brazil. Sze-kar Wan preached via Zoom to the congregation at his previous church, First Baptist of Newton, Mass., from Taiwan, while on sabbatical there.

Faculty also found innovative ways to collaborate. Ruben Habito guided theatergoers through a meditation exercise, virtually, as part of a collaboration of artists at Cara Mia Theater. They also found ways to support pastors and student pastors as they navigated the challenges posed by COVID-19: Steuernagel and Robert Hunt launched a new course on digitally mediated ministry; Alyce McKenzie and O. Wesley Allen created a new video series exploring topics related to preaching and the COVID-19 pandemic, racism and more, offered through the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence

“I’m amazed and gratified by the incredible creativity I’m seeing, the many unexpected opportunities that have arisen, and the inspiring ways that our faculty members have responded despite the limitations imposed by the pandemic,” said Dean Craig Hill.

Here’s a rundown of some of the ways that faculty members ventured, virtually, beyond the campus of Perkins in 2020.  Many of these programs are available online; click the links provided.

Ted A. Campbell
Professor of Church History

Campbell presented a dialogue sermon via Zoom on All Saint’s Sunday (November 1) as part of the AnchorPoint service at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Watch the service here.

Locally, Campbell has taught the Good News class at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church (LLUMC) in Dallas weekly via Zoom since March.  The Wednesday-evening contemplative Renew service, which he has led for years at LLUMC, continued via a Facebook livestream. He also participated in a PhD oral exam at Garrett Theological Seminary via Zoom.

Campbell’s university and denominational work also continued via Zoom, as he served on search committees for a new chaplain at SMU and for a new General Secretary of the General Commission on Archives and History of the UMC. Both searches have concluded with invitations to candidates to these positions.

On May 4, Campbell conducted a webinar on “A Day in the Life of John Wesley” offered through the Office of External Affairs.

Isabel Docampo
Director, Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions
Co-Director of the Intern Program
Professor of Supervised Ministry

At Grace United Methodist Church in Dallas, Docampo taught Sunday School via Zoom for six weeks this past spring and co-led an Anti-Racism Discussion Group with the Rev. Adam White.

She served on the board of directors planning the 2020 Nevertheless She Preached virtual event, which took place in September. The event featured a Perkins-sponsored Zoom Room led by Jaime Clark-Soles.

Docampo led a small citizens’ group discussion on the Dallas City Budget and offered the group’s proposal, virtually, to city council members in August on behalf of the nonprofit “OurCityOurFuture.” The goal was to offer ideas to the city council about how to bring more resources to distressed areas of the city in light of the racial disparities of north and south Dallas. Docampo was also part of the Poor People’s Campaign of Dallas that planned how to best organize volunteers to help register voters and to take voters to the polls.

Along with Chuck Aaron and Ángel Gallardo, Docampo set up an extra support Zoom event for all of the Intern Program’s Mentor Pastors in July, titled “Mentoring during the Pandemic,” which garnered excellent feedback.

Ruben L. F. Habito
Professor of World Religions and Spirituality
Director of Spiritual Formation

Habito continues to lead twice-weekly meditation sessions via Zoom at the Maria Kannon Zen Center (locally housed at White Rock UMC in East Dallas) along with occasional talks on themes in spiritual practice.  He has also uploaded several short videos on YouTube on themes such as “Spiritual Practice in Time of Contagion” and “Finding Love Everywhere.” Visit Maria Kannon’s YouTube channel at

He also lectured via Zoom to a Comparative Theology class at St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota and led a Zoom session on interfaith engagement for a class in Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Habito offered guidelines for spiritual practice in times of COVID in an interview with the Rev. Blair Thompson-White of Arapaho United Methodist Church in Dallas in late March.  Watch the video here.

In June, Habito presented a Zoom Lecture for Cara Mia Theatre’s series “Becoming a Light onto Yourself and Others.” Habito’s lecture was on “Agape/Karuna: Love and Compassion in Christianity and Buddhism.”

