The Baltimore-Washington Conference recently received a grant of $1 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish its new Catalyst Initiative, an effort designed to empower local churches to thrive in mission and ministry as they seek to transform knowledge into life-changing action.
The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other, and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.
Lilly Endowment is making nearly $93 million in grants through the initiative. The grants support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them gain clarity about their values and missions, explore and understand better the communities in which they serve, and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.
The BWC’s Catalyst Initiative, “enables churches to claim a holy imagination and discover interesting ways of expressing their faith that make a meaningful difference in people’s lives,” said Bishop LaTrelle Easterling. “It will shape new discipleship systems and develop unique metrics for measuring faithfulness as they become explorers of the possible. As they continue to meet, they’ll pioneer new ideas about being the church in a post-pandemic world; discern ways their congregation can be relevant to new generations and the unchurched; and build enthusiasm and contextual paths for growth in ministry and discipleship.” During the Initiative, 108 of the BWC’s 603 churches will be selected to participate, in stages, over five years. The selection process begins this winter.
Work has already begun on creating a new digital learning community, called BWC Connex, in which clergy and lay leaders will interact with one another and learn using existing, refined, and emerging tools and resources, said Christie Latona, the BWC director of Connectional Ministries who will oversee the Catalyst Initiative. Participating churches will work in cohorts with other churches and have coaches to accompany and lead them during the experience. In addition to this cohort-based coaching, participants will use BWC Connex for “interactive learning sprints.” These two-week learning experiences will be intensives that use a hybrid learning model that focuses on blending learning and engagement while undergirding Christian practices and why they matter.
The Baltimore-Washington Conference is one of 92 organizations taking part in Lilly’s Thriving Congregations’ Initiative. They represent and serve churches in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including Anabaptist, Baptist, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Restoration, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, as well as congregations that describe themselves as nondenominational. Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American traditions.
“In the midst of a rapidly changing world, Christian congregations are grappling with how they can best carry forward their ministries,” said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “These grants will help congregations assess their ministries and draw on practices in their theological traditions to address new challenges and better nurture the spiritual vitality of the people they serve.”
Lilly Endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019 as part of its commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.
About Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s grantmaking in religion is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen their pastoral and lay leadership.