Virginia Theological Seminary awarded $1.25 million to launch new preaching initiative

Virginia Theological Seminary
Posted Oct 18, 2023

The grant will fund a five-year project to support preachers and help congregations become more involved in proclamation.

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Oct 18, 2023 – Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) has been awarded a $1.25 million grant by Lilly Endowment Inc. to launch an initiative to support preachers and help congregations become more involved in preaching ministry.

The program is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Compelling Preaching Initiative to foster and support preaching that inspires, encourages and guides people to come to know and love God and to live out their Christian faith more fully.

The new initiative builds on learnings from VTS’ preaching program Deep Calls to Deep

The Preaching Congregations Initiative (PCI), which will operate out of Lifelong Learning at VTS, has been designed to help clergy become more creatively engaged in preaching through providing support and enabling them to develop a better understanding of preaching as a creative process. It will also assist congregations in lifting up the preaching gift of lay people by supporting them to become more active participants in proclamation ministry.

In addition, PCI will foster a broader sense of proclamation, so that participants can perceive the work and witness they do in the wider world as fulfilling the call to preach the Gospel, and receive training and support for this larger witness.

Building on learnings from Deep Calls to Deep, a VTS preaching program begun in 2014 and supported by a Lilly Endowment grant, PCI will focus on regional residencies and local preaching festivals to root the practice of proclamation more firmly in participants’ local contexts. Peer learning groups, made up of six people who meet in person once a month to preach and offer each other feedback, will also form a core element of the program. The key themes of Deep Calls to Deep – namely spirituality, embodiment, imagination, and community – will also shape the new program.

PCI will have a cohort of approximately 12 preachers per year, with the aim of assisting as many as 48 preachers and their congregations during the five-year project. VTS hopes that PCI will be able to have an impact on an estimated 4,000 church members. PCI is designed to support preachers from a range of backgrounds, including those who have gone through a traditional formation process, those on The General Theological Seminary’s new hybrid Master of Divinity program, and those going through a local formation program at the diocesan level. It is open to clergy at all stages of their ministry, ranging from those currently in the ordination process, to those who want to refresh their preaching or take it to the next level.

Ruthanna Hooke, Program Director of the Preaching Congregations Initiative, and Professor of Homiletics at VTS

Ruthanna Hooke, Program Director of the Preaching Congregations Initiative, and Professor of Homiletics at VTS, said: “Preaching can be an isolating activity, and often members of the congregation do not feel they have input into it or ownership of the ministry of proclamation. The PCI

aims to address these challenges by offering holistic support to preachers, and training congregations to participate in preaching more fully as contributors, respondents, or preachers themselves. This involvement is all the more important given the changing needs of the Church, and the increasing need for all members of the Church to be actively involved in leadership and discipleship.”

VTS is one of 81 organizations to receive a grant through this competitive round of the Compelling Preaching Initiative. Reflecting the diversity of Christianity in the United States, the organizations are affiliated with mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist and Pentecostal faith communities. Many of the organizations are rooted in the Black Church and in Hispanic and Asian American Christian traditions.

“Throughout history, preachers often have needed to adapt their preaching practices to engage new generations of hearers more effectively,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “We are pleased that the organizations receiving grants in this initiative will help pastors and others in ministry engage in the kinds of preaching needed today to ensure that the gospel message is heard and accessible for all audiences.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Compelling Preaching Initiative in 2022 because of its interest in supporting projects that help to nurture the religious lives of individuals and families and foster the growth and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States.

About Virginia Theological Seminary:

Virginia Theological Seminary was founded in 1823 by St. Paul’s Church in Alexandria, Virginia. It is the strongest seminary in the Anglican Communion and has a long tradition of shaping faithful women and men, lay and ordained, for leadership in The Episcopal Church and beyond. The seminary provides more than 25 percent of the clergy of The Episcopal Church.

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.