A guided meditation that Habito had recorded earlier for YouTube found a second life as part of a multimedia exhibit called Remember. Breathe. Dream. at Cara Mia Theatre. The exhibit included installations created by Cara Mía’s Playwright in Residence Virginia Grise, Dallas sculptor Andrew Scott in collaboration with Habito, and storyteller and healer Stefanie Tovar. Read more about the exhibit in this Dallas Morning News story.

Robert Hunt
Director of Global Theological Education

Along with Marcell Silva Steuernagel, Hunt launched a course on Emerging Digital Ministries, helping students who are also pastoring congregations as they adapt to the online environment for worship, pastoral care and evangelism. Read about it here.  Hunt also launched the second season of his podcast, Interfaith Encounters, focusing on religious freedom.

Hunt has taught online Sunday School classes virtually for several Dallas area churches: Lake Highlands UMC, Highland Park UMC, Lover’s Lane UMC, and First UMC Richardson. He has also been working with Tennison Memorial UMC in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, to help church leaders improve their online worship.

He has also led and moderated webinars through the Office of External Programs and was a leader in the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom conference on Oct 28, moderating a panel on religious freedom in higher education that included President Turner.

Alyce M. McKenzie
Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship
Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor
Director, Center for Preaching Excellence

McKenzie preached at the Jarvis Christian College Chapel Service on October 27 and in the Perkins Chapel on November 4, the day after the election.

As part of the BigBang Social Equity Event, held virtually in October, McKenzie conducted an hour-long interview on “Equity in Religion” with Sister Helen Prejean, anti-death penalty advocate and author of Dead Man Walking, The Death of Innocents, and a new memoir entitled River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.

The Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU sponsored a Zoom webinar entitled “Preaching in a Pandemic of Racism: Sermons that Offer Both Challenge and Comfort.” Along with Dr. O. Wesley Allen, McKenzie co-led two of these webinars so far, one for the Northwest District of the North Texas Conference on July 23 and one for the North Georgia Conference on October 26. The Center continues reaching out to other Conferences to offer the webinar in their contexts. McKenzie and Allen also began an interview series called “What’s a Preacher to Do? Preaching in a Pandemic of Covid.” The 5-minute interviews feature scholars, preachers and leaders on preaching in these difficult times. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the Center expanded the “What’s a Preacher to Do?” series to include interviews with artists, scholars, church and community leaders on preaching in a pandemic of racism. A third interview series called Must Reads features 10 to 12-minute interviews with authors of homiletical books aimed at bringing a challenging but hopeful word to preachers in today’s turbulent context. New videos will be posted weekly.

Evelyn L. Parker
Susanna Wesley Centennial Professor of Practical Theology

Evelyn Parker was part of a conference on Covid-19 with Historical Black Methodist (HBM) pastors entitled “What Should I Say to My Congregation about COVID-19?” Parker planned and designed a conversation among HBM pastors in the Houston area and healthcare professionals in the Houston area after consulting broadly with bishops and pastors in the region, including Bishop Lawrence Reddick, Senior Bishop of the CME Church, and UMC Bishop Scott Jones. The 90-minute conversation, sponsored by Perkins, between HBM pastors and some invited UMC pastors took place on October 31.  Parker started consulting in late May as COVID-19 infections were surging for Texas in the Houston area.

“On the day that I contacted Bishop Reddick he was moments away from driving to Houston to funeralize a CME pastor who had died from the Covid-19 virus,” she said.

Abraham Smith
Professor of New Testament

As a panelist at the #BlackScholarsMatter Webinar Symposium for the Society of Biblical Literature on August 13, Abraham Smith spoke on the topic “Staying Awake: The Next Generation of Black Biblical Scholars, the SBL, and the Central Challenges of Ethical Leadership.” Smith also served as a panelist at the College of the Holy Cross’ November 7 webinar “Divided Worlds?: Contexts of the New Testament Then and Now.”  Smith spoke on the topic “Visualizing Oppression: Slavery and the ‘Arts of Domination.’”

