Samford University has received a $2 million grant from
Lilly Endowment Inc. of Indianapolis, Ind., to take part in a national program
called "Sustaining Pastoral Excellence." Samford will use the grant
to establish a Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence that will encourage spiritual,
physical, social and intellectual renewal among church leaders for the 21st
"The project will directly support approximately 300 pastors during the
five-year grant period," said Samford religion professor Penny L. Marler,
project director. "Its wider impact will extend to these pastors' families,
congregations, colleagues and communities."
The renewal process for church leaders will be accomplished through sabbatical
leaves, pastor support groups, ministerial apprenticeships and creative interracial
partnering, said Dr. Marler.
The work of the center will be structured to enable pastors to sustain their
own growth as well as contribute to the development of others, she said. Samford
will partner with Samaritan Counseling Center of Birmingham, Directors of Missions
in selected Alabama Baptist associations and First Priority of Alabama to establish
The grant is one of 47 made nationally by the Endowment to focus attention
and energy on maintaining the high caliber of the nation's pastoral leaders.
The grants ranged in size from $252,000 to $2 million.
"The Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence will integrate an academic
learning environment with peer teaching and mentoring," said Samford president
Thomas E. Corts. "This Center will reach the widest possible ministerial
audience and address individual needs according to academic and social backgrounds
"As a Christian university whose definitive mission is to nurture persons,
Samford embraces the opportunity to bring together pastors from diverse racial
and denominational backgrounds; to provide experienced pastoral mentors to new
ministerial students; and to create support networks and peer-training programs
for those in non-traditional pastoral roles."
Samford provost J. Bradley Creed added, "This generous grant will enable
Samford University to build upon its historic foundation of serving churches
and supporting pastors and other ministry leaders. Samford is honored to be
one of the select institutions Lilly Endowment has chosen as a partner in this
According to Craig Dykstra, Endowment vice president for religion, "The
Endowment's current religion grantmaking revolves around two major and interlocking
considerations: identifying, nurturing and educating a talented new generation
of pastors and, second, recognizing and supporting the excellent ones we have
Samford received its grant based on a proposal to establish the Resource Center
for Pastoral Excellence. The center will provide six basic programs:
A Sabbath Leave Program will provide pastors in the southeastern region with
restorative emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual experiences in an
academic environment. The Center will provide generous stipends for sabbatical
leaves on Samford's campus for one week up to a full academic semester.
A Pastoral Partnerships for Excellence program will partner with local, successful
mid-career pastors with differing educational and racial backgrounds to write
reflective case studies on one another's congregations. The goal is to "facilitate
understanding, more than just talk," between pastors and congregations
of different races, said Gerald Austin, pastor of Birmingham's New City Church
Twelve for Twelve will be a holistic, 12-month peer support program for groups
of 12 pastors in the Birmingham area. The Samaritan Counseling Center, an accredited
pastoral counseling center directed by Shirley Richards, will manage this aspect
of the program.
Pastoral Sustenance Networks among ministers in rural, Southern Baptist associations
will include peer support groups, continuing education in cooperation with Beeson
Divinity School, retreats and mentor relationships between experienced and novice
An AM/PM program will create apprenticeships between college-aged, licensed
ministers and youth pastors and facilitate mentoring environments in participating
congregations. First Priority of Alabama, which works with youth ministers and
is led by Greg Davis, will facilitate the Birmingham-based program.
Two regional or national INSPIRE Conferences will be held to bring center
participants together, provide inspiration and ideas, showcase methods and models
of pastoral leadership and stimulate broader conversation about pastoral excellence.
Dykstra noted that many pastors feel a sense of isolation.
"Over time, this results in diminished opportunities to engage in some
of the crucial activities that led them to pursue the ministry in the first
place--intellectual and spiritual searching and discovery, pursuit of scholarship
and writing, fellowship with colleagues, strong relationships with loved ones
and with God," he said.
For this reason the Endowment invited nonprofit organizations committed to
supporting pastoral work to create program proposals that would answer this
need. More than 700 institutions submitted grant proposals, Dykstra noted.