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Union Presbyterian Seminary to use $4.5M grant to address religion in families

Research hub will seek news ways to communicate how spirituality contributes to children’s lives

by Union Presbyterian Seminary | Special to Presbyterian News Service

A $4.5 million Lilly Endowment grant will help Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Dr. Karen-Marie Yust study how to make faith more relevant in children’s lives. (Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash)

RICHMOND, Virginia – Union Presbyterian Seminary has received a $4.5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to create a research and innovation hub that will broaden ways of being religious in families and make church more meaningful in their lives.

According to a seminary news release, Josiah P. and Anne Wilson Rowe Professor of Christian Education Dr. Karen-Marie Yust will create a network of projects that explore and support innovative and effective practices for children’s spiritual nurture and faith formation. The hub will provide a central public location for resources for and conversations about promoting children’s spiritual well-being. It will support experimentation and reflective practice regarding new approaches to the formation of religious identity in children birth-to-12.

Dr. Karen-Marie Yust

“The project provides an opportunity to rethink what it means to nurture children’s spirituality at home, in congregations and in the public realm,” Yust said. “It also connects the seminary with its roots in the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now federated with Union Presbyterian Seminary), reclaiming its legacy as the place ministry leaders turn to for best practices around children’s spirituality and children’s faith formation.”

As religious participation continues to decline in North America, passing on the Christian faith to younger generations has become increasingly imperative. “We’re trying to find new ways to communicate how spirituality is a positive part of children’s lives in North America,” said Yust.

Dr. Brian K. Blount

Seminary President Dr. Brian K. Blount said the work promises to be groundbreaking. “This hub will continue the seminary’s commitment — rooted in the legacy of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education and its demonstration kindergarten — to promote cutting edge research on children’s spirituality and reflective practice,” Blount said. “In a time when the church struggles to transmit its faith to younger generations, the project has the promise of being a transformational landmark in the ministry of children’s spiritual formation.”

Projects for Yust’s new Children’s Spirituality Research and Innovation Hub will build on her initial work, Mapping Children’s Faith Formation, which has been helping churches find new ways to communicate the value of religious practices for children and families in a diverse and complicated world.

Working groups of scholars and practitioners affiliated with the hub will work to rethink the traditional Sunday school model of faith formation and examine how contemporary parents can become engaged with their child’s spiritual growth in a meaningful way. Yust said the effective children’s faith formation methods they develop will meet parents where they are in 2020 and beyond.

The hub will serve as a collaborative space for researchers, families, congregations, and for a general public that is skeptical of religion to talk with one another about children’s spirituality. It will establish research working groups, fund independent researchers, and create an international research consultation group, as well as support innovative trends in children’s faith education. The hub will offer resources to the community through its website, publications, education consultancy, and course offerings.

The project will consist of a main hub and a number of mini-hubs. The mini-hubs will be a space for encouraging members within their networks to experiment with new methods and strategies and then reflect on their practice with one another and other mini-hubs.

The $4.5 million award is the school’s largest-ever research grant.


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