The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Theology school adds Episcopal track

Perkins second in state to offer diocese training

Bishop James Stanton of the Dallas Diocese of the Episcopal Church led a service celebrating the new Episcopal track at Perkins School of Theology Thursday.

The addition makes Perkins the second Episcopal seminary in Texas that people wishing to join the Episcopalian priesthood can attend for training.

Bishop Stanton thanked everyone involved in adding the curriculum to Perkins and discussed the merits of having this curriculum at Perkins.

In his sermon, he spoke of Samuel Seabury, a bishop in the Episcopal Church who was influential in bringing the Episcopal Church to the United States. It took about two years to bring the Episcopal track to Perkins, the Rev. Frederick Schmidt, director of spiritual life and formation said. During those two years, Perkins officials had extended conversations with Bishop Stanton to identify what students needed most for priesthood. Then a sample curriculum was drafted and went through an approval process by the faculty of Perkins.

The faculty is responsible for the entire curriculum at Perkins. Currently, Perkins offers preparation for priesthood in the Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches. Degrees at Perkins include master’s in divinity, theological studies, Christian ministry and sacred music as well as a doctorate program.

Schmidt has two explanations for the importance of having the Episcopal track at Perkins. First, nationwide theological education is regional in nature, meaning people seeking this education would like to be close to their home. For the Dallas Episcopalian diocese, the closest seminary was in Austin until recently. Second, the demographics of graduate students in theology has changed.

“The average age of students studying theology is a good deal higher than 20 years ago,” Schmidt said.

In the past students normally went to graduate school as soon as they got their undergraduate degree. They were around 21-years-old. Today, many people attend graduate school for a second vocation, increasing the average age to about 36.

Some of these graduate students are already teachers, lawyers, journalists and business people. Schmidt notes there are some students under the age of 36, but there are a good amount of students over the age of 36.

Bob Johnston, 36, a student at Perkins is already a lawyer. He said he struggled with the decision of joining the priesthood for a long time. His mentor told him that if he could get away from the calling then he was not meant to be a priest. Johnston tried to get away from the calling by becoming a lawyer, yet he could not get away.

“I decided I would never be complete without going for the calling [of priesthood],” Johnston said.

Johnston is the president of Anglicans at Perkins, an organization made up of graduate students from various Anglican churches. Before the Episcopal track was added, people seeking priesthood in the Dallas diocese would have to speak with Bishop Stanton. They might be able to go to Perkins for two years of general study, but their final year would be at one of 11 seminaries in the country, Johnston said.

The Rev. Barbara Kelton, Episcopal chaplain at SMU, said there are about 250 Episcopalian students. Some of these students, both undergraduate and graduate, are involved in Canterbury House, the ongoing Episcopal presence on campus. Kelton knows of several students interested in the Episcopal priesthood and “I’m sure as this program develops students will be eager to attend,” Kelton said.

Schmidt expects current Perkins students to attend the Episcopal class taught next semester by Bishop Stanton. Then people outside the SMU community should start to enroll in the fall of 2003 after some marketing and advertising.

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