Perkins School of Theology Marks 60th Anniversary of Advent Worship Tradition

DALLAS (SMU)As they have every year since 1959, members of the SMU community will be joined by friends from around Dallas for Advent worship on Thursday, December 5– but with one key change. This year there will be just one service, at 6 p.m., rather than two services as in past years.

“People’s schedules today are very different than they were in 1959,” said Marcell Silva Steuernagel, Assistant Professor of Church Music and Director of the Sacred Music Program at Perkins. “The 6 p.m. time gives us the best of both worlds – late enough for those who want to come after work, and early enough that attendees can get home at a reasonable hour.”

This year’s worship will mark three milestones: the 60th anniversary of Perkins’ Master of Sacred Music (MSM) program, the 80th anniversary of the Seminary Singers, and the 60th anniversary of the Advent service itself. Advent was first celebrated in Perkins Chapel in 1959, a tradition continued every year since.

The single time slot makes it logistically easier for participation by visiting ensembles and musicians. This year’s guests include three choirs led by alumni of the MSM program. Each will perform an anthem, and all three choirs will gather to perform Jane Marshall’s “Song of Simeon.” Marshall, who passed way in 2019, had many ties to SMU and Perkins. The choirs are from Dallas area churches: Northaven United Methodist Church (choir directed by Stephanie Rhoades, M.S.M. ’96); University Park United Methodist Church (directed by Mark Pope, M.S.M. ’99); and Grace Avenue United Methodist Church of Frisco, Texas (directed by Laurie Hanson Roberts, M.S.M. ’90, and Bill Roberts, M.S.M. ’92). Worship will follow the classic “Lessons and Carols” format, plus a reading of one of Martin Luther’s sermons.

“Our service will focus on the legacy of Advent and Christmas worship here at SMU,” Steuernagel said. “This legacy revolves around the idea of a community gathered to ‘await together’ the coming of the one who is Emmanuel. As we wait, we sing our expectation together. Because of this the service is not a ‘concert’ in presentational format, but participatory. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear anthems performed by MSM alumni and to sing several Christmas hymns as well.”

The Advent service was instituted in 1959 by Professors Grady Hardin and Lloyd Pfautsch and is closely tied to the development of Perkins’ Master of Sacred Music Program. A forerunner to this tradition was established in 1948 when Perkins Prof. Fred Gealy led the Seminary Singers, a non-auditioned ensemble of theology and sacred music students, and the Perkins community in a program of Christmas music during the last chapel service of the fall semester.

Worshippers should allow ample time for parking. Parking for the Advent Service will be in the Meadows Museum Parking Garage located across the street from Perkins Chapel.


Perkins School of Theology, founded in 1911, is one of five official University-related schools of theology of The United Methodist Church. Degree programs include the Master of Divinity, Master of Sacred Music, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Ministry, Master of Theology, Doctor of Ministry, and Doctor of Pastoral Music as well as the Ph.D., in cooperation with The Graduate Program in Religious Studies at SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.