For most of his life, Robert “Tripp” Gulledge didn’t plan to enter the ministry or to study theology. But now that he’s here, as a second year M. Div. student at Perkins, he’s confident he’s on the right path.
“My father is a United Methodist pastor, and we share the same name,” he said. “I grew up hearing, ‘You’re going to be just like your dad.’ People thought that was a compliment. I always enjoyed my time in church, but I didn’t want to be a preacher, or run church board meetings, or counsel people.”
As an undergraduate at Auburn University, Gulledge pursued a degree in music performance and education, with plans to become a teacher.
“I’ve had teachers who have had huge impact in my life,” he said. “I’m blind, and a couple of my teachers had gone to great lengths to accommodate my disability. I wanted to have that kind of formative impact on someone in the future. That was my original college hope.”
At Auburn, Gulledge got involved in the Wesley Foundation. He discovered that he loved attending and planning campus ministry events. Gradually, he became more and more convinced that he was called to the ministry. In the summer after his freshman year, while attending the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference with his family, he watched the service of ordination for the incoming group of elders.
“My dad said, ‘I remember how sweet an accomplishment that was,’” he said. “His words just covered me with inexplicably powerful emotion. I thought about how much dedication is required of persons who are being ordained. It’s very hard to describe, but I’m confident that was the Holy Spirit placing a confirmed sense of call on my life”
Still, he felt resistant, and prayed that God would instill the desire in him to serve in the ministry.
“By the end of that summer, I absolutely did want that,” he said. “I can’t wait until I can preach regularly and lead others in teaching the Bible and preside with the sacraments.” Now he is pursuing candidacy for ordination in the Alabama-West Florida conference, where his father serves.
As a former aspiring educator, Gulledge chose Perkins, in part, because of its curriculum.
“The core of our M.Div. curriculum seemed very comprehensive,” he said. “Being that I’m familiar with Methodism, I knew what I needed to be well-prepared for UMC ordination. I’m confident that Perkins has set me up and will set me up well for UMC ordination. Also, the school has many gifted people who are ready to help me to discern my calling and achieve my goals.”
When he arrived at Perkins, Gulledge expected his studies would focus on the Bible. That view has changed, too.
“I love all of it,” he said. “The more I study, the more I get interested in. I love early church history, especially the 4th century, the time of Constantine, the legalization of Christianity, the establishment of creeds and the rise of Monasticism.” He hopes to continue to continue his academic studies after completing his M. Div.
To ground himself spiritually, Gulledge prays and meditates regularly with Anglican prayer beads. He’s also guided by a favorite Bible verse, Psalm 16:2: You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.
“I consider every good thing to be a gift from God,” he said. “I’m being generously supported at Perkins by scholarships made by donors as investments in the future of the church. The scholarships allow me to focus entirely on my studies. It’s very important to me to make good on that.”
On the extracurricular front, Gulledge enjoyed serving last year with Dr. Mark Stamm on the Worship Working Group, which plans chapel worship services. He’s also a member of the university-wide President’s Commission on the Needs of Persons with Disabilities.
Gulledge’s blindness is due to a retina condition, which has limited his vision since age 14. He’s awaiting additional surgery, and hopeful that future research might develop innovations to restore his sight.
“I’ve had sight before, I don’t have it right now, and I hope and expect I will have it again someday,” he said.