Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded a $1M grant to VTS for the Mutual Ministry Initiative

Date: December 3, 2021


Media Contact: Elizabeth Panox-Leach
Tel: (703) 461-1764

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) is committed to serving the wider church at a time of significant religious disruption and opportunity. As VTS prepares to celebrate its bicentennial and enter the next 200 years with mission clarity, it is pleased to announce that Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded a $1M grant to the Seminary for the Mutual Ministry Initiative (MMi), in Phase 2 of its Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative.

The Mutual Ministry Initiative is a three-year process designed to leverage the strengths and address the challenges of a residential, denominational seminary to meet the urgent need for clergy trained as ministry developers in local, culturally-specific contexts. All across the Episcopal Church, faithful members of the Body of Christ are asking the age-old question from Psalm 78, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” Congregations are struggling to afford priests, while many priests on the ground were trained for a model of church that simply no longer exists. Yet God has always called us into community, recognizing the abundant gifts we embody. “It is time, as a church, to shift from communities gathered around a minister, to ministering communities, where clergy companion, equip, and form the ministry of all the baptized to meet God’s call in their daily lives,” said the Rev. Lydia Kelsey Bucklin, Canon to the Ordinary for Discipleship and Vitality in the Diocese of Northern Michigan, who will serve as the MMi Project Director.

Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative 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.

As dioceses large and small, metropolitan, and rural, recognize their need for a new model of sustainable congregational ministry, MMi will create a Mutual Ministry MDiv pathway at VTS to attract, form, and equip a new generation of leaders from communities presently underrepresented on campus. Additionally, MMi will create a Mutual Ministry Hub for the Episcopal Church, convene a Wisdom Circle of experienced ministry developers, a Bishops’ Collaborative, and Faculty Cohorts. Cohorts will be immersed in mutual ministry contexts to inform course revision and inspire new course development, while students will receive financial support to complete Contextual Ministry requirements in dioceses committed to mutual ministry. MMi plans to establish fellowships and mentoring opportunities to foster research and writing in preparation for a churchwide Mutual Ministry Leadership Summit.

MMi will create a solid and sustainable infrastructure of resources and mutual accountability with other seminaries, formation networks, and ministry partners. Housed in the Department of Lifelong Learning at VTS, under the supervision of the Associate Dean of Lifelong Learning Lisa Kimball, Ph.D., MMi will build on the learning and momentum from our current Lilly Endowment Inc. funded programs, particularly Baptized for Life.

The Good News, of course, is that God does indeed set a table in the wilderness. Drawing from a model of ministry in the New Testament and from baptismal theology at the heart of The Book of Common Prayer 1979, the Mutual Ministry Initiative demonstrates Virginia Theological Seminary’s readiness and capacity for tradition-informed innovation.

VTS is one of 84 theological 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, and Black church and historic peace church traditions (e.g., Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Quakers). Many schools also serve students and pastors from Black, Latino, Korean American, Chinese American and recent immigrant Christian communities.



Founded in 1823 as a beacon of hope in a country new and finding its way, Virginia Theological Seminary has led the way in forming leaders of the Episcopal Church, including the Most Rev. John E. Hines (VTS 1933, D.D. 1946), former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; the Rt. Rev. John T. Walker (VTS 1954, D.D. 1978), the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; and theologian, author, and lay preacher Ms. Verna J. Dozier (VTS D.D. 1978). Serving the worldwide Anglican Communion, Virginia Theological Seminary educates approximately 25% of those being ordained who received residential theological education. Visit us online:


About Lilly Endowment

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in the pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and 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 supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The primary aim of its grantmaking in religion, which is national in scope, focuses on strengthening the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion and lift up in fair, accurate and balanced ways the contributions that people of all faiths and religious communities make to our greater civic well-being.

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