Samaritan Institute

Samaritan Institute is Sunshine Cathedral’s in-house religious education university.

In 2001 the Sunshine Cathedral moved to a new location in Fort Lauderdale on SW Ninth Ave.  After taking residence in the new facility, the Cathedral started a new religious education program called Light University.

Light University offered religious education classes as well as classes in the arts, fitness, languages, and LU became the venue for training Cathedral deacons.

Academic Deans of Light University were: Rev. Gay Lynn Williamson-Grigas, MA (Unity minister), Rev. Keith Riddle, DMin (Presbyterian minister), Rev. Ronald Maguire (a public school teacher who had been ordained by a local, independent ministry), Chris MacLellan (a Roman Catholic seminarian), and Rev. Robert Griffin, DMin (an MCC minister). Rev. Griffin eventually took the title Director of Religious Education, and as such continued as the de facto Academic Dean of Light University. Rev. Michael Diaz, MDiv (MCC minister) followed Rev. Griffin as the Director of Religious Education, and as such, the de facto Academic Dean of Light U.

Under Rev. Robert Griffin’s leadership, Light University became authorized by the state of Florida to award religious degrees. The first degrees granted were the Associate of Applied Religious Studies (AARS), the Bachelor of Theological Studies (BTS), the Master of Religious Studies (MRS), and the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL).  The recipients of those first degrees were: Deacon Jean Johnson, AARS; Deacon Joel Slotnick, AARS; Rev. Grant Lynn Ford, BTS & DHL; Deacon Marian Cavagnaro, MRS; Deacon Marcie Fox, MRS, and Rev. Michael Diaz, DHL.

In order to continue improving the quality of education, Light U. stopped offering degrees in 2009 and offered instead Certificate and Diploma programs. In 2010, LU reinstituted its degree programs.

In 2010 Light University changed its name to The Samaritan Institute at Sunshine Cathedral with Rev. Michael Diaz serving as its new Director of Academic Programs (formerly the “Academic Dean” position). In 2011, the Chancellor, Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, also became the Acting Director of Academic Programs.

The programs offered by the re-organized and re-named religious education school (now known as The Samaritan Institute at Sunshine Cathedral) are: the AARS, the BTS, the MRS, and the Certificate of Spiritual Studies (CSS).  These are non-professional degrees that are meant only to equip and educate lay ministers and offer continuing education for professional ministers and to provide an affordable way for people to earn a degree who want to do so for personal (rather than professional) reasons).  TSI programs will not qualify one for ordination in Metropolitan Community Churches. Some Institute students have been so energized and inspired by the programs of learning they have gone on to attend *fully accredited theological seminaries.

 *MCC ordination requirements include a Master of Divinity degree from an ATS accredited seminary, psychological testing, a supervised internship, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and additional courses offered by the denomination.

 Why the Name “Samaritan”?

Metropolitan Community Churches make up a Universal Fellowship of congregations that are inclusive and welcoming of all people, with a special affirming outreach to the LBGT communities. MCC was founded in Los Angeles in 1968 (several months before the Stonewall Riots in New York) by a de-frocked Pentecostal minister, Rev. Troy D. Perry.  As MCC grew into a multinational organization of congregations, it obviously became increasingly structured to meet the developmental needs of the new denomination. One of the institutional needs was training for gay-friendly and gay sensitive clergy. MCC’s own ministerial training school was born.

The MCC ministerial school went through a variety of names, but finally became known simply and powerfully as Samaritan College. The biblical parable of the Good Samaritan shows Jesus insisting that the person of spiritual integrity will love his or her neighbor and will realize that All People are his or her neighbors!

In the story of the Good Samaritan, a traveler is attacked and robbed. Religious people (relying on narrow interpretations of biblical texts) refused to give aid or comfort to the man who had been left for dead. But a Samaritan (a person who the original hearers of the story would have had a profound prejudice against) shows compassion to the person in need and saves his life. Who was neighborly in the story? Not the self-righteous, hyper-religious types, but the one who (even though a victim of prejudice himself) simply showed kindness to his fellow human-being. What a powerful story for same-gender loving and gender variant people! What a perfect name for the MCC clergy training school.

Eventually, Samaritan moved its headquarters from California to Texas. It changed its name to Samaritan Institute for Religious Studies and was part of a consortium of three Samaritan schools…SIRS in the United States, Australian Samaritan Education, and Samaritan College in Europe.

As more and more seminaries started allowing gays and lesbians to matriculate, fewer students enrolled in Samaritan. Finally, the school was closed and MCC students were required to go to older, more established seminaries. But before seminaries welcomed LBGT students, MCC had a commitment to liberating education and it offered that education through Samaritan College/Institute.

