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$1 million grant will help Columbia Theological Seminary fund a new initiative

Lilly Foundation Inc. grant will boost the seminary’s Pastoral Leadership for the Church of Many Cultures

by Columbia Theological Seminary | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Columbia Theological Seminary President Dr. Leanne Van Dyk addresses the audience before the closing keynote in 2019 at the Migration and Border Crossings conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

DECATUR, Georgia — Columbia Theological Seminary has received a grant of $1 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help prioritize and respond to the challenges of preparing pastoral leaders for Christian congregations both now and into the future.

This grant will help Columbia position itself for a future of increased relevance and effectiveness for its third century by funding a new initiative, Pastoral Leadership for the Church of Many Cultures.

“We are so honored to receive this funding,” says Columbia’s President, Dr. Leanne Van Dyk. “As our project title reflects, we have discerned a clear call to align all that we do with the fundamental challenges and opportunities of social location and racial justice. This central conviction is at the heart of the initiative funded by this grant and will prepare Columbia for increased effectiveness in preparing leadership in the context of a rapidly changing and increasingly diverse church.”

Pastoral Leadership for a Church of Many Cultures is being 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.

The three projects that are part of Columbia’s Pastoral Leadership for a Church of Many Cultures are:

  • Columbia Connects — a recruitment and admissions project that will build relational points of contact and trust with prospective students from the PC(USA), as well as prospective students from under-served communities of color, in order to prepare pastoral leaders for Christian churches.
  • Columbia Contextualizes — a professional development project that will increase the faculty’s capacity for curricular innovation in two areas: intercultural teaching and learning for a diverse church, and congregational ministry effectiveness.
  • Columbia Campaign — a planning study to engage stakeholders in the design of a comprehensive campaign that will equip Columbia to serve the aspirations and vitality of an increasingly intercultural church.

Columbia Theological Seminary is one of 84 theological schools that are receiving a total of more than $82 million in grants through the second phase of the Pathways initiative. Together, the schools represent evangelical, mainline Protestant, nondenominational, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic and Black church and historic peace church traditions (e.g., Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Quakers). Many schools also serve students and pastors from Black, Latino, Korean American, Chinese American and recent immigrant Christian communities.

“Theological schools have long played a pivotal role in preparing pastoral leaders for churches,” said Christopher L. Coble, the 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.

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.

About Columbia Theological Seminary

Columbia Theological Seminary is “cultivating faithful leaders for God’s changing world.” As an educational institution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Columbia Seminary is a community of theological inquiry, leadership development, and formation for ministry in the service of the Church of Jesus Christ. Columbia Seminary offers six graduate degree programs and dozens of courses and events as a resource for church professionals and lay people through The Center for Lifelong Learning. For more information, go here.


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