Mark W. Stamm
Professor of Christian Worship

Stamm’s primary liturgical leadership work during the pandemic focused on keeping Perkins’s Community Worship alive and fresh in this context.

“I’m realizing that we can have some guests in that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible under previous circumstances,” he said.

For example, the September 30 Perkins Chapel service was led by Michael Hawn and students in the DPM program. On November 11, Rev. ClayOla Gitane (M.Div. ’08), rector of an Episcopal Church parish in Sequim, Washington, joined the chapel service to share a story in real time; in the same service, the Rev. Dollie Pankey of Birmingham, Ala., joined as song leader.  She is a student in the DPM program.

Stamm preached twice at Pleasant Valley UMC in Sachse, in real time, but for a virtual audience on March 29 and October 25. He also preached for the opening service of the Order of Saint Luke virtual retreat, held on October 12. Participants joined from across the United States, as well as members in the Philippines and southeast Asia, including chapter members in Singapore and even in Vietnam.

Stamm was also involved in conceiving and then co-planning the Order of Saint Luke virtual Easter Vigil, held on April 11.  He’s been involved in the Easter Vigil since 1986, and has never missed a year.  Working with the current Abbot of the Order of Saint Luke, Elizabeth Moore, they informally dubbed the 2020 version, held via Zoom, “The Zigil.” In cooperation with Dr. Heather Josselyn-Cranson, OSL, and a religion professor at Regis College near Boston, they developed an online Vigil in less than a month, with adaptations of Reaffirmation of the Baptism Covenant (largely conceived by Daniel Benedict, OSL) and an homage to the Eucharist (not virtual Eucharist!) called “The Lamb’s High Feast” (largely conceived by Dwight Vogel, OSL, and Beth Fender, OSL).  The April 11 program drew participants spanning the four primary time zones of the continental U.S.

Stamm was also involved in an ecumenical consultation that led to the document “Resuming Care-Filled Worship and Sacramental Life in a Pandemic.”

Marcell Silva Steuernagel
Assistant Professor of Church Music
Director of the Sacred Music Program

Steuernagel preached for the Oslo International Church in March and for the Synodal Youth Gathering of the IECLB (Lutheran church in Brazil) in October. He also spoke to the worship ministry at Embassy City, a church in Irving, Texas, in October and continues to remain involved with producing worship content at his own faith community, Life in Deep Ellum.  He spoke several times to a Houston-based group of church musicians called “Friends of Phyllis,” led by Phyllis Harris and Christopher Lo, two well-known church musicians in that area, about online worship and the theological challenges of COVID-related church music issues.

Along with Robert Hunt, Steuernagel co-published an op-ed, Pandemic Prompts Class on Digitally Mediated Ministry in Inside Sources.

Steuernagel guest lectured at FATEV (Evangelical Theological College in Curitiba, PR, Brazil) in November and for Calvin Seminary’s online course “Learning from Worshiping Communities Worldwide.” He contributed towards various Hymn Society activities, including an MSM participation in the THS Election Day concert stream VOTE: Then Sing.

In July, he spoke to the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ACLM) on church music in the global south and performed live for the Lutheran fundraising campaign in Brazil in July.

Sze-kar Wan
Professor of New Testament

While on sabbatical in Taiwan, Wan preached via Zoom at First Baptist Church of Newton, Massachusetts on May 17. After returning to the U.S., he preached virtually at the same church on November 1.

In Taiwan, he led seminars on: “Paul’s Political Theology: A New Reading of Mark 12 & Romans 13,” at China Evangelical Seminary, Taoyuan, Taiwan on March 9; “God or Caesar? Christian Participation in Social and Political Change,” at Christian Chung Yuan Univ, Taoyuan, Taiwan on April 21; “God and Empire According to Jesus,” Taiwan Theological Salon in Tainan, Taiwan on June 13.

He also virtually led a two-part seminar, “Experience as an Asian American Teacher and Clergy,” as part of the Sacred Ground Curriculum, Episcopal Church USA (via Zoom.)