When it came time for Light University to change its name, the leaders of LU decided that it would pay tribute to MCC’s educational legacy by adopting the erstwhile ministerial school’s name: Samaritan.

So, as something new, and while being very grateful for the pioneering efforts of those who paved the way in MCC’s early days, Sunshine Cathedral’s religious education school is now known as The Samaritan Institute at Sunshine Cathedral!


TSI is the educational arm of *Sunshine Cathedral.

TSI is approved by the State of Florida to grant religious degrees.

 *Sunshine Cathedral is a member of Metropolitan Community Churches and is affiliated with The Center for Progressive Christianity. SC also has its own 501c3 status. 

 The Samaritan Institute (TSI) Degrees


Certificates are also available.

Honorary doctorates may be awarded when warranted.

Courses are taught at TSI from a Progressive, Positive, & Practical perspective. At least one course representing the New Thought tradition should be taken in any degree or certificate program.

 Prayer Ministry Certificate  (10 TSI credits)

        No previous college coursework required. All Certificate credits must be earned from the Samaritan Institute. Certificate credits can be applied to degree plans. No portfolio credits can be applied to the PMC. Coursework must consist of Introduction to Pastoral Care, all five core Spirituality courses, a bible course, the Prayer Ministry training course, and two  electives.

Certificate in Progressive Religious Leadership (10 TSI credits)

Ordained clergy and seminary graduates who are in the process of seeking ordination may apply for an internship at Sunshine Cathedral leading to the CPRL. Those accepted into the program are responsible for their own lodging and income, and the duration of the internship will be 12 weeks. During this period, the interns will take 4 TSI courses, participate weekly in worship, attend staff meetings, and have weekly meetings with a Cathedral staff pastor. For this 12 week period the intern will be awarded 10 TSI credits which can be applied to a degree. At the end of the 12 week period, the intern will be awarded the Certificate in Progressive Religious Leadership and can include a Sunshine Cathedral internship on her/his resume.

Certificate in Spirituality Studies (14 TSI credits)

No previous college coursework required. All Certificate credits must be

earned from The Samaritan Institute. Certificate credits can be applied to

degree plans. No portfolio credits can be applied to the CSS. Coursework must include a bible course, a Comparative Religion/Traditions in Dialogue course, and two Spirituality courses.

 Associate of Applied Religious Studies (60 credits)

  1. Must complete 60 credits (At least 24 of the 60 credits must be completed from TSI). AARS credits can be applied to the BTS.
  2. Up to 36 credits can be earned by transfer and/or portfolio assessment.
  3. At least 24 credits must be in religious/theological fields.
  4. At least one course must be from the New Thought tradition.

 Bachelor of Theological Studies (120 credits)

  1. Must have completed at least 51 credits from TSI or from *accredited institutions to transfer into the BTS degree program.
  2. Transfer and Institute course work must demonstrate writing skills, critical thinking, and studies in the humanities.
  3. It is desirable for transfer and portfolio work to also demonstrate professional or technical skills, and knowledge of social sciences and holistic health.
  4. Up to 45 credits can be granted by portfolio assessment.
  5. At least 24 credits must be earned by TSI and must include course work in bible, theology, and New Thought spirituality. At least half of the 120 credits for a BTS must be in religious, philosophical, or ministry related areas.

 Master of Religious Studies (30 credits)

  1. Must have completed a Baccalaureate degree from an *accredited institution. 
  2. Must complete 30 credits: 24 credits (the MRS core courses) and 6 elective credits. 24 of the 30 credits must be from TSI. Any non-TSI credits must be from *accredited institutions. Transfer credits will usually be accepted as elective credits only. No portfolio credits will be applied to the MRS.

 TSI courses are usually taken one evening a week for 6 weeks. Some courses are offered online, also for 6 weeks. TSI courses are usually worth one credit each. Students can request credit for theological conferences (some written work may be required). Anyone can take TSI courses and attend TSI events; one need not be pursuing a TSI degree to benefit from our educational programs.

 *TSI accepts credits from schools that are accredited by one of the 6 regional accrediting agencies in the US recognized by the US Dept. of Education (Middles States Association, New England Asso., North Central Asso., Northwest Asso., Western Asso., Southern Asso.), by the Distance Education & Training Council (DETC), by the Association of Theological Schools in the US & Canada (ATS), and by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools & Colleges. CEUs (continuing education units), professional training, and course work from unaccredited institutions can be accepted as portfolio credits.

