Wake Forest University School of Divinity reimagines theological education with $1 million from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Wake Forest University has received a grant of $1 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help the Wake Forest University School of Divinity establish new certificate and degree programs in theological education.

The project is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. It is a three-phase initiative designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada as they prioritize and respond to the most pressing challenges they face as they prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations both now and into the future.

Wake Forest University School of Divinity’s project proposal “Plans for a Future and a Hope”: Shaping Agents of Justice, Reconciliation, and Compassion, and Architects of Equity, Hope, and Healing, aims to create future educational pathways for religious professionals and others in a variety of fields that could benefit from a fuller awareness of how religious commitments and communities impact public concerns such as health equity. One targeted area of interest is health care.

“This award will help us explore and implement certificate and degree programs at the intersections of “Faith, Health Equity, and Inclusive Leadership,” says Jonathan Lee Walton, dean. It’s one thing to train religious professionals who know how to pray with families, but we also understand the importance of training religious leaders who have an awareness of social determinants of good health.”

The school plans to expand its current Food, Health, and Ecological Well-Being program and explore additional areas for training both religious and health care professionals in responding to the needs of society that intersect with faith and health. Supporters of the project include Faith Health NC, the School of Professional Studies in Charlotte, and Atrium Health.

“The landscape of higher education is changing,” says Jill Crainshaw, “Students are seeking flexible and affordable options that allow them to progress towards their goals in a timeframe that works best for their lives. Stackable credentials that lead to advanced degrees offer one way to respond to this need while providing a quality educational experience.  

Wake Forest University School of Divinity is one of 84 theological schools that are benefiting from a total of more than $82 million in grants through the second phase of the Pathways initiative.

“Theological schools have long played a pivotal role in preparing pastoral leaders for churches,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Today, these schools find themselves in a period of rapid and profound change.  Through the Pathways Initiative, theological schools will take deliberate steps to address the challenges they have identified in ways that make the most sense to them.  We believe that their efforts are critical to ensuring that Christian congregations continue to have a steady stream of pastoral leaders who are well-prepared to lead the churches of tomorrow.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Pathways initiative in January 2021 because of its longstanding interest in supporting efforts to enhance and sustain the vitality of Christian congregations by strengthening the leadership capacities of pastors and congregational lay leaders.

Today more than ever, our world needs thoughtful, sober, and well-informed religious professionals to respond to the injustices and trauma of our society,” says Dean Walton. “We are overjoyed to be part of this extraordinary initiative to reimagine theological education. Lilly Endowment Inc.’s commitment to shaping subsequent generations of women and men to serve the church is unrivaled.”


 About Wake Forest University School of Divinity

Wake Forest University School of Divinity is a dynamic and ecumenical theological institution that prepares men and women to be religious leaders in a changing world. The School currently offers the Master of Divinity degree and several joint degrees in law, bioethics, counseling, education, and sustainability, and a dual degree pathway in business, offered in partnership with other schools of the University. Through imaginative courses and diverse programs of community engagement, students are equipped to be agents of justice, reconciliation, and compassion in Christian churches and other ministries.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.  The primary aim of its grantmaking in religion, which is national in scope, focuses on strengthening the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion and lift up in fair, accurate and balanced ways the contributions that people of all faiths and religious communities make to our greater civic well-being.

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