Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries Receives Lilly Endowment Grant to Improve the Economic Well-Being of Future Ministers
Gettysburg Seminary to Focus on Competencies-Based Curriculum
December 16, 2013 (Gettysburg, PA) The Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries is pleased to announce that it has received a major grant from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. The Endowment awarded $750,000, to be utilized over a three-year period, to support the Cluster’s initiative The Abundant Life: Seminaries Address the Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers.
Personal financial pressures are severely limiting the ability of seminary graduates to accept calls to Christian ministry and undermining the effectiveness of too many pastoral leaders. To help address this issue, Lilly Endowment created the Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers. The initiative’s aim is to encourage theological schools to examine and strengthen their financial and educational practices to improve the economic well-being of future pastors. All theological schools fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada were invited to submit grant proposals, and 67 schools have been awarded grants.
“Pastors are indispensable spiritual leaders and guides, and the quality of pastoral leadership is critical to the health and vitality of congregations,” said Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “Theological schools play a critical role in preparing pastors and are uniquely positioned to address some of the economic challenges they face,” Coble said. “The Endowment hopes that these grants will support broad efforts to improve the financial circumstances facing pastoral leaders so that pastors can serve their congregations more joyfully and effectively,” said Coble.
An overarching component of The Abundant Life endeavor will be research to determine the overall impact on Lutheran ministers of beginning their careers with a heavy load of debt accrued during undergraduate and theological studies. While previous studies have determined that a new minister can realistically support loan payments on educational debt in the realm of $30,000, many graduate from seminary with two or three times that amount. Through survey instruments and/or personal interviews with all graduates of the past five years, as well as members of congregations they serve, the Cluster’s leaders will learn the full extent of the impact caused by high levels of educational debt.
Five experimental initiatives envisioned at the three schools will help reduce costs of theological education. All three schools will strengthen courses in stewardship and expand financial coaching so that every student has access to personal counseling in managing money, minimizing expenses and becoming stronger leaders in congregational stewardship. Each school will use a portion of the grant to revise and streamline the educational process; for many students, the time required to complete a Master of Divinity degree may be shortened by a semester or more, thereby reducing their overall educational costs.
The schools will also develop new grant-supported fundraising efforts to build their scholarship pools and offer greater financial aid to students with need. Philadelphia will pioneer a F.A.R. (Flexible, Affordable, Relevant) curricular approach; at Gettysburg, many students will shorten their time in seminary through a competencies-based approach in which they can meet requirements on the basis of prior educational or vocational credentials and demonstrated abilities; Southern Seminary will pilot test an “articulation” agreement with Lenoir-Rhyne University through which some students may shorten substantially their total years spent in undergraduate and theological education.
Each school will have a site director for its distinctive endeavors and to work collegially in the Cluster-wide research project. Overall direction of The Abundant Life project will be by Dr. Phillip Krey, current Executive Director of the Eastern Cluster and President at Philadelphia. Speaking of the excitement at all three campuses upon receiving notification of the Endowment’s grant, Krey said, “The Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries collaborates in imaginative ways to improve theological education for leaders of congregations. We are so proud of all who worked so tirelessly together at the three schools for this successful proposal and are even more thankful for the confidence that Lilly Endowment has afforded us. We are already hard at work to make this grant another banner Eastern Cluster program.”
About the Eastern Cluster
The Cluster is an incorporated entity of two Pennsylvania seminaries (Gettysburg and Philadelphia) and a South Carolina school of theology (Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University). Through the Cluster the three schools field common programs, coordinate academic offerings (including a Doctor of Ministry degree, preparation for Diaconal Ministers, and a common library system) and share faculty and administrative resources. In the course of its 15-year history it has garnered previous Lilly Endowment grants for its successful Project Connect vocations outreach project. Additional grants to the Cluster from the Luce, Teagle and Thrivent Financial foundations bring total receipts from external sources to over $6 million.
About the Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family — J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli — through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes. More information can be found at www.lillyendowment.org
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