FPU awarded nearly $1 million by Lilly Endowment

Grant will help seminary equip Valley churches, organizations with tools to address neighborhood needs, issues

Leaders from the Center for Community Transformation at Fresno Pacific University and Butler Church in Fresno lead a Faith & Finances financial tools class in a housing authority complex, one of many forms of training being expanded by the Lilly Endowment grant. (Photo provided by CCT)

Fresno Pacific University has received a grant of $990,280 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish the “New Skills for a New Era Initiative” at the Center for Community Transformation (CCT).

The program will be rooted at the Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, a graduate school of the university. It 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.

“New Skills for a New Era Initiative” will build on and expand key aspects of CCT work in the Central Valley, focusing in particular on equipping Valley churches and organizations with cutting-edge economic and civic tool boxes to address the issues being faced by congregations and residents in their neighborhoods. These include searing unemployment, violence, isolation from the civic process, vulnerability to predatory lending, lack of access to leadership development, educational inequities, as well as others.

The initiative places special emphasis on mobilizing and equipping urban and rural Spanish-speaking congregations, as well as diverse, English-speaking urban and rural congregations that are focusing on underserved neighborhoods, from Merced to Fresno to Tulare.

The initiative will make scholarships available to these congregations for specialized classes and certifications in the areas of financial literacy, micro-enterprise, social enterprise, workforce readiness, educational partnerships and leadership development for community transformation, as well as provide mentoring.

These “new skill” toolboxes will help congregations thrive in a time when the Central Valley is under enormous pressures, made even worse by the pandemic, because they will be better able to address the felt needs of residents.

Randy White, executive director of CCT, says, “This strategic grant will, through the influence of training and mentoring, catalyze a whole new level of relevance for Valley churches wanting to seek the peace and well-being of their cities, following Jeremiah 29:4-7. It equips churches to demonstrate practically that God cares about the whole person, the economic, physical and spiritual health of their families and neighborhoods.”

The FPU Biblical Seminary Center for Community Transformation 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,” says 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.”

For more information, contact Randy White, D.Min., CCT executive director, at 559-453-2366 or randy.white@fresno.edu.

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.



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