 The Samaritan Institute offers:

       Classes for personal enrichment & personal growth

       Evening (and occasional online) courses leading to degrees or certificates (or can be taken simply for personal enrichment)

       Film showings

       Panel Discussions

       Publications (a monthly devotional magazine and informational booklets)

       Public Lectures

       Religious Education Workshops

       Seasonal Study Groups

       Spiritual Retreats

       Theological conferences

       Lay Ministry Training 

       With SunCast Productions, religious education media programming for the Internet

TSI Supports and Promotes:

       The Sunshine Cathedral speaker series

       The Sunshine Cathedral Performing Arts Series

       The Sunshine Cathedral Authors Series

       Life-long learning

       TSI students sometimes find theological/religious education so life-changing, they go on to attend major seminaries!


There is no application fee nor is there a graduation fee for any TSI program. Each course is usually $30 per six-week term, but may be more or less depending on content and circumstances.  Conference fees vary. Some events are offered at no cost or on a donation basis. Fees are waived for CPRL interns. TSI tries to make religious education accessible to all and affordable for all.

 Core Courses for the MRS:

Biblical Field

AIB.1: Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible

HTRB.1: How to Read the Bible

TBH.1: The Bible & Homosexuality

 Theological Field

RC.1: Remedial Christianity  

Spirituality Field

BIDS.1: Basic Ideas of Divine Science  

BISOM.1: Basic Ideas of the Science of Mind  

IACIM.1: Introduction to A Course in Miracles

INTS.1: Introduction to New Thought Spirituality

OATT.1: Open at the Top: Going Deeper into Progressive, Positive,

Practical Spirituality  

 Creative Expression Field

CE.1: Creative Expression (Dance, Music, Drama, Speech, Art, Writing, Film  Appreciation, etc.)

Ministry Field

IPC.1: Introduction to Pastoral Care

LMP.2: Lay Ministry Practicum 

TID.1: Traditions in Dialogue (or CR.1: Comparative Religions)

TFPM.1: Training for Prayer Ministry (Prerequisite: any Spirituality course)

Individualized Studies Field

IS1.3: Individualized Study 101

IS2.3: Individualized Study 102 (can’t be same topic as 101)

CP.3: Capstone Project/Paper


 TSI’s Academic Council

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Chancellor & Acting Director of Academic Programs; Rev. Robert Griffin, faculty member & former Dean; Rev. Brian Hutchison, faculty member 


Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins – MCC

BA, Henderson State University; MA, Goddard College; MDiv, Union Theological Seminary; DMin, Episcopal Divinity School (Senior Pastor of Sunshine Cathedral)

 Rev. Brian Hutchison – MCC

BA, University of Maryland; Certificate, ibid.; MDiv, Pacific School of Religion (Staff minister for  Sunshine Cathedral)

 Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin – MCC

MDiv, Episcopal Divinity School; DMin, Florida Center for Theological Studies (Former Academic Dean of Light University; Staff minister for Sunshine Cathedral)

 * MCC = Metropolitan Community Churches

 Instructors & Guest Lecturers have included:

Rev. BK Hipsher – MCC

BS, California Coast University; MATS, Episcopal Divinity School; Advanced Certificate, ibid.; DMin candidate, ibid. (Virtual Church Chaplain for Sunshine Cathedral)

 Ms. Celene Lillie – American Baptist/United Church of Christ

BA, Naropa University; MDiv, Union Theological Seminary; PhD studies, ibid.

Dr. Ed Allemand – Roman Catholic/MCC

BA & STB, St. Mary’s Seminary Univ.; MA, De Paul University; PhD, Louvain U.

Rev. Elder Don Eastman – MCC

Graduate, Central Bible College (former Vice-Moderator of MCC)

Rev. Gail Tapscott – Unitarian Universalist

MDiv, Harvard Divinity School

 Rev. Gay Lynn Williamson-Grigas –  Unity

BS, Wayne State University; MA, Center for Humanistic Studies; graduate, Unity Institute (former Academic Dean of Light University)

 Rev. Dr. John J. McNeill – Roman Catholic

Graduate, Canisius College; PhD, Louvain University


Rev. Dr. Kathleen A. Bishop – Independent New Thought

Graduate, Unity Institute; MBA, Century University; PhD, Florida Religious Studies Institute (Former Teaching Associate for Sunshine Cathedral; Founder of the World Federation of Practical Christianity and Fillmore Seminary)

 Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus – Presbyterian (USA)

BA, Wheaton College; MDiv, Princeton Theological Seminary; DMin, Columbia Presbyterian Theological Seminary; DMin, Florida Center for Theological Studies (Faculty member at Florida Center for Theological Studies)

