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(Boston, Mass.) – Boston University’s School of Theology has received a five-year, $1.49 million grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., to help develop an innovative new model for seminary education that will provide churchleaders with the tools and insights required to adapt the church to the emerging needs of modern society.
“Christendom has collapsed,” said Professor Robert C. Neville, dean of the Boston University School of Theology. “If the church is to continue to fulfill its role of advancing the Christian gospel, it must be done with a solid understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political context of modern society. We need to consider altered institutions, if not entirely new ones, if we are to be successful.”
The Boston University grant is part of a total of $53.4 million awarded by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment to 45 theological schools in the United States and Canada as part of an effort to improve the schools’ capacities to prepare students to be effective ministers.
“Lilly Endowment’s mission in the field of religion is to deepen and enrich the religious life of American Christians, primarily by helping to strengthen their churches,” said Craig Dykstra, Endowment vice president for religion. “This grant’s program aims to assist those institutions best poised to make a strategic advance to improve their capacity to prepare the next generation of congregational or parish ministers.”
At Boston University, the focus will be on developing an educational and research program in “practical theology” designed specifically to train leaders to carry out the critical analysis, situational interpretation, strategic thinking, mobilization of resources, and implementation required to engage people from diverse backgrounds in the church.
“Our program will be the first to focus so strongly on integrating theory and traditional teachings into the practice of religion in a moderncultural context,” explained Dean Neville. “The primary obligation of theological education should be to research and develop strategic practices attuned to the reality of religious life in America and internationally. The interpretation of the Bible, the meaning of Christian tradition, or even the definition of God must be made relevant to the different subcultures of our society-from urban ghetto to urban cultural sophisticate, from suburban consumer to rural fundamentalist, from an American third-generation Methodist to an Asian Buddhist.”
As part of this effort, the School will work with the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church to start up one new church a year for ten years in key locations throughout New England. It will use the experience as a living laboratory for research on how new communities of faith can be started as well as how congregations can develop and renew themselves.
Boston University originated in 1839 when a group of lay and ministerial delegates of the Methodist Episcopal Church began a school for the improvement of theological training. Today, BU is the third largest independent university in the nation, with nearly 30,000 students and more than 3,000 teachers, scholars, and researchers in its 15 schools andcolleges.
Lilly Endowment is a private foundation that follows the wishes of its founders by supporting the causes of religion, education, and community development.