EMS awarded nearly $1 million grant by Lilly Endowment to support pastors, build ‘thriving ministries’ program

Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS) has received a five-year grant of $999,900 from Lilly Endowment Inc. in support of a national initiative to help clergy working in congregations thrive in their roles as pastoral leaders.

The seminary is one of 24 organizations including seminaries, universities, retreat centers, denominational judicatories, faith-based agencies and other interdenominational and non-denominational organizations representing diverse Christian communities to be selected to help establish the “Strengthening Foundations for Thriving in Ministry” program. Read the full press release here.

The “Thriving in Ministry” initiative is designed to help organizations create and launch programs that support pastors as they move through professional transitions and face challenges posed by their particular ministry contexts. These include programs for new pastors in the first few years of ministry, for mid-career pastors moving into new ministry contexts for the first time, and for pastors, such as church planters, who face unique challenges that arise within their specific congregational settings.

The Rev. Dr. Brenda Martin Hurst. (Courtesy photo)

“Many pastors are seeking role models and wise colleagues who can guide them through professional transitions and challenges encountered in particular ministry contexts,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Our hope is that this grant to Eastern Mennonite University will support a new wave of efforts that help clergy thrive and lead their congregations more effectively.”

Aspects of EMS’s current pedagogic structure, with coursework paired with involvement in congregational and other ministry settings, provided an embedded framework for this integrative approach, said Dr. Fred Kniss, interim dean.

Specific goals of the “Strengthening Foundations” program include skill-building and support for current students and alumni in ministry, training for pastors who want to lead/coach clergy peer groups, peer group networking and support for those who want to build networks within their local ministry contexts, such as within districts or conferences.

“Our Anabaptist-rooted, ecumenically engaged alumni and student groups bring a variety of gifts to the discernment of what thriving in ministry looks like. This generous grant from the Lilly Endowment is a welcome opportunity to further strengthen aspects of Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s training that have long been part of our core mission,” he said. “We will now be able to offer even more continuing support to our alumni as they seek to thrive in their particular ministry settings.”

The Rev. Dr. Brenda Martin Hurst will direct the grant. Hurst, who holds a doctorate from Union Theological Seminary, was pastor of Frazer (Pa.) Mennonite Church for 10 years, and a professor of practical theology at EMS for nearly six years.

“She brings to the role outstanding academic credentials and extensive ministry experience, and will be a welcome addition to the seminary community,” Kniss added.

Eastern Mennonite Seminary, accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, is the graduate theological division of Eastern Mennonite University, which celebrates 100 years this academic year. Though the seminary was formalized in 1965, Bible classes were a mainstay of the early institution’s curriculum. Since the mid-’80s, EMS has shared a special relationship with the United Methodist Church in theological education, having been approved by the church’s University Senate for the training of candidates for ordination.

 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.

Discussion on “EMS awarded nearly $1 million grant by Lilly Endowment to support pastors, build ‘thriving ministries’ program

  1. This article evokes “Congratulations” times two. First, the funding from Lilly to strengthen integration of seminary education with pastoral transition offers opportunity to enhance the formational work that has been a mainstay of the seminary’s various curricular offerings. Secondly, the announcement that Brenda Martin Hurst has been engaged to direct the grant signals leadership shaped by the twin callings of serving the church through both the academy and the pastorate. Finally, kudos to Nancy, Les, Fred, and whoever else invested time and effort in procuring the grant.


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