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UDTS Receives $500,000 Grant to Support Clergy Coaching in Community and Context

By Stacey Ortman

DUBUQUE, Iowa - The University of Dubuque Theological Seminary received a $500,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. in continued support of the seminary's Clergy Coaching in Community and Context initiative, which launched in January 2019 thanks to a $936,102 grant from Lilly Endowment.

"The original grant sparked a really generative season for the seminary of innovating and developing new partnerships and programs in order to fulfill our mission in the midst of a period of significant challenges and changes for pastors, churches, and theological education," said Rev. Christopher James, PhD, professor of evangelism and missional Christianity at UDTS. "I trust that this sustaining grant will sustain not only these particular initiatives, but also this season of discernment and discovery of how God is calling us as an institution to serve the church."

The sustainability funding will be used to refine two components of the Clergy Coaching in Community and Context initiative. One of those components revolves around supporting the thriving of cohorts of missionally-oriented pastors in specific geographic locations. The original grant supported formation of a cohort in Madison, Wisconsin, which came to be called Missio Madison. The new grant will transfer maintenance of Missio Madison to a local partner, Collaboration Project, and will seek to develop cohorts in two more yet-to-be-determined cities.

"These funds are a huge gift and endorsement of the good work God has been doing through our initiatives," said James, who is also the lead coach for the Missio cohorts. "Seeing the results for our participants in Madison, but also the shift in the overall church ecology toward kinship and collaboration that our Missio cohorts supported, we're really thrilled to be able to bring this kind of catalytic program to pastors and other leaders - as well as cities - that can really benefit from it. We're also excited about the prospects that will result from this work."

The other component will support the thriving of mid-career pastors through a holistic clergy coaching program. The original grant impacted a group of United Methodist pastors through UDTS's doctor of ministry program. The sustainability grant will extend the program to additional cohorts and digitize the content of the program so that it can be utilized more widely.

The initiative was sparked by a high-performance endurance sports coaching framework used by Rev. Elmer Colyer, PhD, lead coach for the mid-career pastor cohort and professor of systemic theology and Stanley professor of Wesley Studies at UDTS. Through the doctor of ministry program, students are guided by a coach who provides instruction in habit formation and skill development along with support for vision development and relationship-building among participants.

"Two pastors ended up each losing over 100 pounds, and one competed in his first triathlon and the other ran a marathon," Colyer said. "In the most memorable email I received about the health and wellness aspect of the program, one of the participants wrote, 'El, I know this may not mean anything to you, but this is the first time that I can see my feet for many years.'"

The grant is part of Lilly Endowment Thriving in Ministry Initiative, which is designed to support a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry.

"While seminaries are often thought of as focused exclusively on those few years when pastors work toward an academic degree, we understand that supporting pastors, whether they are our alumni or not, is also part of our mission," James said. "It has become clear that what we've seen in our initiatives is true across the board: the single most important way to help pastors thrive is to help get them into a dynamic community of peers that are honest, prayerful, and learning together. What happens in those settings is life-giving not only for the participants but for their churches and their communities."

About Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private 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. While those gifts remain the 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 hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. A principal aim of the Endowment's religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment also seeks to improve public understanding of diverse religious traditions by supporting fair and accurate portrayals of the role religion plays in the United States and across the globe.