Melissa Nelms’ journey to Perkins School of Theology involved a move from “No” to “Yes.” As an undergraduate at Oklahoma City University, she felt a pull toward ministry – but not toward seminary.
“Whenever I wondered whether I should go to seminary, it was a pretty hard ‘no’ for me, for a long time,” she said. “I saw myself in ministry but never in a traditional church setting.”
That feeling started to shift after she took Disciple Bible Study, and completed the section where participants identify their gifts and callings, which led to jobs at Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, Okla., first in youth ministry, then as director of discipleship.
“That affirmed in me that I had a call for ordained ministry,” Nelms said. She still has all the sticky notes of “yes” votes from members of the Acts 2 Administrative Council who confirmed her as a certified candidate on the elder track in the Oklahoma Conference.
Once she decided to attend, Nelms had her heart set on another seminary – one with a prestigious name and a hybrid program that would take her to another part of the country, but only part time, allowing her family to remain in Oklahoma. She applied to Perkins mostly as a courtesy to a friend who’s an alum.
But that all changed when she and her husband visited the campus for an Inside Perkins event. She heard a panel of students talk about Perkins’ supportive community, learned about opportunities to intern at innovative ministries in the Dallas area and spent an hour talking with Tracy Anne Allred, assistant dean of student life.
“Perkins just felt like home to us,” she said. “We had a great, warm welcome from the staff and faculty. The hospitality and warmth we experienced made Perkins feel like the right choice.”
So Nelms and her husband, the Rev. Andy Nelms, a pastor in the Oklahoma Conference, packed up and moved to the Dallas area. He’s now serving as associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Prosper, Texas, while Melissa pursues an M.Div. degree, with an expected graduation date of May 2022.
One of the highlights of her first year was visiting local ministries as part of the three-day Ministry Dallas program, held in August. That included a stop at Christ Foundry United Methodist Church, which serves a congregation of Hispanic members, many of them undocumented, in Dallas.
“Out of that visit I decided that I wanted to be involved in advocacy and to help DREAMer-aged students who might face barriers to seminary education,” she said.
She’s also a member of L@s Seminaristas, following an invitation from Rosedanny Ortiz-Malave, who she met at Christ Foundry. That led to her current leadership role as vice president, serving along with Stephen James (president) and Clelia Pena (secretary/treasurer).
To stay grounded, Nelms prays the Daily Office and writes in her journal, and keeps her mantra, “Breathe deep,” posted on a wall at home.
“I’m really leaning on the power of the Holy Spirit through this season of life, and that reminds me to slow my pace, centers me, empowers me and reminds me to connect with the people I’m coming in contact with,” she said.
She’s also balancing her studies with caring for her son, 4, and daughter, 7.
“The move to Perkins has allowed me to study theology while also focusing fully on my family,” she said. “When I’m home, I’m with them, but I still have enough time to devote to my studies. It’s a blessing to be fully present in both of those places, and for my kids to see me doing this, too.
“I’m so grateful to be here and to be part of the Perkins community.”