The primary mission of Perkins School of Theology, as a community devoted to theological study and teaching in the service of the church of Jesus Christ, is to prepare women and men for faithful leadership in Christian ministry.
Perkins School of Theology affirms its relationships to the community of learning that is Southern Methodist University, to the universal church (inclusive, ecumenical and global), to the United Methodist Church specifically and to its particular geographical and cultural setting in the southwestern United States.
These relationships are sources of strength and avenues of service for the school as it pursues its twin tasks of theological reflection and theological education to the glory of God.
The School of Theology has been an integral part of Southern Methodist University since the latter’s founding in 1911. It grew out of a movement led by Bishop Seth Ward of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to establish a theological school west of the Mississippi. Dr. E.D. Mouzon, dean of the Theological Department of Southwestern University and later bishop, became its first dean in 1914. With the opening of the University in the following year, the school of theology began its work as the church’s official theological school for the region west of the Mississippi. When ownership of the University was vested in the South Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church at the Uniting Conference of 1939, the school of theology became the official theological school of that jurisdiction.
Dean Mouzon was followed by Deans Hoyt M. Dobbs (1917), Paul B. Kern (1920), James Kilgore (1926), Eugene B. Hawk (1933), Merrimon Cuninggim (1951), Joseph D. Quillian, Jr., (1960), James E. Kirby (1981), Robin W. Lovin (1994), William B. Lawrence (2002) and Craig C. Hill (2016).
For more than a century, the generosity of alumni and friends of the school have made possible higher learning through real experience leading to vital ministry.
Originally housed in Dallas Hall, the school occupied Kirby Hall (which is now Florence Hall in the Law School) from 1925 to 1950. Beginning in 1945, the University received a series of large gifts from Lois and Joe J. Perkins of Wichita Falls, Texas that made possible the relocation and expansion of the School of Theology and provided major endowment for its support. Six of the eight buildings on the present site in the southwest corner of the University campus were provided by these gifts. The Board of Trustees responded by naming the school Perkins School of Theology.
The new campus, occupied in 1950, consisted of the chapel, Kirby Hall, four dormitories (Smith, Perkins, Martin and Hawk halls) and Bridwell Library. A few years later, Selecman Hall was added.
Bridwell Library, the library of Perkins School of Theology, is also Southern Methodist University’s principal bibliographic resource for the fields of theology and religious studies. The library houses more than 390,000 volumes in religion and related fields. In addition to the general collection, Bridwell Library Special Collections include approximately 52,000 rare books and manuscripts. Particular strengths of the special collections include theology, church history, textually and historically significant editions of the Bible, Methodistica, Wesleyana and early printing. To enhance public and scholarly awareness and appreciation of the collections, Bridwell presents exhibitions and hosts lectures, conferences and workshops.
Completed in 1950, the original Bridwell Library building was a gift of Joseph Sterling Bridwell and his daughter Margaret Bridwell Bowdle of Wichita Falls. In the 1950s and early 1960s, they also made it possible for Bridwell to begin acquiring rare books. In 1973, the philanthropic organization Bridwell founded, the J.S. Bridwell Foundation, funded the doubling of the size of the library building. In the late 1980s, another major Bridwell Foundation gift permitted the renovation of the library. At the same time, a gift from Charles N. Prothro in honor of his wife, Elizabeth Perkins Prothro, made possible the addition of exhibition galleries to the library building. Today, the library facilities include computer lab and wireless service, reference and periodical reading rooms, graduate student carrels, and special-needs stations.
In 2009, Perkins School of Theology completed the construction of one new building and the renovation of two others. This project, which involved an investment of more than $14 million, provides state-of-the-art instructional technology and fully accessible facilities for all persons. The new building, Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Hall, is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified building, constructed to meet or exceed standards of environmental concern. It contains principal classrooms, lecture halls, a computer lab for student use and a preaching lab. It also contains a refectory for Perkins’ community meals and a great hall for dinners and other public gatherings. The renovated Kirby and Selecman halls are the primary locations of faculty, staff and administrative offices. These three buildings, along with Bridwell Library and Perkins Chapel, form the theology quadrangle at the Bishop Boulevard entrance to Southern Methodist University.
Theological reflection and education for ministry are the purpose of the school. However, these imply a concern for the total development of people in the community. This concern is manifest not only in the classroom and library, but also in a wide range of activities and associations, which make up the life of the school.
Worship is a central element in the life of the school. Brief services of worship led by students and faculty are held daily. The principal worship services of the school are held on Wednesdays and Thursdays. These services are planned by a committee of faculty and students and include elements from the many worship traditions represented in the Perkins community. Community lunches are held Tuesday through Thursday during the term. Common meals, celebrating holidays or highlighting special groups or themes, take place several times each year. Individual resident hall groups also get together for meals and social events.
There are a number of student organizations and groups. Every regularly enrolled student is a member of the Perkins Student Association, which assumes responsibility for those aspects of student life and government that are not directly under the jurisdiction of the Perkins faculty. An elected PSA council governs the association. Student representatives also serve on the standing committees of the faculty. Committees of the PSA council deal with social justice, social life, ecumenical affairs, academic concerns and worship. Several active student groups are recognized and funded by the PSA council, including Black Seminarians Association, L@s Seminaristas, the Order of St. Luke, Affirming Religious Community and International Students of Perkins.
Seminary Singers is a choral group open to all Perkins students, under the leadership of the Master of Sacred Music program. The group sings in the weekly chapel services and on other occasions throughout the year.
Special programming and events for the Perkins community, as well as other groups and activities for Perkins students and their families, are organized under the leadership of the PSA council and the director of student services.