Methodist Theological School in Ohio has received a five-year grant of $999,665 to help establish “Connecting Pathways: A Multi-Faceted Approach to Strengthen and Sustain Current and Future Faith Leaders.”

The project is being funded through Lilly Endowment Inc.’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 new grant was awarded less than a year after Lilly Endowment awarded MTSO $995,731 to help establish “Spaces for Thriving: Cultivating Authentic Pastors for Small Membership Churches and Communities of Color.” Lilly Endowment made the grant through its Thriving in Ministry Initiative.

MTSO’s successful Pathways for Tomorrow proposal arose from a Lilly Endowment planning grant, awarded in the spring of 2021, which enabled the school to conduct an online survey with more than 300 respondents, followed by individual conversations.

The resulting project will utilize MTSO’s distinct strengths in two distinct parts.

Part One, “Connecting Pathways: Congregations and Other Ministry Partners,” will support existing religious leaders, focusing on anti-racism training and resourcing. Working with partner organizations, MTSO will help faith leaders to assess land use and church food programs to assist in building community engagement.

Part Two, “Connecting Pathways: Vocational Exploration Intensive for Young Adults,” will invite young adults to imagine the possibilities for lifelong faith, offering experiential learning, theological reflection, worship, and relationships with healthy community leaders and vibrant faith communities. It will introduce the whys and hows of ministry, connecting participants with faith leaders, including some of those involved in Part One of the project.

The grant will be directed by Tim Van Meter, who holds MTSO’s Alford Chair of Christian Education and Youth Ministry and also serves as the school’s coordinator of ecological initiatives. Director of Vocational Discernment and Community Engagement Kathy Dickson will serve as grant coordinator.

“We’re grateful to Lilly Endowment for its support of this vital work for the future of the church,” said MTSO President Jay Rundell. “The two parts of this project align with two of our strengths: working with religious leaders in the area of anti-racism, and serving young adults who are discerning vocational possibilities in religious leadership.”

MTSO 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.

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.

Methodist Theological School in Ohio provides theological education and leadership in pursuit of a just, sustainable and generative world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in counseling, practical theology, social justice and theological studies, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree.

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