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Union receives a $5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

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Union Theological Seminary receives a $5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to Establish Technology, Innovation, and Digital Engagement Lab – “TIDEL” and to Build and Expand Shared Services with Partners

Union Theological Seminary (UTS) received a grant of $5 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help create a collaborative space lab (Technology, Innovation, and Digital Engagement Lab – “TIDEL”) that brings together theological schools, religious organizations, and faith leaders to reimagine how we teach, learn, mentor, organize, and worship. The grant will also fund exploring and establishing shared services with Union’s partner organizations.

This program is being funded through the third and final phase of Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. The initiative is designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada as they prioritize and respond to the most pressing challenges they face as they prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations both now and into the future.

With this grant, Union is leveraging tools and insights from design, including design thinking, to work with partners to identify opportunities to leverage emerging technologies, experiment, and build collective capacity and expertise. Working in conjunction with the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design (PCA&D), Technology, Innovation, and Digital Engagement Lab – “TIDEL”  will focus on collaborative innovation around three key areas of opportunity for faith organizations, religious leaders, and seminaries to expand their impact:

  • Facilitating mentorship and building/sustaining community, particularly in communities of color, in a hybrid and online world.
  • Developing and implementing high-quality, accessible opportunities for lifelong learning and professional education to meet the needs and interests of theology students, church leaders and faith and justice learners.
  • Thoughtfully, creatively, artistically, and inclusively producing religious and worship “experiences” that advance the work of churches and faith and justice organizations.

Additionally, the grant also funds the development of effective, shared campus, student, and academic service models that can lower costs, increase quality of services, and expand Union’s local and national partners’ ability to work with increasingly broad audiences of students and stakeholders:

The Campus Service Alliance of Northern Manhattan (CSANM) will leverage a unique opportunity that Union has to work with a group of mission-aligned, physically proximate postsecondary and postsecondary-student serving institutions to increase the quality of campus services provided and reduce the costs associated with providing them in conjunction with partners.

The Academic and Student Experience Collaborative (ASEC) will work on various collaborative initiatives with other independent seminaries in the areas of student support and career development services, curricular development and course sharing, and academic office administrative operations.

UTS President Serene Jones shared, “The guiding image that anchors this proposal comes from the Gospel of Mark 2: 1-6. Here we find the story of a group of friends that want Jesus to heal their companion but they cannot get through to see Jesus because crowds have blocked the way. Left with few alternatives, they come up with the ingenious idea of climbing onto the roof and cutting a hole in it so they can lower down their friend to be healed, and they can see Jesus.”

“Cultivating ministerial imagination requires fresh insight and ingenuity plus the tools and training needed to accomplish new tasks and address new needs. It also takes, most importantly, a group of friends – enthusiastic, motivated collaborators – who are willing to combine their energies and share their tools in order to accomplish remarkable feats. We are excited to partner with our amazing colleagues on ASEC, CSANM, and TIDEL, ” said UTS President Serene Jones.

Project partners include Rev. Dr. LaKeesha Walrond, President of New York Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Angela Sims, President of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, the Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union, Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis at Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice, Michael Molla, President of Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Dr. James Gandre, President of the Manhattan School of Music, and Dr. Sebastian Fries, President and CEO of International House.

UTS is one of 16 theological schools that has received grants to fund large-scale, highly collaborative programs through the Pathways initiative. Lilly Endowment believes these programs have the potential to become models for other schools as they seek to strengthen the way they educate pastors and other congregational leaders.

“Theological schools play an essential role in ensuring that Christian congregations have a steady stream of well-prepared leaders to guide their ministries,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Many theological schools believe that their paths to the future depend on their abilities to form strategic partnerships with other schools and church agencies. These grants will help seminaries develop innovative and collaborative approaches to theological education that we believe will strengthen their efforts to prepare and support excellent leaders for Christian communities into the future.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Pathways initiative in January 2021 because of its longstanding interest in supporting efforts to enhance and sustain the vitality of Christian congregations by strengthening the leadership capacities of pastors and congregational lay leaders.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private philanthropic 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, the Endowment 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. The principal aim of the Endowment’s religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the lives of American Christians, 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.