Virginia Theological Seminary receives Lilly Endowment grant

October 1, 2002

Virginia Theological Seminary has been selected to receive a grant of $833,199 from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. to participate in a national program called 'Sustaining Pastoral Excellence.' The program is a new effort of the Endowment to focus attention and energy on maintaining the high caliber of many of the country's pastoral leaders.

Overall, 47 grants were awarded for a total of $57.9 million to religiously affiliated organizations across the country. The awards, given from three to five years, range from $252,355 to $2 million.

The Rev. Martha J. Horne, dean and president of Virginia Seminary, said, 'This grant from the Lilly Endowment will enable us to begin what I believe will be an effective program for developing skills and habits that will enable our graduates to sustain a high level of pastoral excellence throughout their ministries. It has become increasingly clear that a three-year Master in Divinity degree program can only begin to prepare students for ordained ministry, and that some skills and practices are better learned 'on the job.' It has long been my hope that VTS could provide newly-ordained clergy with an opportunity to participate in a structured context of ongoing learning, reflection, and formation for pastoral ministry in the early years of their ministries. We are deeply grateful to the Lilly Endowment for this opportunity.'

Over the past few years, the Endowment has put several programs in place to encourage current pastors in their work. It has established the National Clergy Renewal Program (2002 marks its third season). The Endowment also has supported small pilot programs of peer learning groups on a limited basis.

'It became obvious, however, that many more pastors would be candidates for such programs and would benefit greatly from participating in them. So we invited 'any nonprofit organization committed to supporting pastoral work and prepared to create or enhance a high-quality pastoral leadership program' to submit a proposal in this program,' said Craig Dykstra, Endowment vice president for religion.

'Judging from the response, we seem to have tapped into a wellspring of interest. More than 700 institutions put time and thought into proposals for this competitive program,' he noted.

Most groups serve racially mixed groups of pastors, but two programs are aimed explicitly at African Americans, two at Hispanics, and one at Korean pastors on the West Coast. Most offer opportunities for pastors at any stage of their career, though several focus particularly on new pastors. 'Peer group learning'-that is, small groups of pastors who meet regularly for several years for ongoing renewal and mutual support-form the basis for most of the programs.

'We will be most interested in following these projects over the next few years,' Dykstra said. 'They offer the promise of meaningful renewal for many pastors in this country.'