Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded Wake Forest University a $1 million grant through the Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. Wake Forest University School of Divinity will utilize the grant to work directly with congregations to help them gain clarity about their values and missions, better explore and understand the communities in which they serve, and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.
The aim of the national Lilly Endowment Inc initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world. The program will be facilitated through the School of Divinity’s Baptist Commons, which serves as a bridge between the School of Divinity, congregational leaders, and churches who are striving for justice.
“In preparation for this grant, we asked, 'What does it mean for Wake Divinity to equip congregations who desire for their faith to inform the way they ought to act, for their theology to be intentional and shape behavior, and for their theology and doctrine to influence liturgical expression?'” Natalie Aho, program manager of the Baptist Commons.
Programming supported by the grant will facilitate learning communities from nine regions with each of the nine cohorts consisting of three Baptist churches connected to the Baptist Commons and three intentionally diverse partner churches of these Baptist congregations. Participation in the program provides space and instruction in developing practices for morals, ethics, and spirituality to apply within their own churches and the communities they serve.
“We are incredibly grateful for the support provided by Lilly Endowment Inc. Our mission to foster agents of justice, reconciliation, and compassion extends beyond the walls of the university and into the community and world. This grant will help us extend valuable support to faith communities throughout the southeast. Strengthening local ministries that serve as influencers will broaden the impact of the program in ways that help promote thriving congregations and ultimately thriving communities.” Jonathan Lee Walton, Wake Forest University School of Divinity dean
Lilly Endowment intends to make nearly $93 million in grants through the Thriving Congregations Initiative. Wake Forest University is one of 92 organizations participating in the endeavor. The cohort of institutions represent and serve churches in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including Anabaptist, Baptist, Episcopal, evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Restoration, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, as well as congregations that describe themselves as non-denominational.
“In the midst of a rapidly changing world, Christian congregations are grappling with how they can best carry forward their ministries,” said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment vice president for religion. “These grants will help congregations assess their ministries and draw on practices in their theological traditions to address new challenges and better nurture the spiritual vitality of the people they serve.”
Wake Forest University School of Divinity’s program will invest in 54 congregations and 270 individuals over the course of four years. Participants will meet with their congregations and at times collectively with their cohort. After a year of learning, each congregation will develop and implement a project based on what they have learned about becoming a thriving congregation focused on justice, reconciliation, and compassion.
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