Published on January 13, 2015 by William Nunnelley  

Samford University has received a $600,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to further the work of anima: the Forum for Worship and the Arts. Housed in Samford’s School of the Arts, anima is fostering vocational exploration, theological nourishment, spiritual formation and artistic aspiration among young people.

Founded in 2013 with the help of a grant from the Christ Is Our Salvation (C.I.O.S.) Foundation, anima has a mission to invigorate the church with theologically-imaginative worship leaders. The project consists of three key initiatives:

  • The Forum on the Web (, a repository of practical resources for worship leaders
  • The Elisha Project, a worship leadership mentoring program for Samford students
  • Animate, a hands-on, interdenominational, intergenerational workshop in worship and the arts

“The grant from the Lilly Endowment will help us build on these already successful endeavors,” said Eric L. Mathis, director of anima and an assistant professor of music at Samford.

“The 21st century church needs a new model of worship leadership that helps clergy and lay people alike revitalize what it means to be in worship.”

The anima initiatives and resources are designed to help young people deepen their knowledge of worship and the arts by exploring their local and global experiences of worship, and by reflecting on the history, theology and practice of worship.

The grant from Lilly Endowment will support several projects during the next three years. They include expansion of a summer workshop for high school students and their mentors, and the addition of an overseas pilgrimage for high school juniors and seniors to experience and participate in worship, the arts and restorative justice practices in another culture.

Also, support from the Endowment will allow anima to increase its presence on the web by creating additional worship resources for congregations. It will fund a research project to determine where worship is positively forming young people and congregational identity, and where it is not.

The founding director of anima , Mathis arrived at Samford in 2010. He holds a bachelor of music from Wheaton College, a master of music and master of divinity from Baylor University and George W. Truett Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. 

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.