Messiah University receives grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Messiah University receives grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.
The nearly $1 million will be used for racial justice initiative

Wednesday, Oct. 14 (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania)—Messiah University is the recipient of a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. totaling more than $975,000 to help establish a new program, “Thriving Together: Congregations for Racial Justice.”

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 funding nearly $93 million in grants as part of 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.

Messiah’s program is focused on efforts to cultivate congregational thriving within a continuing history of racial injustice and within communities with very different experiences and understanding of that racial matrix. The program is designed not only to help congregations grapple with large historical, social and religious contexts of racial injustice, but to delve deeply into local histories and congregational practices. This will help program leaders determine ways individual congregations can come to be characterized by racial justice and participate together in larger regional efforts to achieve a just society—one characterized by the biblical understanding of shalom.

It is also the University's goal to walk further into its own calling to be an instrument of God’s peace in the region as it seeks to fulfill its identity and mission as a Christian institution of higher education.

“In the midst of our partisan, polarized and racially divided society, we need churches committed to coming together to understand how we can thrive together across racial divides,” said Program Director Drew Hart, assistant professor of theology.

Through the project, Messiah will pull together, and deeply invest in, a cohort of leaders from 12 congregations that are seeking to understand how the legacy of race has shaped our region and neighborhoods in ways that vandalize the witness of the Church.

“This program is not just about recounting our failures. We will be resourcing and equipping congregations to discern a faithful way forward as they reflect on their own ecclesial traditions, mission and values,” Hart added.

Messiah University is one of 92 organizations taking part in the initiative. The recipients 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.”

“We believe that if we would just slow down and discern God’s delivering presence at work in our neighborhoods, congregations could provide the kind of Jesus-shaped justice, healing and truth-telling that our society yearns for, and which could become the answer to our sacred prayer that ‘your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’,” Hart added. “The Thriving Together program funded by the Lilly grant is audacious enough to seek after God’s dream for us all.”

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

About Messiah University

Founded in 1909 and located near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Messiah University is a nationally ranked, private Christian university of the liberal and applied arts and sciences that enrolls nearly 3,400 undergraduate, adult degree program and graduate students.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a 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 exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s grantmaking in religion 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 their pastoral and lay leadership.