As part of her theological education, Perkins student Carlene Barbeau resorted to “baptizing” a fuzzy blue stuffed animal named Doggie. It’s just one example of how she’s juggling her studies and her family life: with faith, grace and a little ingenuity.
Barbeau started in the fall of 2018 in the inaugural class of Perkins’ Houston-Galveston hybrid program and expects to graduate with an M.Div. in May 2021. Perkins, the only United Methodist seminary currently offering a hybrid program, has been a good fit.
“I needed online for my lifestyle, and I needed in-person for my learning,” said Barbeau, who lives in Tampa, Florida, along with her husband and two sons, ages 8 and 4.
Doggie’s baptism was an assignment for Prof. Mark Stamm’s Baptism and the Eucharist Practicum class. As part of their education, hybrid program students record themselves completing activities – delivering sermons or practicing liturgies – then post the videos online for feedback from peers. Barbeau performed the ritual in front of her two sons and her older son’s young friend.
“Doggie is my son’s stuffed animal, and he goes everywhere we go,” she said. “We all try to incorporate our families in these practicum exercises when we can, because they sacrifice so that we can study.”
Apparently, the baptism made an impression. Afterward, the friend asked his mother about getting baptized himself. As a result, his family joined Barbeau’s family’s church, St. James United Methodist Church.
“It was a really cool ministry moment,” she said.
A certified deacon candidate in the Florida conference of the United Methodist Church, Barbeau is preparing to become a hospital chaplain. She’s a second career student, having worked in academic and nonprofit fundraising.
“I was called into ministry at age 16 at a summer camp,” she said. “But I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, so I didn’t understand where God would be able to use me. It took 22 years of discernment to figure it out.”
Part of her passion for chaplaincy work stems from growing up with a brother who had cerebral palsy, a father with mental health issues and elderly grandparents who had multiple medical problems. Her interest in chaplaincy was another reason why Perkins was a good fit – Houston-Galveston holds some of its classes at Houston Methodist Hospital.
“There’s something about going into a Moral Theology class and coming out and seeing a family in the midst of making decisions, or mourning after a death, that makes it real,” she said.
Before enrolling in the Houston-Galveston program, Barbeau took a few online-only theology classes from another institution but struggled.
“I felt isolated,” she said. “It was incredibly difficult. I’m a connectional person; taking courses alone at home is not how I learn best. With Perkins, I already have a network of friends that I call my ‘Houston family.’ We talk to one another two or three times a week. When classes meet in person in Houston, we rent a house via AirBnB and stay together. We know one another’s families. I didn’t realize how badly I needed that until I had it at Perkins.”
Grounding Barbeau through the demands of raising two young children and studying full time is her favorite Bible verse, John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Barbeau said, “In this season for me, of change and living between two worlds, the day-to-day and the seminary, knowing God is present in both, and that God has called me, brings a lot of peace.”