St. Kate's theology program receives $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment

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On Monday, October 26, St. Catherine University senior leadership and "grant team" gathered with our main community partners to celebrate (in a socially-distanced way) the launch of our Initiative for Contemplative Discipleship being financed through a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.

Back row (left to right): President Becky Roloff; Dean Tarshia Stanley; Rev. Mike Byron, Pastor, Pax Christi Catholic Community, Eden Prairie; Susan Hames, CSJ, Leadership team, St. Paul Province; and Rev. Peter Geisendorfer-Lindgren, Pastor-Emeritus, Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Maple Grove.

Front row (left to right): Rev. Karen Wight Hoogheem,  Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Maple Grove, MN; Prof. Claire Bischoff, St. Catherine University; Prof. Anne Weyandt, St. Catherine University; Prof. Bill McDonough, St. Catherine University; and Prof. Cynthia Bailey Manns, St. Catherine University.

St. Catherine University has received a grant of $1,000,000 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish St. Catherine University Initiative for Contemplative Discipleship program.

The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $93 million in grants through the initiative. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them gain clarity about their values and missions, explore and understand better the communities in which they serve, and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.

Through the two programs in the Initiative for Contemplative Discipleship, St. Kate’s will unite local Christian congregational leaders and learners to understand how to navigate changing social and cultural contexts. The first program, Contemplative Communities for Spiritual Transformation, invites congregations to come together to explore mindful prayer and spirituality practices. Within groups, participants and congregants will be called to reflect on these faith experiences and support each other’s spiritual journeys to enhance mutual learning. This program will work with congregations to slow down and cultivate a deeper awareness of oneself, others, and God. The second program, Discipleship in Practice and Theory, supports congregations using their reawakened missions, values, and visions to reach out to a hurting world and engage with their surrounding communities and beyond. Those in both programs will reconvene for retreats that will focus on the convergence of contemplation and discipleship in addressing topics like racial equity and a world of uncertainty.

Inviting members to establish inward-facing practices first sets the stage for a reflective congregation to get in touch with an awareness of self, others, and God. The second program, Discipleship in Practice and Theory, supports congregations as they use their clarification of sense of new understanding of their congregation’s missions and values to reach out and help heal a sick world.

Bill McDonough, professor of theology and graduate theology program director, is coordinating St. Kate's efforts in the grant. He underlined the partnerships the grant will enable: "We are so grateful for this support to partner with our founder-sponsor CSJs and as many as twenty congregations across the Twin Cities to build up the life of the local ecumenical Christian Church."

St. Catherine University is one of 92 organizations taking part in the initiative. They represent and serve churches in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including Anabaptist, Baptist, Episcopal, evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Restoration, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, as well as congregations that describe themselves as nondenominational. Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic and Asian-American traditions.

“In the midst of a rapidly changing world, Christian congregations are grappling with how they can best carry forward their ministries,” said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “These grants will help congregations assess their ministries and draw on practices in their theological traditions to address new challenges and better nurture the spiritual vitality of the people they serve.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019 as part of its commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.