$1M Lilly Endowment grant supports Eastern Mennonite Seminary launch of conflict transformation programming for pastoral leaders

Eastern Mennonite University has been awarded a grant of $998,606 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s development of a new interdisciplinary pastoral leadership institute that will offer workshops, courses and trainings on conflict transformation. The institute opens this fall.

“In recent years, we’ve heard an urgent call from pastors and lay leaders for help in equipping them towards embodying a transformative vision for conflict,” said The Rev. Dr. Sarah Bixler, associate dean of the seminary. “In collaboration with the university’s renowned Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, programming through The Penuel Project will offer pastors robust frameworks for understanding conflict, practical skills in peacebuilding and conflict transformation, and a biblical and theological vision for wise responses.”

The Penuel Project is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, a three-phase initiative designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada respond to the most pressing challenges they face in preparing pastoral leaders for today and the future. 

The Penuel Project gets its name from the biblical story set near Penuel. There, Jacob met his estranged brother Esau after being up all night wrestling with a mysterious figure. At Penuel, the brothers found it was possible to embrace after years of conflict. Jacob exclaimed to Esau, “Truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God!” (Gen. 33:10b). Could pastoral leaders today also see the face of God in the midst of conflict? How could they help their communities to do the same? EMS is answering this urgent call by drawing on its unique interdisciplinary resources, including collaboration with the university’s renowned Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP).

“This grant gives EMS substantial resources to offer cutting-edge programs at the intersection of conflict transformation and theological education,” said Bixler. “This will be transformative for EMS and the pastoral leaders we serve. I think the Penuel Project represents the best of Anabaptist Mennonite education: learning together how to embody peace theology in the midst of practice, with special attention to how God is forming leaders and their communities through scripture and theological reflection.”

The new pastoral leadership institute will integrate personal spiritual formation, biblical and theological frameworks and conflict transformation skills. Training will become available in a variety of formats: online digital content, regional on-site trainings, workshops, new seminary courses, and week-long leadership institutes in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

The grant builds on momentum from the graduate certificate in faith-based peacebuilding, a new seminary program beginning this fall in cooperation with CJP.

Eastern Mennonite University is one of 105 theological schools receiving phase two grants. Together they represent the broad diversity of Christianity in the U.S. and Canada. The schools are affiliated with evangelical, mainline Protestant, nondenominational, Pentecostal, Orthodox, Catholic, Black church, Latino, Asian-American and historic peace church traditions (e.g., Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Quakers). 

“We are grateful that Lilly Endowment has recognized EMS as a leader with great potential to offer innovative models for the future of theological education,” said Daniel Ott, dean of EMU’s School of Theology, Humanities, and Performing Arts at Eastern Mennonite University.  Ott noted that in 2018, EMS was the recipient of a five-year “Thriving Ministries” grant  in support of a national initiative to help clergy working in congregations thrive in their roles as pastoral leaders.

“Theological schools have long played a pivotal role in preparing pastoral leaders for churches,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly 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.”

The Pathways Initiative is part of Lilly Endowment’s wider efforts to strengthen theological schools and other religious institutions and networks that prepare pastoral leaders to ensure that a diverse array of Christian congregations are guided by a steady stream of wise, faithful and well-prepared leaders.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

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. A primary aim of its grantmaking in religion is to deepen the religious lives of Christians, principally by supporting efforts that enhance congregational vitality and strengthen the leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment values the broad diversity of Christian traditions and endeavors to support them in a wide variety of contexts. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion by encouraging fair, accurate and balanced portrayals of the positive and negative effects of religion on the world and lifting up  the contributions that people of all faiths make to our greater civic well-being.

Join the Discussion on “$1M Lilly Endowment grant supports Eastern Mennonite Seminary launch of conflict transformation programming for pastoral leaders

  1. It is a good move for the seminary and CJP to offer peace building courses to pastors. I wish them the best.

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