Wake Forest University School of Divinity reimagines theological education with $1 million grant

Wake Forest University School of Divinity reimagines theological education with $1 million grant
January 05
14:18 2022

Wake Forest University has received a grant of $1 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help the Wake Forest University School of Divinity establish new certificate and degree programs in theological education. 

The project is funded 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.

Wake Forest University School of Divinity’s project proposal, “Plans for a Future and a Hope”: Shaping Agents of Justice, Reconciliation, and Compassion, and Architects of Equity, Hope, and Healing, aims to create future educational pathways for religious professionals and others in a variety of fields that could benefit from a fuller awareness of how religious commitments and communities impact public concerns such as health equity. One targeted area of interest is health care.

“This award will help us explore and implement certificate and degree programs at the intersections of “Faith, Health Equity, and Inclusive Leadership,” says Jonathan Lee Walton, dean. “It’s one thing to train religious professionals who know how to pray with families, but we also understand the importance of training religious leaders who have an awareness of social determinants of good health.” 

The school plans to expand its current Food, Health, and Ecological Well-Being program and explore additional areas for training both religious and health care professionals in responding to the needs of society that intersect with faith and health. Supporters of the project include Faith Health NC, the School of Professional Studies in Charlotte, and Atrium Health. 

“The landscape of higher education is changing,” says Jill Crainshaw. “Students are seeking flexible and affordable options that allow them to progress towards their goals in a timeframe that works best for their lives. Stackable credentials that lead to advanced degrees offer one way to respond to this need while providing a quality educational experience.”

Wake Forest University School of Divinity is one of 84 theological schools that are benefiting from a total of more than $82 million in grants through the second phase of the Pathways initiative. 

“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.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Pathways initiative in January 2021 because of its longstanding interest in supporting efforts to enhance and sustain the vitality of Christian congregations by strengthening the leadership capacities of pastors and congregational lay leaders. 

“Today more than ever, our world needs thoughtful, sober, and well-informed religious professionals to respond to the injustices and trauma of our society,” says Dean Walton. “We are overjoyed to be part of this extraordinary initiative to reimagine theological education. Lilly Endowment Inc.’s commitment to shaping subsequent generations of women and men to serve the church is unrivaled.” 

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