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Marquette’s congregational ministry program receives $1M expansion grant

Marquette University recently received a $1 million “Thriving in Ministry” grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., to help support Christian pastors in congregational ministry.

The five-year grant will propel Marquette to both create and strengthen programs that support pastors by helping them connect strategically with other clergy who can serve as role models and mentors. The goal is to better support Christian clergy to promote their well-being as church leaders.

“We want to continue to address pressing challenges facing our society,” said Marquette University President Michael R. Lovell. “Today, Christian pastors are dealing with increasingly complex issues. Through this generous ‘Thriving in Ministry’ grant from the Lilly Endowment, we hope to put the right support systems in place to help pastors and their congregations flourish.”

Marquette’s pastoral support program is called “Companions in Ministry.” In keeping with the tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola – the founder of the Society of Jesus – the program recognizes that key relationships can help clergy to sustain themselves while leading others in faith.

The “Companions in Ministry” program will develop small ecumenical affinity groups of clergy, including urban pastors, ordained women, internationally born pastors and those serving Hispanic congregations. The affinity groups will meet regularly for two years in conversations led by a specially trained peer pastor. The experience will begin and end with a two-day retreat. Affinity groups will meet together in a large group twice each year for prayer and education on topics suggested by the affinity groups.

Marquette University received the largest “Thriving in Ministry” grant of its kind in Wisconsin and is one of 78 organizations located in 29 states that is taking part in the initiative. Lilly Endowment has made nearly $70 million in grants through the Thriving in Ministry initiative. Grant recipients reflect diverse Christian traditions: mainline and evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox.

Dr. Susan Mountin, director of “Pastoral Leadership in a Cultural Context” – another Lilly Endowment-funded initiative at Marquette – will oversee “Companions in Ministry.” Mountin formerly directed the Manresa Project at Marquette from 2002 to 2009, a Lilly Endowment “Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation,” funded with a $2 million grant. Before that, she served as associate director and acting director of Campus Ministry from 1977 to 2001.

Leading the project will be Dr. Peg Flahive, director of human concerns at Church of the Gesu. Flahive has had experience in ecumenical outreach through Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope and formerly worked with the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“Thriving in Ministry” is part of Lilly Endowment’s grantmaking to strengthen pastoral leadership in Christian congregations in the United States, which has been a grantmaking priority at Lilly Endowment for nearly 25 years.

“Leading a congregation today is multi-faceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives. These promising programs, including ‘Companions in Ministry,’ will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.”

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Lee Matz

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