Bethany Receives $1M from Lilly Endowment to Build Bridges Across Ideological Divides

Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded Bethany Theological Seminary a grant of $1M in support of a new initiative focused on preparing pastors to help congregations embrace diversity and address divisive issues. The grant will enable Bethany to build bridges across differences in three areas — experiential learning, institutional partnerships and improved curriculum.

The grant is being made through Lilly Endowment’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.

With the grant, the Seminary will hire a new employee to coordinate ministry formation and community engagement, develop new courses, expand partnerships with other seminaries, and provide additional opportunities for students, faculty members, and staff to thoughtfully engage with diversity in many forms.

The Seminary 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.

The Seminary intends to use this new funding to better equip students to be “bridge builders” — helping congregations have fruitful conversations about difficult topics during a time of deep ideological and political divisions in the United States.

“We are grateful for the trust and generosity of Lilly Endowment,” says President Jeff Carter. “As we worked with our friends at Lilly to develop our grant proposal, it was clear they saw something special and out-of-the-ordinary in what we were proposing. It is an honor to have Lilly make a philanthropic investment in our mission and vision. This gift will be transformational.”

Among the new initiatives made possible by this grant are:

  • The hiring of a new Coordinator of Ministry Formation who will focus on developing new field education placements and assist residential students with securing community engagement opportunities.
  • The creation of several new courses, including an introductory course for students living in the “Bethany Neighborhood.” (The “Neighborhood” is a group of houses where the Seminary provides affordable housing for students as part of an effort to help students earn degrees without additional debt.) The grant will also fund continuing education courses that will bring together Church of the Brethren pastors from other parts of the U.S. with ecumenical pastors from the Midwest.
  • New support for faculty members to create independent projects related to their teaching, focused either on introducing new content or new teaching techniques related to the goals of bridge building.
  • The expansion of a partnership between Bethany and New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey, to include new opportunities for cross-cultural education open to students from both institutions.

“This grant will provide us an opportunity to transform the educational experience we are offering to students,” notes Carter. “We ultimately want to see our students better prepared to lead congregations in communicating across divisions and forming community in diverse contexts. We seek to become better connected to congregations for the sake of sharing resources and fostering community. We want to empower professors to help students bridge ideological divisions and embrace various forms of diversity. We also seek to make Bethany more hospitable to diverse people, especially people of color, in its policies and communal life. We are excited to begin this exciting and crucial work.”