ATLANTA — Spelman College has received a $900,000 grant from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. as part of its Thriving in Ministry initiative. The funds will be used to establish a fellowship and programming that provides leadership development, mentoring and relationship building among Black millennial women ministers.
Spelman’s WISDOM (Women in Spiritual Discernment of Ministry) Center and Sisters Chapel were among 78 organizations across the country to receive nearly $70 million in grants through Thriving in Ministry. The grants will help the organizations create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with other clergy who can serve as role models and mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry.
Spelman’s plans include establishing a WISDOM Center Fellowship, as well as hosting two Sisterhood Summits, said Neichelle Guidry, Ph.D., dean of Sisters Chapel and director of the WISDOM Center.
“Spelman’s WISDOM Center has made an indelible mark on the Spelman legacy and the presence of Black women in ministry,” said Dr. Guidry. “Our goal with the Thriving in Ministry grant is to build upon that leadership and history while also subverting traditional models of leadership. You do not have to be in a church or pulpit to do ministry. We want to shift the definitions and traditional approach to ministry leadership.”
African-American women comprise more than 70 percent of church memberships in the nation. According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007 by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, African-American women are among the most religiously committed with eight in 10 reporting that religion is important to them.
“For the past 15 years, the WISDOM Center has enabled Spelman to nurture the intellect of our students, while also caring for their spiritual and emotional well-being as they develop into confident, accomplished women,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., president of Spelman. “Through this gift, Spelman will increase our ability to address some of the challenges African-American women millennials face and provide support and training for them to be nurtured as they contemplate their next steps in ministry. We appreciate the Lilly Endowment for their commitment in supporting Spelman’s mission to provide unique and exceptional experiences.”
The Foundation’s Commitment to Pastors
Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry initiative builds upon research that has examined the importance of colleagues and mentors who help pastors face and overcome common professional and personal challenges. These studies include results from the Lilly Endowment-funded Flourishing in Ministry project, directed by Matt Bloom at the University of Notre Dame.
“Leading a congregation today is multi-faceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Pastors have shared with us that they often find themselves isolated from colleagues and sometimes struggle to keep up with new challenges posed by today’s rapid pace of change. When pastors have opportunities to build relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to understand and negotiate new challenges and their leadership thrives. These promising programs will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.”
Outcomes and Goals of Spelman’s Thriving Initiative
Through the establishment of the WISDOM Center Fellowship, Spelman’s Thriving in Ministry program intends to identify cohorts of six Black millennial women (ages 19-34) theologians, pastors, and activists and pair them with WISDOM Scholars who desire mentors in professional ministry, theological academy and activism for one year. Scholars and fellows will engage one another each quarter through retreats and professional development activities. In addition, the initiative will host two national Sisterhood Summits to address issues that are relevant to African-American women in their respective years, from a theological, ethical and moral point of departure through TED-style talks and small-group conversations. Themes for the summits will reflect contemporary trends affecting Black women at the time of the event and include intensive dialogues and idea exchange between participants.
Expected outcomes of Spelman’s initiative include:
- Address the challenge of adequate mentorship by experimenting with a three-tiered approach to mentoring women at various stages of ministry: sage-to-fellows, fellows-to-fellows and fellows-to-scholars.
- Pilot new models for relationship building across denominations and generations and offer early career pastors lifestyle tools to promote their flourishing.
- Produce research data on the vocational experiences of Black millennial women in ministry and college students who are in the throes of discerning their life’s work.
- Establish a national network of Spelman alumnae in ministry to galvanize this network around the College’s work, and to utilize it for future works of mentorship, ministry partnership and WISDOM Center collaboration.
The program’s goals to increase collaboration, facilitate mentorship and leadership development, and bolster the participants’ career and ministerial preparedness directly support all four themes of College’s
“In addition to sharpening our programming, we expect this program will help Black millennial women in ministry develop practices and lifestyles of thriving,” said Dr. Guidry. “We want to spring forth a well of wellness, developing not only values of collegiality and sisterhood, but personal health practices. We can’t serve others if we do not know how to serve ourselves first.”
Mashaun D. Simon
Lilly Endowment, Inc.
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