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On Friday, November 22nd, MTS celebrated the Hamilton and Varnell Chair in Wesleyan Studies, the first fully-endowed chair in Memphis Theological Seminary’s history. 

This endowment was made possible by generous lead gifts from Mrs. Barbara Hamilton and the late Dr. Ralph Hamilton, as well as Mrs. Jeanne Varnell and the late Mr. Henry Varnell. The endowment ensures the ongoing work of the Methodist House of Studies and the future of Wesleyan Theological formation at MTS.

The Hamiltons and Varnells have been great friends to the Seminary. In her remarks about Mrs. Jeanne Varnell and the late Mr. Henry Varnell, Rev. Emily Matheny said they “were particularly drawn to the legacy of MTS as a catalyst for racial justice, and the development of faithful leadership across all denominations and faith expressions.”

Memphis Theological Seminary, an ecumenical ministry of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, has been a leader in the formation of ordained and lay leaders in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition for the MidSouth and beyond since the 1970s. In 2014, the Seminary launched a new initiative called the Methodist House of Studies which focuses on providing curricular offerings and special events in the field of Wesleyan Studies for Methodist students and the community. 

Special guests at Friday’s celebration included Mrs. Varnell, Bishop Bill McAlilly of the Nashville Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church, and Dr. Deborah Smith, the District Superintendent of the Metro District. 

 Bishop McAlilly said the endowment would allow MTS to continue to support a generation of leaders “who can speak prophetically into a troubled time.”

The Hamilton and Varnell Chair in Wesleyan Studies will be held by Dr. Michael Turner, Associate Professor of the History of Christianity and the Director of the Methodist House of Studies. Turner said, “The endowment of this chair is an important signal to the entire Methodist family that Memphis Theological Seminary intends to continue its longstanding commitment to shaping Methodist students for ministry no matter what the future might hold for The United Methodist Church.”

Rev. Fekecia Gunn, the Director of Financial Aid at MTS, said, “The establishment of this chair, along with the one who sits in it, shares the intentionality of investment in the lives of pan-Methodist ministers and their congregations, to be effective in both theology and practice.”

Dr. M. Douglas Meeks, the Cal Turner Chancellor Professor of Theology and Wesleyan Studies, Emeritus at Vanderbilt University, expressed gratitude for the establishment of the chair and the Methodist House of Studies. In speaking of Turner, he wrote “I know very well Michael’s exceeding great ability as a teacher and as a major contributor to the global community of Wesleyan and Methodist scholarship. Students genuinely like and, more importantly, trust Michael because of his love of the church, his humor, and his ability to get along with all kinds of people. In this period of turmoil in church and society these are no small gifts for hoping in a humane future.”