 Rev. Elder Lillie Brock – MCC

BA, Carson Newman College; graduate, Samaritan Institute for Religious Studies (MCC Elder for Large Churches)

 Ms. Pat Matthis – Episcopal

JD, University of Texas; Certificate, Episcopal Divinity School; additional study, Harvard University (former member of the Carter Administration)

Rev. Dr. Michael Diaz – MCC

BA, Oral Roberts University; MDiv, Episcopal Divinity School; DMin candidate, Episcopal Divinity School; DHL, The Samaritan Institute at Sunshine Cathedral (Former Director of Academic Programs for TSI/staff minister at Sunshine Cathedral)

Rev. Dr. Mona West – MCC

BA, Louisiana College; MDiv, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; PhD, ibid.; Certificate, Columbia Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Director of Leadership Development for MCC; has also taught at colleges and seminaries and is the former Academic Dean of Samaritan Institute for Religious Studies)

Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache – MCC

BA, University of California @ Los Angeles; BTh, Samaritan College; MA, University of Virginia; MA, Georgetown University; DMin, Episcopal Divinity School (former faculty for Samaritan College; former Director of MCC’s Mid-Atlantic District’s ministerial education program)

 Teaching Assistants:

Ms. Anne Atwell – MCC

BS, Florida Atlantic University; seminarian, Florida Center for Theological Studies/St. Thomas University

 Deacon Marian Cavagnaro – MCC

BS, Barry University; MS, Florida International University; MRS, Light University; ABD, Nova Southeastern University; seminarian, Florida Center for Theological Studies

 Mr. Walt Weiss – MCC

BBA, University of Hawaii; BS, Rutgers University; seminarian, Florida Center for Theological Studies

 Sunshine Cathedral Guest Speakers (2007 – 2011):

Rev. Elder Lillie Brock – MCC

(see Instructors/Guest Lecturers)

Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson – MCC

BA, Allegheny College; graduate studies, Boston University School of Theology; MDiv, Ss. Cyril & Methodius Seminary; DMin candidate, Episcopal Divinity School (Presiding Elder & Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches)

Rev. Elder Troy Perry – MCC

Attended Midwestern Bible College; honorary doctorates from Samaritan College, Sierra University, and Episcopal Divinity School respectively (Founder and former Presiding Elder/Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches)

Rev. Dr. Mona West – MCC

PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (see Instructors/Guest Lecturers)

Rev. Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale – Episcopal

BA, William & Mary College; MDiv, Virginia Theological Seminary; DMin, Episcopal Divinity School (President & Dean, Episcopal Divinity School)

 Rev. Dr. Rocco Errico – Unity

DD, St. Ephrem’s Institute (Sweden); STD, School of Christianity; DLitt, American Apostolic University (Chair of Biblical Studies, Barbara King School of Ministry)

 Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney – Episcopal

BA, Earlham College; MDiv, Howard University; PhD, Duke University (Faculty, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia)

 Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris – Episcopal

Attended Villanova University and has been awarded numerous honorary doctorate degrees from such prestigious institutions as Yale and Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Bishop Harris was the first woman to be consecrated a bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Rev. Dr. Robyn Provis – MCC

MTS, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary; DMin, Episcopal Divinity School. (Has been the Asst. Pastor of Pikes Peak MCC (Colorado Springs), the interim Pastor of MCC Austin, the Co-Pastor of All God’s Children MCC (Minneapolis), & since January 2011 a staff minister for Sunshine Cathedral) Ordained MCC/Rostered ELCA

Rev. Pat Bumgardner – MCC

MDiv, Catholic Theological Union; DMin candidate, Episcopal Divinity School. (Senior pastor of MCC New York and the chairperson for the MCC Global Justice Team)

Rev. Canon Ed Rodman – Episcopal

BA, Hampton Institute; MDiv, Episcopal Theological School (now known as Episcopal Divinity School). Honorary doctorates from St. Augustine College (DHL) and Episcopal Divinity School (DD).

(Has been a parish priest, the Canon Missioner for the Diocese of Massachusetts, and a faculty member at the Episcopal Divinity School)

 Rabbi Noah Kitty – Reconstructionist

Rabbi Kitty is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. (Served a congregation for several years in rural Vermont before moving to Florida. She is now a service leader at Congregation Etz Chaim)

 MCC Core Values:

Inclusion, Community, Spiritual Transformation, & Social Action

Winter Term: Jan. 17th – Feb. 21st

Spring: March 14th – May 18th

Fall I: Sept. 12th – Oct. 20th

Fall II: Nov. 6th – Dec. 15th







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