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Columbia Theological Seminary recently received a grant of $969,528 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish the “reKindle: Congregational Development in a Post COVID-19 Era” program through its Center for Lifelong Learning.
The reKindle Impact Grant will help realize the goal of the Thriving Congregation initiative by helping congregations focus on an identified need and chosen priority for ministry and congregational vitality.
The initiative will gather local pastors and church leaders to engage in a theologically informed strategy to reKindle their congregational vitality in a post-COVID-19 era. The reKindle program will resource them with a process to think theologically about their congregation, plan programs or strategies to initiate revitalization, and resource them with capacities and coaches to carry the projects through.
In the interview below, the Center for Lifelong Learning interviews Leanne Van Dyk, President of Columbia Theological Seminary, to hear her hopes for the initiative and what acceptance into the program may mean for the congregations that apply.
Center for Lifelong Learning: How does this project connect with the seminary’s mission to educate and nurture faithful, imaginative, and effective leaders for the sake of the church and the world?
President Van Dyk: The Thriving Congregations project is a wonderful expansion and extension of our core mission to form leaders for the sake of the church and the world.
That mission includes supporting and resourcing pastors who are already engaged in exactly this kind of work! Because the work of pastoral ministry is so challenging in these days of cultural upheaval and pandemic losses, we keenly feel the call to walk alongside of congregational leaders as they reflect theologically.
This project matches not only our mission but also our ethos and the character of our community.
The faculty of Columbia Seminary will be facilitators in this process of theological reflection, will offer resources for pastors, and will also learn together with pastors.
This model of learning together in a common call to serve the church and the world is what makes the Thriving Congregations project so compelling It is a hopeful sign in a very difficult time.
CLL: If you were a congregational leader, what kind of project might YOU be interested in?
PVD: The project is designed to meet the unique situation of each congregation. I find the name, “reKindle”, to be a succinct summary of what the project is about.
We hope and pray that the restrictions of the pandemic will soon ease. In that context, each congregation will face the challenge of identifying their needs to rekindle their ministry.
I think if I was a congregational pastor right now, I would want to focus on the impact of the pandemic on my congregation and find ways to celebrate faithful ministry as well as stretch toward new expressions of ministry.
I would want to be honest about the places of pain and give thanks for the places of growth and fruitfulness. I would certainly be excited about the opportunities of the ”reKindle” program for the ministry of my congregation as we look together at where God is calling us.
CLL: What are your hopes for the individual leaders who participate in the project – what might they learn, how might it inspire/invigorate their ministry?
PVD: In recent months, I have heard from many pastors who reflect on how tired they are, how worried they are, how unrelenting the losses and griefs are that their congregation has suffered.
My main hope for the individual congregational leaders is for them to receive encouragement, rest, hope, courage, and collegial wisdom.
My hope is that they will emerge from the process with a renewed sense of call, restored confidence, and new insights about how the Holy Spirit is moving in their congregation. It is both a simple hope and a very profound hope, I think!
There are, I suppose, other hopes that I could name that have to do with building new “muscles” for ministry, with developing new skills and habits. But, at the very foundation, I hope they will come away with renewed joy and encouragement.
CLL: What are your hopes for post-COVID ministry in the church?
PVD: My hopes are rooted in my theological convictions: I believe that God calls us to participate in God’s own goals for the world – goals of shalom and healing and hope.
Based on that, my hopes for post-COVID ministry is that congregations and their leaders will identify how they can participate in God’s great plan for renewal!
What is the particular shape and form of that commitment? How has it been honed and clarified by the season of pandemic? What are new small shoots coming up from the ground that promise new life?
These are the questions that the reKindle project will encourage pastoral leaders to ask and will provide a space to discern answers. My hope for a post-COVID ministry is nothing less that the central call of Christian communities to participate in God’s goals will find new energy and joy!
CLL: What would you say to someone reading this right now, trying to determine if this opportunity is a good fit for their congregation?
PVD: I would ask a basic question, “Has this time of pandemic impacted your congregation?”
If the answer to that question is “yes”, this reKindle program is for you!
I can hardly imagine a congregation that has not been impacted! Many have been impacted in sad and serious ways.
This program seeks to help; it is really as simple as that!
To apply for a rekindle grant 2021, click here to submit an application. For additional information, download the FAQ Sheet or email the CLL at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Link for 2023 information HERE.
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