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Lilly Endowment grant to shape continuum of offerings at Candler
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Laurel Hanna
Director of communications, Candler School of Theology
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A $5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. will allow Candler School of Theology to establish a set of initiatives that creates a rich, interconnected continuum of offerings for the education of pastoral leaders.

Candler School of Theology will establish a set of initiatives that creates a rich, interconnected continuum of offerings for the education of pastoral leaders, thanks to a $5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

The grant is part of the third and final phase of Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada as they prioritize and respond to the most pressing challenges they face in preparing pastoral leaders for Christian congregations both now and into the future. Candler has received grant funding in all three phases of the Pathways initiative — a total of more than $6 million — with each award building on the work of the last.

Jan Love, Mary Lee Hardin Willard Dean of Candler, believes this culminating grant and the collaborative partnerships it fosters will have a transformative impact on Candler and beyond.

“Lilly Endowment’s support of Candler throughout the Pathways initiative has enabled us to learn a great deal about the changing nature of ministry today, to reflect on how we educate future church leaders and to explore how we can deepen our impact by forging new partnerships and developing new offerings,” she says. “Our resulting plan to create multiple new entry points into Candler shifts a longstanding paradigm in theological education, making it more accessible, affordable and relevant to diverse communities.”

In preparing its Pathways proposal, Candler convened 15 consultations and three town halls with a wide array of partners, including leaders of African American, African immigrant, Hispanic/Latinx and Korean/Korean American communities. Partners also included leaders from mainline and charismatic/Pentecostal Christian traditions. These conversations helped clarify how Candler can enhance its offerings to reach those for whom traditional degree programs may not be the ideal entry point into theological studies. 

“A year’s worth of conversations with a diverse set of church leaders helped us see the need for a rich, integrated spectrum of offerings in theological education. The Pathways grant lets us build on existing strengths to offer that full spectrum,” says Ted A. Smith, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Divinity and associate dean of faculty, who serves as co-leader of the Pathways project at Candler. “From The Candler Foundry through Course of Study and the new La Mesa Academy to world-class master’s degrees and all the way to our doctor of ministry degree, Candler will offer theological education for the whole church.” 

Making theological education more accessible

Candler and its partner institutions will launch four initiatives as new pathways to theological education:

  • La Mesa Academy for Theological Studies, a program at Candler led by Joanne Solis-Walker, associate dean and professor in the practice of leadership and co-leader of the Pathways project, will offer diplomas in pastoral leadership. With courses in both Spanish and English, La Mesa Academy will draw on institutional examples including the Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana (AETH)and Candler’s existing United Methodist Course of Study program to serve students preparing to be lay pastors in mainline denominations and those preparing for ordained ministry in traditions that typically educate their clergy through certificate programs.

    “La Mesa will make theological education accessible to all peoples. Es un programa de la comunidad para la comunidad,” says Solis-Walker. “It invites to the table leaders from diverse ethnic and cultural communities that represent ecumenical openness and demonstrate a willingness to theologically reflect and engage with the social dilemmas of our society and propose new church and ministry models.”

    Set to launch in fall 2023, La Mesa will offer a two-year hybrid program that combines digital and in-person learning. An optional third year will be offered for those aspiring to continue on to a graduate professional degree at Candler.
  • A partnership with AETH that will offer free online access to high-quality library resources for every student and faculty member associated with an AETH-affiliated institute.
  • Also in partnership with AETH, Candler will provide space, resources and support for AETH’s creation of the Antioquía Center for Theological Collaboration, a national hub for excellence in teaching and research in Hispanic Bible institutes and certificate programs from many different traditions.
  • Candler will partner with the Society for Pentecostal Studies to develop a summer institute for global charismatic/Pentecostal studies that will bring distinguished scholars to campus to teach and will provide space for intellectual connection and spiritual fellowship for leaders from different charismatic and Pentecostal traditions with global connections.

Through the Pathways initiative, Lilly Endowment invited schools to form or leverage partnerships with other schools, church agencies or nonprofits, and Candler formed multiple partnerships throughout the process. Of special note is the school’s burgeoning relationship with AETH, a nonprofit organization that promotes and certifies the quality of Hispanic theological education programs at institutions in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, Latin America and the Caribbean. Candler will use a portion of its $5 million award to collaborate with AETH and support the Antioquía Center and digital access to library resources.

Becoming a model for other schools

According to Love, the partnerships forged through the Pathways application process are more than a means to an end. 

“The programs we’re developing will only be as strong as the relationships in which they take shape,” she says. “We look forward to forming and sustaining just, durable relationships with our partner institutions, as well as the denominations, congregations and individuals who will seek these new pathways to ministry.”

Candler is one of 16 theological schools that received grants to fund large-scale, highly collaborative programs through the Pathways initiative. Lilly Endowment believes these programs have the potential to become models for other schools as they seek to strengthen the way they educate pastors and other congregational leaders.

“Theological schools play an essential role in ensuring that Christian congregations have a steady stream of well-prepared leaders to guide their ministries,” says Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Many theological schools believe that their paths to the future depend on their abilities to form strategic partnerships with other schools and church agencies. These grants will help seminaries develop innovative and collaborative approaches to theological education that we believe will strengthen their efforts to prepare and support excellent leaders for Christian communities into the future.”

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.

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