Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary receives a grant of $1 million from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary (SOT/Sem) has received a grant of $1 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish “Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission:  Co-Responsibility in the Changing Context of Congregational Life.”

The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the national 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.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $93 million in grants through the initiative. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them gain clarity about their values and missions, explore and understand better the communities in which they serve, and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.

 The SOT/Sem has been partnering with the Diocese of Saint Cloud in its project of restructuring traditional parishes into “Area Catholic Communities.” In order for these new communities to flourish, the baptized must be encouraged and assisted in taking responsibility for the strength and vitality of these communities.  The main goal of the program is to increase the sense of agency of the baptized and their commitment to a faith community that not only cares for its specific members but reaches beyond traditional parish boundaries to neighboring parishes and to the local communities.  The cultivation of knowledge and collaborative skills in the areas of theology and ministry will be fundamental to the transformation of the passive baptized into empowered participants in faith communities central to the meaning of their lives.

 Fr. Dale Launderville, SOT/Sem Dean, notes: “We in the SOT/Sem are excited about the potential of this initiative to call forth new leaders in local faith communities who embrace the challenge of taking responsibility along with their pastors for building up and energizing their communities. Dr. Barbara Sutton, SOT/Sem Director of Ministerial Formation and Field Education, has been instrumental in the development of this project and will direct its implementation over the next five years. Sutton notes: "This project affords us a new opportunity to work more closely with our diocesan colleagues and to realize our shared ideals in ministry formation and practice.”

Saint John’s  School of Theology and Seminary is one of 92 organizations taking part in the initiative. They 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 nondenominational. Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic and Asian-American traditions.

“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’s 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.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019 as part of its commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.