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Columbia Theological Seminary has received a grant of $1.24 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish “Wonder of Worship,” an initiative to prepare Christian leaders in the Seminary’s degree programs and support partnering congregations in engaging children in corporate worship and thereby nurture their faith.  

The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to support faith-based organizations as they help children grow in faith and deepen their relationships with God.

“We are grateful for the creative imagination of our team, led by Dr. Kathy Dawson, and the resourceful partnership with Lilly Endowment,” said Columbia Theological Seminary President, the Rev. Dr. Victor Aloyo, Jr.  “This grant will provide Columbia Seminary with another opportunity to creatively serve the Church, its leadership, and its families. This resource will provide platforms to explore innovative tools for worship leaders to experiment with new methods and ideas for children’s sake, both now and in their future.”

Wonder of Worship will create spaces for worship practice on Columbia’s campus, as well as gather partner churches in regional gatherings twice a year.  The program will draw on research related to best practices and ideas for nurturing children’s faith, as well as develop new resources in a variety of media platforms to inspire and equip congregations to make changes in their corporate worship practices to make it more inclusive of children.  The initiative will also guide and support congregations as they craft their own worship elements specific to church culture.

The goal is to generate enthusiasm and curiosity among those who are preparing for ministry and those who are experienced in worship leadership to experiment with new methods and ideas  for the sake of children, both for now and their future. Columbia’s prayer is that these activities will draw all participants closer to God and each other.

“This grant positions Columbia to move in bold, creative, and relevant ways to form Christian leaders who are committed to nurturing the faith of children, and to resource and support pastors and congregations who long for more inclusive and intergenerational worship,” said Dr. Christine Roy Yoder, Columbia Theological Seminary’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty.  “Under the leadership of Dr. Kathy Dawson and the remarkable planning team, the Wonder of Worship project will build on current research about children and faith, fuel innovative ideas, connect practitioners and experts, and develop new approaches for worship that welcome and foster the flourishing of all.”

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $32 million in grants through this invitational round of the Nurturing Children initiative. The grants are funding efforts to help organizations develop new and/or enhance existing programs that support congregations as they design worship services and prayer practices  that more intentionally and fully engage children.

Columbia Theological Seminary is one of 26 organizations taking part in the initiative. They represent and serve congregations in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Pentecostal, Black church, Hispanic and Asian traditions.  Many organizations also serve churches that describe themselves as nondenominational, ecumenical and multi-denominational.

Lilly Endowment launched the Nurturing Children initiative in 2022 as part of its commitment to support efforts that strengthen the religious education and formation of children and enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.