Oakwood University (OU) has received a grant of $993,759 from Lilly Endowment, Inc., to help the University’s School of Theology establish “Diversity, Health, and Social Justice in Community-Based Ministry: Oakwood University’s Strategy for Cultivating 21st Century Pastoral Leaders.”
The project is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. It is a three-phase initiative 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.
Prudence Pollard, Ph.D., vice president for grants administration, received notice of the grant award to Oakwood University on November 19, 2021. Lilly Endowment made the grant through the second phase of its Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. R. Clifford Jones, D.Min., dean for the School of Theology, and Gilbert Ojwang, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Religion, expressed gratitude when notified of the award during Thanksgiving. The proposal was developed by a team of faculty in the School of Theology, with Finbar Benjamin, D.Min., associate professor for practical theology and program director for the graduate programs, serving as the lead proposal developer and principal investigator.
The narrative of the grant notes, “Reflecting cultural and systemic shifts in 21st Century society, Christianity in North America continues to undergo profound and rapid changes that point towards both a necessity and an opportunity to reimagine how we serve congregations and communities. From reductions in traditional forms of participation by congregants to a growing call to examine biases and inequities in faith institutions, society is signaling a pressing need for the church to adapt. There is also a growing hunger in our society for a deeper connection with genuine community and fellowship, a way to build bridges across lines of separation, and a path towards a deeper, more fulfilling purpose in life.”
In this context, the nation’s only historically Black Seventh-day Adventist School of Theology sees a tremendous opportunity “to harness the passion of today’s youth for creating positive social change towards a transformation of how Christianity functions in today’s society.” Through new wholistic pathways in theological education for both men and women, involving congregational and diverse community partners, the School of Theology will seek to follow a Christ-centered method of training pastoral and lay leaders to minister to those who are most vulnerable.
Leslie N. Pollard, Ph.D., D.Min., M.B.A. president of Oakwood University and a faculty member in the School, sent his congratulations to the School of Theology and the proposal development team for their collaborative efforts to better train pastoral leaders by advancing goals in diversity, health, and social justice. Pollard observed, “COVID-19 has exposed the glaring inequities faced by communities of color. The Pathways to Tomorrow initiative will develop within our graduates the capacities to ‘do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly’ in communities crying out for justice.”
Provost James Mbyirukira, Ph.D., notes that this curriculum building initiative positions the School to further advance its offerings of graduate programs.
Oakwood University is one of 84 schools that are receiving a total of more than $82 million in grants through the second phase of the Pathways initiative. Together, the schools represent evangelical, mainline Protestant, nondenominational, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Black, and historic peace (e.g., Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Quakers) church traditions. Many schools also serve students and pastors from Black, Latino, Korean American, Chinese American, and recent immigrant Christian communities.
“Theological schools have long played a pivotal role in preparing pastoral leaders for churches,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Today, these schools find themselves in a period of rapid and profound change. Through the Pathways Initiative, theological schools will take deliberate steps to address the challenges they have identified in ways that make the most sense to them. We believe that their efforts are critical to ensuring that Christian congregations continue to have a steady stream of pastoral leaders who are well-prepared to lead the churches of tomorrow.”
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.
For more information on the grant or to enroll in undergraduate or graduate programs in the School of Theology, contact the School by phone at 256-726-7357, or online at oakwood.edu/academic-experience/school-of-theology/.
Oakwood University | February 2022