Four longtime members of the Perkins faculty and staff — Billy Abraham, Isabel Docampo, Evelyn Parker and Duane Harbin– will retire at the end of this semester.
“These four are so much a part of the fabric of this school. I’ve never known Perkins without them, and find it difficult now to imagine it. We are profoundly grateful for the enormous contributions they’ve made over the span of many years,” said Dean Craig Hill. “We wish them the best, and they will certainly be missed.”
A farewell celebration for members of the Perkins community is planned for later in May. Here’s a brief look at what they’ve accomplished at Perkins and their plans for the future.
William J. Abraham
Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies
While he is retiring from Perkins, Abraham is also embarking on a new journey too, as founding Director of the recently established Wesley House of Studies at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary.
Truett Seminary has trained students primarily from Baptist congregations; the Wesley House will ensure that students attending from Wesleyan traditions “are nurtured and networked for the ministries into which they are being called,” according to a Baylor University press release. Wesley House of Studies seeks to form and equip Christ-centered, Spirit-led students to serve churches and other institutions in the Wesleyan tradition. Additionally, Abraham, will regularly teach courses at Truett pertaining to Wesleyan thought and practice, will collaborate with individuals, congregations and organizations in the Wesleyan tradition in recruiting, training and placing students and in supporting and educating ministers who already are engaged in Christian service.
“Ministry and teaching continue even though I think it is time to let Perkins move into a new phase of its life with new faces and voices,” Abraham said.
(Read a story about the Wesley House in the Baptist Standard here.)
In addition to his new role at Truett, Abraham will be working nationally and internationally in Wesleyan circles, and writing an intellectual biography of Basil Mitchell (1917-2011), an English philosopher and Oxford professor.
Abraham has been a prolific author and sought-after lecturer. He holds an undergraduate degree from The Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland; a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary; and a doctorate from Oxford University, Regent’s Park College. He has taught at Seattle Pacific University and Harvard Divinity School, as well as SMU. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, he served on the General Commission on Unity and Interreligious Concerns of the United Methodist Church (1992-present). He was the recipient of Pew Evangelical Scholars Program Grant, Pew Charitable Trusts (1993-1996) and Joint Book of the Year Award from the Institute of Christian Studies for Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology (1999). In 2018, he was the recipient of the is the recipient of the SMU Faculty Career Achievement Award for his extensive work and dedication to Perkins and Southern Methodist University.
“For me the greatest joy has been working through a research agenda in philosophy, theology, and Wesley Studies and sharing this with students across multiple degree platforms,” he said. “I also took enormous pleasure in helping students find their own voice in the conversation and becoming my teachers.”
What he’ll miss most about Perkins: “Meeting students at my corner table early in the morning at La Madeleine restaurant,” he said. “I am working on securing the table as a relic! Working informally was as precious as working formally.”
Director, Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions
Co-Director of the Intern Program
Professor of Supervised Ministry
Docampo earned her D.Min. from Perkins; her academic work focused on peace/social justice ministries; cross-cultural and interfaith communication; urban ministry; church and community studies; and Latino/a ministry. An ordained Latina Baptist Clergy, she was a Dallas Peace and Justice Center award recipient for co-founding the DFW Women’s Interfaith Dialogue. In 2015, she was co-leader with Dr. Hind Jarrah of a live-streamed workshop at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Looking back over her career at Perkins, Docampo says she’s most proud of the Perkins Internship Program, in which each student participates in a continuous 9-month immersion in one setting with the support of a pastor, faculty, mental health consultant, a peer group and laity. These internships give students the opportunity to integrate seminary classroom work with their practices with great depth.
“Students are given the time to experience failures, successes and everything in between as they engage in ongoing critical theological reflection and grow in self-awareness in a most unique way,” she said. “As an Intern Faculty Advisor, it has been my privilege to learn and reflect and grow with them. I will miss the students and how they always challenged me to growth as I walked alongside of them during their Internships. The friendships that I have made with Intern Program colleagues, students, mentor pastors, mental health consultants and laity are treasures. I have learned so much from my students about faith, commitment, theology and walking together in ministry.”
Another highlight has been leading The Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions, which has contributed to theological education through a variety of publications from a Latinx perspective. The Center has fostered partnerships, faculty and student immersion trips to Latin America, the Th.M. in Spanish cohort of 2017-2019, impacting the lives of current and future scholars, pastors, and theological education.
“A great joy are all the relationships with faculty friends, staff and students,” said Docampo. “These have made a deep imprint on my heart and I am grateful.”
Docampo looks forward to traveling to England along with her husband, Scott, to visit their children, whom they haven’t seen since 2019 due to COVID, and learning how to grow vegetables in their community garden. She says she will miss Faculty Lunches, where she had the chance to learn from colleagues’ work as they shared recent projects and books, and the SMU campus, having worked remotely since 2020. “I like walking across campus and sitting on different benches and being part of university life,” she said.
