Preaching and the Lilly Endowment

[third in a series]

The Lilly Endowment is one of the largest, wealthiest private foundations in the United States. Last year, they awarded $333 million in grants.

The endowment supports community projects—but only in the state of Indiana; they support education—but only in the state of Indiana; and they support religion—all over the country.

Which is how and why I found myself engaged with the Endowment while on the faculty of Georgetown College. There I administered a $2 million grant as part of their “theological exploration of vocation” initiative. Georgetown was one of 88 schools in this grant program.

But when I grew restless at Georgetown and sought a new direction for my ministry, it was the Endowment that opened a way forward. In an unplanned and unprepared way, I described for them an idea that had been running around in the back of my head for two years—a national network of young people who aspire to be preachers of the gospel.

I called it The Academy of Preachers.

“What can we do to make this happen?” one of their staff asked and I did not have my wits about me even to speak the most basic form of request. When I stumbled he said, “Why don’t we give you a grant and let you do it?”

So I spent a good part of my summer writing a grant proposal. I turned it in on September 1st and on November 13th I received a call from the Endowment to inform me the proposal had been approved and on December 1, 2008, I could formally and officially begin my work with the Academy.

Of course, I could not wait, and had not waited. Throughout the fall, I have been traveling around the region targeted for the 18-month pilot project: Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Evansville, and Nashville, and all the territory within a 150-mile radius of Louisville. There are 60 private, mostly church-related institutions of higher learning: bible colleges, liberal arts colleges, universities, seminaries—such as Simons Bible College in Louisville, Trevecca Nazarene College in Nashville, Butler University in Indianapolis, and St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana.

I am recruiting 15-18 young people, students in high school, college, university, or seminary who will serve on a Young Preachers Leadership Team. To day, 11 have signed on, from eleven different schools in three of the four target states. The first week of December I am heading back to Ohio and Indiana to continue the task. We will gather for a retreat in January, convene for a week-long Preaching Camp in June, and host the first Festival of Young Preachers, in Louisville, in January of 2010.

My partner is this is the St. Matthews Baptist Church of Louisville. The Endowment does not give to individuals but to institutions, mostly. So we have collaborated on this vision and what a vision it is: inspiring young people in their call to gospel preaching.

I will keep you posted on how things develop.

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1 comment so far

  1. George Mason on

    Dwight,

    Way to go! Congratulations. This is great news. Having a Lilly grant ourselves for some years now, I can tell you they are great partners. I look forward to how we might connect in the future in this endeavor. Call on me to help in any way.

    George


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