"I hope to give students agency and leadership possibilities. The best thing about leadership is taking resources, energy, vision, and community to bring people's passions to life," said Rev. Anthony Purcell, campus pastor at Dakota Wesleyan University. "We [wife Emile and I] seek to serve the people around us and share the love of Jesus. It's exciting to affirm students' passions and help them bring those passions to life."
Rev. Dr. Anthony Purcell was installed as the campus pastor at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota, at the opening convocation of the 2023-24 academic year.
Anthony Purcell and wife Emile both grew up in Georgia. "I grew up Southern Baptist. My dad's side of the family is Roman Catholic. My mother and her parents are Southern Baptist," said Purcell. "I knew from age seven or eight up to age 16 or 17 that I would be an engineer. My dad was an engineer. My granddad was an engineer. They both seemed to have lived comfortable lives. I could do math."
Even though he was good at Math, he didn't really like Math. Driving home from a college visit, Purcell began questioning his choice to be an engineer. "I remember thinking to myself, engineers make good money, but I want to do something I don't enjoy. Do I want to do something else? I want to do something that I feel matters in the world. What do I think matters?"
Then it hit him, at a youth conference during worship, that being a pastor for youth and young adults was something he could do. Youth and young adult ministry could make a difference in his life and the lives of others.
"I just remember it clicking. We were talking about being present in the city that we were in and showing Jesus' love. I had this passionate and engaged youth minister, Jenny Britt. She just poured into us. I mean, she loved scripture and bringing it to life with us. I remember thinking, you know, what she does really matters," said Pastor Anthony.
With the support of his parents, Purcell attended Brewton-Parker College, a Southern Baptist college in Mount Vernon, Georgia. He began questioning whether the Southern Baptist Church was a fit for him.
"My questions pushed me to explore different directions and to read scripture to find answers. Rather than just inserting the answers, I read scripture as if it has its own voice. By the end of my undergraduate career, we [my wife and I] realized that the Southern Baptist Church just wasn't a place for us," said Purcell.
While at Yale Divinity School, Anthony and Emile were without a denominational home. After completing his Master of Divinity, he applied for various youth ministry jobs.
"Lithia Springs United Methodist Church in Atlanta took a chance on me. It was one of the first times, as adults, we were in a healthy congregation situation. For four years, it was a place that supported us, challenged us, loved us, and allowed us to do the same with their children and young people," said Pastor Anthony. "I was going through confirmation with all the middle schoolers; we're talking about Wesley's Quadrilateral and the value of unity—a unity that tolerates diversity. It's a unity that centers diversity for healthy faith and a picture of what a new creation is supposed to look like. I remember thinking, this is the place for us. So, we joined The United Methodist Church, and I entered the candidacy process in the North Georgia Conference."
After four years, the couple moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Purcell served as a visiting assistant professor of religion at Florida Southern College and as an adjunct instructor at the Emory University and Candler School of Theology. He holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Emory University and earned a fellowship with the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies.
Most recently, Purcell served as the Senior Pastor at Lake Gibson United Methodist Church in Lakeland, Florida. He transferred to the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church as a provisional elder.
His wife, Emile, works remotely for a medical records company. Together with their dog Mozzie, they journeyed to Mitchell, South Dakota, this summer to live in the house where George McGovern once lived.
"Emile provides emotional care and encouragement. She's a doer. So, she loves to put things into practice that help other people thrive," said Pastor Anthony.
As Pastor Anthony begins his position at DWU, he looks forward to building relationships and growing with others in faith and leadership. "We have been blown away by how welcoming everyone is—this sense of empowering people to step into their gifts and visions. A real sense of valuing each other and working together is present here. That can be hard to find in an academic environment, especially in times as stressful as today and the challenges that colleges face."
One of the things that they are not looking forward to experiencing is winter on the plains. "We haven't yet experienced the snow and cold plus the wind of the Great Plains," said Pastor Anthony. "I look forward to building frameworks to help us live generative and genuine lives of faith together."