Divinity School receives $1 million grant

Campbell University has received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support efforts at the university’s divinity school to make seminary education more accessible and to recruit and educate more students from diverse backgrounds.

The effort is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, a three-phase initiative designed to help theological schools in the U.S. and Canada prioritize and respond to their most pressing challenges as they work to prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations.

Campbell University Divinity School’s ultimate goal for its grant is to produce “boundary-spanning leaders”—pastors and congregational lay ministers who can bridge the chasms that so often divide families, congregations, and communities.

Building on its existing mission and identity, the Divinity School will use a portion of the grant to create a new staff position, the Director of Partnership Development. The director will be responsible for extending and developing strong partnerships with diverse churches and traditions, forming mutually beneficial relationships in which Campbell can be a resource for churches while learning and growing from theirtraditions, insights and encouragement.

Dean Andy Wakefield says the Divinity School’s students have historically come from a rich diversity of traditions. With the new position, Campbell will be able to more intentionally build relationships with all of these faith traditions, especially those in underserved areas.

“It is possible to focus on diversity and end up creating rather than transcending boundaries,” Wakefield said. “Instead we want to celebrate the unique gifts that each tradition brings, listening to one another and hearing the experiences that we have had in an atmosphere where we are all one community.”

The second part of the grant will be used in the development of a cohort-based, retreat-anchored, hybrid form of the Master of Arts in Christian Ministry degree that will offer greater accessibility and flexibility to students while maintaining the community that is central to the course’s individualized, formation-driven approach to theological education. With its block scheduling, the Divinity School has always tried to meet the needs of commuting students who must balance school with ministry, family, and vocational obligations. Its initial Master of Arts in Faith and Leadership Formation (MAFLF) cohort offered a unique opportunity to experiment when pandemic regulations split students into three groups—one group that initially experienced the program in-person before transitioning to online, one that began and continued online, and one, the MAFLF cohort, that began with in-person retreat before completing the remainder of the program online. The level of engagement and the sense of community that developed for the MAFLF cohort, anchored in the initial retreat, provided a sustainable model for offering the MACM degree in a hybrid format.

“I think the culture that already existed at the Divinity school was part of facilitating the engagement,” said program alumna Sara Acosta, who did not see her MAFLF classmates in-person after the retreat until graduation day. “Being together at the retreat formed a bond that could be strengthened online through class-facilitated dialogue, discussions on our reading and knowing one another’s shared experiences.”

Pending approval from the Association of Theological Schools, the hybrid version of the Master of Arts in Christian Ministry degree will feature one in-person retreat per semester to build and anchor community in the cohort. The remainder of instruction will be delivered through synchronous online instruction. The end result is a degree that will be accessible to students across the country. Upon receiving accreditation approval, the Divinity School plans to kick off the program next fall.

“We’re excited to be able to offer a course model that is more accessible to a larger pool of students,” Wakefield said. “Equipping and forming new leaders calls for theological education that integrates theory and practice, models the unity and diversity of the body of Christ, and provides affordable and accessible educational opportunities for all— especially for those from underserved traditions.”

Campbell University’s Divinity School is one of 84 theological schools in the U.S. and Canada that are benefiting from a total of more than $82 million in grants through the second phase of Lilly Endowment’s Pathways initiative.  Lilly Endowment launched the initiative in January 2021 because of its longstanding interest in supporting efforts to enhance and sustain the vitality of Christian congregations.