Seminary granted $1M to launch House of Black Church Studies

Memphis Theological Seminary
The campus of Memphis Theological Seminary. |

An ecumenical seminary based in Tennessee has been awarded a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to advance studies on the African American church.

Memphis Theological Seminary will launch in-person programming for the House of Black Church Studies as early as March, selecting alumnus author and pastor Karren Todd as program director.

“At Memphis Theological Seminary, we had already established a Cumberland Presbyterian House of Studies and a Methodist House of Studies,” MTS President Jody Hill told The Christian Post in comments emailed on Wednesday. 

“With the addition of the House of Black Church Studies, Memphis Theological Seminary can now celebrate that we have houses of study dedicated to equipping leaders in our student body’s three largest congregational settings: the African American Church; the Cumberland Presbyterian Church; and the Pan-Methodist Church.”

Hill directed CP to comments from the seminary proposal for the House of Black Church Studies, which will focus on “the formation of congregational and pastoral leadership by building pastoral community; supporting mental health wellness; planning future sustainability; fostering spiritual formation; and developing congregational lay leadership.”

“The House of Black Church Studies will enhance Memphis Theological Seminary’s capacity to carry forward its efforts to prepare and support pastors and congregational lay ministers of African-American traditions to serve their local congregations,” stated the proposal.

The grant was one of 84 approved through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, which seeks to “help theological schools strengthen and sustain their capacities to prepare and support pastoral leaders for Christian congregations.”

The grants will assist programs at 74 theological schools in the United States and 10 in Canada, with grants ranging from $500,000 to $1 million.

Earlier this month, the Lilly Endowment granted $20 million to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to help preserve the legacy of the black church in America.

“The black church has never simply been about spiritual development," Rice University professor Anthony B. Pinn told CP. "The black church has always tried to position itself as an organization that has met a full range of needs. And so folks go for this greater range of needs."

He warned that black Americans' involvement in churches has decreased over time because people have found different avenues to meet their needs, especially millennials.

Last November, Lilly announced plans to give $93 million in grants to 92 Christian organizations to help various Christian ministries adapt to a changing culture.

Known as the Thriving Congregations Initiative, recipients included Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Dakota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston and the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.

Lilly Endowment Communications Director Judith Cebula told CP in an earlier interview that the organization would help ministries handle “the rapidly changing contexts in which congregations exist.”

“The Endowment launched the initiative to encourage organizations that care about the wellbeing of congregations to find ways to help congregations strengthen their ministries so people can deepen their relationships with God, enhance their connections with each other and contribute to the flourishing of their communities and the world,” Cebula added.

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