Seminary awarded grant to cultivate church leaders

Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary will use $1M grant to cultivate diversity in church leadership

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Fresno Pacific University is the Mennonite Brethren institution located in Fresno, Calif. with regional campuses in Merced, North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield.

Efforts to create opportunities for church leaders from diverse backgrounds at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary (FPBS) and in California’s Central Valley are getting a major boost from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment is awarding $999,824 to Fresno Pacific University (FPU) to help its seminary develop the “Cultivating Diverse Leadership for Churches in California’s Central Valley” project. Lilly Endowment made the grant through its Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, a three-phase initiative designed to help theological schools in the U.S. and Canada strengthen and sustain their capacities to prepare and support pastoral leaders for Christian churches. FPBS is one of 84 theological schools that will benefit from grants being made through the second phase of the Pathways initiative.

During the next five years, this generous grant will allow the seminary to:

  • Hire a full-time fundraiser to establish weighty scholarships for master of divinity students of color
  • Create partnerships with nationally known church leaders from diverse backgrounds, focused on training local students
  • Establish two fellowships for future faculty of color finishing their doctoral dissertations
  • Facilitate seminars, led by and for Valley pastors, focused on current issues facing local congregations
  • Hire local church leaders to serve as formal mentors for ministry students
  • Redesign and reimagine the seminary’s website and marketing initiatives
  • Deepen existing partnerships with the Jesus Collective, an Anabaptist-oriented international network, which seeks to equip “churches and ministry leaders to make more disciples and transform their communities,” according to its website
  • Meet with educational leaders to redesign the curriculum and/or pedagogical methods for the on-campus masters of divinity program

Brian Ross, associate professor and director, Christian ministry, master of divinity and ministry leadership and culture programs, will be the primary leader in carrying out the initiatives funded by this grant.

Work on the grant began early in 2021, when Lilly Endowment awarded FPU $50,000 for a phase one grant as part of the Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. The planning grant helped the seminary conduct research with its various constituencies. Surveys, focus groups and a brainstorming retreat were held with current and former ministry students, seminary donors, local and nationally known church leaders and USMB denominational and pastoral leaders. Feedback from those activities led the seminary to apply for the competitive phase two grant.

The grant initiative was endorsed by letters from Joseph Jones, FPU president; Joshua Wilson, chair of the FPU Board of Directors; Valerie Rempel, former FPBS dean and faculty member and vice president of FPU; Vanna In, executive director of Hope Now; Jordan Ringhofer, minister of the Pacific District Conference of the MB Church; Ken Shigematsu, senior pastor of Tenth Church (Vancouver); and Matt Miles, executive director of the Jesus Collective.

The seminary ministry faculty are especially thankful for the hard work of alumnus David Eagle; the University Advancement Office, particularly Amy Lawrence, director of grant funding support and foundations relations; Ross; and the excellent seminary staff of Hannah Avila and Mariah Cushing for the countless hours invested in the project.

About Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary
Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary develops kingdom-minded leaders for the church and the world by offering accessible and affordable educational programs that integrate spirited inquiry, transformative reflection and practical know-how.

Begun in 1955, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary has grown to be a solid, innovative and globally known theological institution, offering a masters of divinity degree as well as masters degrees in marriage and family therapy, Christian ministries, Old Testament, New Testament, theology and urban mission. The seminary takes its local, regional and global context seriously, preparing ethnically and denominationally diverse leaders from Anabaptist and non-Anabaptist traditions for transformational ministry in their current or future situations.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

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 their 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 developmenteducation 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.

Fresno Pacific University
Fresno Pacific University is California's Central Valley’s only accredited Christian university, connecting every student’s untapped potential with unlimited opportunity for professional, personal and ethical growth. Nonprofit and independent, FPU offers more than 100 areas of study to about 4,000 traditional undergraduate, adult degree completion, graduate and seminary students at the main campus in Southeast Fresno and throughout the Valley at regional campuses in North Fresno, Visalia, Bakersfield and Merced as well as online.

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