Evelyn L. Parker
Susanna Wesley Centennial Professor of Practical Theology
Parker spent one of the last years of her Perkins career in South Africa as a 2019-2020 U.S. Fulbright Scholar, based at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice and the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Western Cape in Cape Town, where she worked on a project titled “Role of Religious Leaders in Preventing and Intervening in Teen Dating Violence in South Africa.” As Parker got to know the young women studying there, she said, “Their stories weave a beautiful tapestry of characteristics that include sassiness, savviness, tenacity, courage, resistance, and persistence.”
That work related to Parker’s academic focus, which included religious identity and spiritual formation in African American adolescents, adolescents in sociopolitical movements and their understanding of vocation, adolescent resiliency and vocation.
What will she miss most after retiring from Perkins? Having served as a faculty advisor and academic dean for six years, it’s the students.
“I sincerely loved teaching and advising Perkins students,” Parker said. “Their probing questions about vocation, justice, and ministry intersecting with theory/theology/practices about topics that include spirituality of African descended youth/young women, issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality were always energizing. I learned from my students how to formulate questions that have the potential to change lives and transform unjust situations through my teaching and research. I learned how to listen closely to their concerns as they sought comfort and care and to celebrate their joys as they overcame challenges.”
Looking back on her Perkins career, Parker is most proud of her work which led to the move of the Houston/Galveston Program to the Houston Medical Center, where the program is now affiliated with the Houston Methodist Hospital (HMH), St. John’s UMC, and St. Paul UMC.
“I conceived the idea as I was transitioning into the academic dean’s office in 2013 after Dr. Charles Millikan, VP of Spiritual Care and Values Integration at HMH approached former Dean Bill Lawrence about collaborations between the hospital and Perkins,” she said. “Evaluating the Houston/Galveston Program for ATS accreditation was the perfect moment to make the move for many, many reasons, to help our students, faculty, ecumenical clergy/ministers and the greater Houston Community.”
She adds that it was also “a self-enlightened interest” of hers, as a former biomedical scientist who desired to reconnect with the biomedical world through her teaching, research and administration.
Parker is an active member of Kirkwood Temple CME Church in Dallas and serves as a representative of the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) denomination to the World Council of Churches. Her WCC work spanned more than two decades and a variety of positions and responsibilities. She represented the denomination in the WCC’s Faith and Order Plenary Commission from 1996 to 2006. In 2014, she was elected to the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to do this ecumenical work,” Parker said. “It’s the natural thing if you want to be Christ present in the world where people are suffering.”
What’s next for Parker? “I look forward to continuing my work with the WCC, research, and writing/publishing,” she said.
Assistant Dean for Technology, Planning & Compliance
After celebrating his 25th year with Perkins last fall, Duane Harbin will retire this spring and head to Scottsdale, Ariz., to be closer to family.
A 1981 graduate of Yale Divinity School, Harbin joined SMU in 1995 as Associate Director of Bridwell Library and was appointed Assistant Dean for Information Technology and Institutional Research for Perkins in 2001. He stepped into his current position in 2015.
What Harbin will miss most: the people of Perkins and lunchtime in the refectory.
“I don’t get to meet the majority of our students anymore, but I get to know a core that show up regularly,” he said. “They give me great faith in the future because they are so smart, disciplined, creative, and kind. The faculty and staff are a delightfully mixed bag, and they are all dedicated to the school. They have certainly taught me that a team does far better work and makes far better decisions than any individual.”
He’ll also miss the Bridwell Library: “I think my biggest regret in leaving Dallas is that I won’t’ be able to play among its amazing collections now that I will have spare time. And of course, nobody parties like librarians!”
He also regrets that he won’t be here to contribute to the reimagined curriculum for Perkins. “The Curriculum Review Committee under the leadership of Prof. Rebekah Miles is doing a very serious and thoughtful job of discerning how the Perkins curriculum needs to function to equip the next generation of students for their future ministries.”
What’s he most proud of? “It’s completely nerdy but I am tickled that for our last Association of Theological Schools reaccreditation review, Perkins had a clean review,” he said. “That wasn’t my doing but it showed the school’s growing awareness that it is part of the broader project of theological education and the school’s ongoing commitment to excellence. I am extremely pleased that Andy Keck will be Perkins’ ongoing liaison with ATS because of his personal commitment to that broader project.”
Once settled in in Scottsdale, Harbin plans pursue a couple of hobbies: cars and corgis. He’s looking forward to attending classic car club shows with friends and seriously considering enrolling in an Automotive Mechanics class at Maricopa Community College. He’s getting to know some Arizona breeders of Pembroke Welsh Corgis because he eventually would like to adopt and raise a puppy.
“In the past, I’ve adopted two adult rescue corgis, but I’ve always wanted to raise a puppy,” he said. “This will need to wait for a while because Bella, my corgi companion, is 14 and too senior to adapt to a puppy at this point in her life.”
He also hopes to do some writing.
“I’m already part of a writers’ group and I will be out of excuses for not finishing a set of stories that I have mapped out,” he said. “If I get really ambitious, I will try to write a novel-length whodunit.”