The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology is proud to have received a sustainability grant of $500,000 from Lilly Endowment through its Thriving in Ministry Initiative. These funds are a matching grant to support the Center for Transforming Engagement to gather ministry leaders to develop their resilience and leadership. In these efforts, the Center joins dozens of projects across the country that share Lilly Endowment’s aim of fostering pastors’ well-being and navigating this challenging time for congregational ministry.

The intent of the matching grant is to give the programs support as they move toward the goal of self-sustainability. Over the next five years, these funds must be matched by donations to support the program. These funds will continue to develop the Center’s capacities to reach new audiences, cultivate partnerships, and build relationships with donors. 

The grant is a recognition of the Center’s deep impact and innovative work with ministry leaders. True to the mission of the school, these programs train for service at the intersection of text, soul, and culture by focusing on relationships and the formation of the whole person of the leader in context. Connecting a leader’s life story with the divine narrative are key components of building resilience and preparing leaders to develop transforming relationships in their contexts.

Dr. J. Derek McNeil, President and Provost of The Seattle School, commented on the project: “We live in an era of immense social change, and we know that times of great change hold even greater possibilities. The Center equips leaders to cultivate those possibilities through transforming the ways we relate to one another– going beyond traditional leadership training to equip leaders to be resilient in and responsive to their contexts in order to serve God and neighbor. I am grateful to Lilly Endowment for supporting this work; our society deeply needs resilient, responsive leaders for the era ahead.”

The Center’s resilience development programs were founded and developed as an early project of the Thriving in Ministry Initiative in 2017; the presently awarded funds will support the work through 2028. Working at the intersection of theology and the social sciences, The Seattle School has always been well-situated to equip Christian leaders to face the systemic challenges in ministry. In its first years, the project team researched the well-being of ministry leaders through review of resilience literature and their own research. From those learnings, the 3-P model of resilience (People, Practices, and Purpose) was developed and shared in the Resilience Report. That report has spread widely and has been used by other organizations as the foundation of pastoral support programs across the country.

Throughout the pandemic, the Center continued to develop transformational spaces to guide people through difficulties with greater resilience and peer support. More recently, the team heard the need to address clergy burnout and responded with a follow-up report and podcast series.

The recent funding from Lilly Endowment will enable the Center for Transforming Engagement to continue the crucial work of equipping leaders to thrive. The Center will continue to offer cohort programs, individual coaching, and organizational consultation. The core of their work is focused on Resilience Circles and Leaders Circles.

“We know that change has the best chance of enduring when it occurs in the context of relationships,” commented Kate Rae Davis, Executive Director of the Center. “Whenever possible, we encourage people to join a Circle so that they’re not only learning how to make positive changes, they’re also getting the social support and encouragement to live those changes.”

In Resilience Circles, participants learn to integrate positive life changes that support their well-being in a mutually supportive group of like-hearted people seeking to make similar changes. Leaders Circles support those seeking to realize organizational change with teachings and space to reflect on group dynamics and leadership. As participants journey together in a small group facilitated by a trained Convener, they find the relational safety needed to encourage mutual growth and transformation.

Davis continued: “Lilly Endowment knows that relationships are the context for thriving. I’m grateful for the continuation of the Thriving in Ministry Initiative, which does immense work to support ministry leaders across North America, and I’m particularly grateful for the trust they have shown in our project.”

The Thriving in Ministry Initiative helps pastors develop meaningful relationships with wise colleagues who can guide them through leadership challenges, especially during transitions in their ministerial careers. Lilly Endowment has awarded grants to 129 religious organizations located in 33 states across the U.S. and the District of Columbia. Thriving in Ministry projects are led by theological schools, faith-based colleges and universities, congregations, denominational agencies, independent religious organizations, and religious communities that reflect diverse Christian traditions, serving pastoral leaders in congregational settings from a wide variety of racial and cultural backgrounds, denominations, geographic settings, and regions. 

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly and his sons, Eli and J.K. Jr., through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company with a distinct governing board, staff, and location. In keeping with its founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion.