The North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church has received a grant of $974,000 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish Living the Word, an ecumenical ministry.
The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other, and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.
Lilly Endowment is making nearly $93 million in grants through the initiative. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them gain clarity about their values and missions, explore and understand better the communities in which they serve, and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.
Living the Word Ministry (LtW) is a place-based community-development ministry that coaches diverse congregations of any Christian denomination to work with other congregations in establishing a ministry to address local issues. The goals of LtW are to 1) develop and implement a collaborative community ministry; 2) foster congregational leadership and vitality; 3) develop church-to-church collaboration, and 4) promote collaboration between congregations and other community organizations. Biblical justice and racial equity are primary values of our collaborative work. In LtW, we seek to live in practice Matthew 25:34-40 and Luke 4:18-19. We continually ask, “What does it mean to live as followers of Jesus who accept the freedom and power of God to resist evil, injustice, and oppression and what might we do together, as the Body of Christ, to transform our congregations and neighborhoods to reflect the Beloved Community?”
Congregations self-identify, assess their own readiness to participate, and form congregational teams of 3-5 clergy and laity members to participate in LtW. Members form a congregational learning community and take part in a year-long process of reflection, discernment, and skill-building that begins with a series of asset assessments called What’s Goin’ On? (community) and Start with What You’ve Got (congregational). Renewing Your Mind offers members the resources needed to acquire the skills and competencies necessary to start the prospective justice and equity collaborative ministry.
Living the Word creates space for congregations to become learning communities and intentionally set aside time for clergy and laity to examine and assess how the church is operating and what it is accomplishing, especially in terms of the mission of the church. Congregations deepen their understanding of social and cultural trends through the readings that are part of the curricula, the What’s Goin’ On exercise, and examining those trends in North Carolina and their communities. Congregations learn about their immediate neighborhoods by going on the Windshield Survey as we ride and walk together through communities and meet and talk to those living and working on salient issues. This is a bonding activity. Congregational leadership teams also learn the history of racial and social injustice and examine our actions to address inequity and injustice as followers of Jesus Christ.
As churches rotate hosting each LtW convening and providing meals, they learn to practice Christian generosity, hospitality, breaking bread and moving beyond artificial boundaries through music and singing. Members of congregations who were reluctant to join a team are drawn into the LtW ministry through their responsibility on church committees: hospitality, kitchen, or music, and choir. Often, their perspectives of the church of a different denomination or different racial makeup down the street are changed.
The NC Conference of The United Methodist Church is one of 92 organizations taking part in the initiative. They represent and serve churches in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including Anabaptist, Baptist, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Restoration, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox, as well as congregations that describe themselves as nondenominational. Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American traditions.
“In the midst of a rapidly changing world, Christian congregations are grappling with how they can best carry forward their ministries,” said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “These grants will help congregations assess their ministries and draw on practices in their theological traditions to address new challenges and better nurture the spiritual vitality of the people they serve.”
Lilly Endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019 as part of its commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.
About Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff, and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education, and community development. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s grantmaking in religion is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen their pastoral and lay leadership.