By Kirk Petersen

Four dioceses and an Episcopal seminary will receive a total of $4 million in grants from the Lilly Endowment, as part of Lilly’s $93 million Thriving Congregations Initiative.

Judith Cebula, Lilly’s communications director, told TLC the four grants of $1 million each are structured as follows:

  • Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis: In collaboration with the  Diocese of Northern Indiana, the program will work to strengthen physical spaces in parishes across Indiana. They will work with Partners for Sacred Places, a nonsectarian organization that helps congregations strengthen their ministries by strengthening their buildings, and with Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit organization.
  • Episcopal Diocese of New York: The program will help congregations develop strategies, commitments and practical methods for imagining and sustaining vital and viable ministries. General Theological Seminary, an Episcopal seminary located in New York, is a partner in the program.
  • Episcopal Diocese of Washington: The program will help Episcopal congregations in the Washington, D.C. area learn about themselves and their neighborhoods as they discern God’s call for their church and experiment with innovative ways to adapt their ministries to a changing world.
  • Seminary of the Southwest: The Episcopal seminary in Austin and its Iona Center will help smaller Episcopal congregations, which are led by bi-vocational clergy, understand and reimagine their ministries in relationships to their changing contexts.

“This funding will provide us the opportunity to take our next faithful steps toward building vital congregations that thrive in their own unique contexts as well as create, test, and refine a scalable plan that can be shared across the Church,” said the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of Washington, in a news release.

“We believe that our collaboration will build healthy, thriving congregations throughout the state of Indiana that are able to fully activate their spaces and enliven their buildings in partnership with their communities,” Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows of the Diocese of Indianapolis said through a spokesperson. Bishop Douglas E. Sparks of the Diocese of Northern Indiana said: “Through this project, we aim to build parish health by helping maximize the value of church properties in service to mission.”

Spokespersons for the Diocese of New York and the Seminary of the Southwest acknowledged that they were to receive grants, but declined further comment pending approval of their announcements by Lilly.

The Lilly Endowment is based in Indianapolis, and was founded by the Lilly family in 1937 with gifts of stock from Eli Lilly and Company. It had nearly $17 billion in assets at the end of 2019, making it one of the world’s largest foundations. Religion is one of three main focuses of the endowment, the others being community development and education.

The endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019, and has awarded grants to 92 organizations representing a diversity of Christian traditions. Duke University, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, has received $3.79 million to coordinate and support the initiatives of all of the grantees for the next five years. The university’s Duke Divinity School will support the grantees by “hosting meetings and other learning opportunities, sharing resources, telling stories and consulting with project leaders,” according to their website.

The Diocese of Northern Indiana and the Diocese of Washington are partners of the Living Church.