Published on July 5, 2023 by Sofia Paglioni  
Reid Chapel and the quad SD0721466

Samford University’s Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this year. Established by now-retired professor of Biblical and Religious Studies Penny Marler, the CCR is an independent program at Samford.

Marler applied for and received a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. as a part of Lilly’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) nationwide initiative. Since its inception in 2003, the CCR has received Lilly Endowment grants totaling $5.3 million. The bulk of the grant money is then awarded as “mini grants” to local congregations who participate in the center’s grant programming. 

At that time, the CCR’s mission was primarily focused on both clergy renewal and continuing education. In 2007, the center received a continuation grant from the SPE initiative, still with the same primary focus.

In 2011, the center was renamed the Center for Congregational Resources from its original name, the Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence, which more accurately reflects the center’s focus on both clergy and congregations. Since the change, the grant programming has been focused on congregational resourcing.

The center is currently involved in two Lilly initiatives, the Called to Lives of Meaning and Purpose and Thriving Congregations. The center has applied for and received both funds. The center also benefits from three Samford endowed funds. These funds continue the ministry of clergy renewal by providing Sabbath and study leaves for clergy. The funds were originally established to honor local, long-tenured clergy in Birmingham.  

Each cohort of congregations consists of a senior pastor and a leadership team and participates in the center’s programming for 18 months. Over the course of the program, cohorts participate in clergy peer groups, attend lectures, conduct congregational surveys and demographic research. This extensive program allows each congregation to look back on their participation and see what they have learned about their community, congregation and its ministry impact. After the training, each congregation is then eligible to create their own proposal toward creating or recalibrating ministries. The congregational proposals are awarded at the end of the 18-month program.  

In July 2022, Reverend Michael Wilson retired as director of the center after holding the position for 16 years. Since then, Keri Burns has been serving as interim director for the center. Burns said, “Over the past 20 years, the center has been walking alongside clergy and congregations. We have had the privilege of hearing their stories and offering support and resources. It has been an honor to a part of such meaningful work.”

In May 2023, Samford’s CCR awarded $207,500 grants to eight congregations and ministries in Alabama through the Called to Lives of Meaning and Purpose initiative. They also awarded $212,311 to 11 congregations though the Thriving Congregations initiative. A total of $419,811 went to the hands of local congregations and the CCR is actively recruiting for a second cohort of Thriving Congregations

Through these initiatives, the center continues to make an impact in surrounding communities by providing local congregations with the resources and tools to thrive and spread the Gospel throughout Alabama.

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.