BUSTH Awarded Lilly Endowment Grant for Thriving Congregations Initiative


Kimberly Macdonald
Communications Director

Boston, MA – November 11, 2020 – Boston University School of Theology (BUSTH) is pleased to announce that Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded BUSTH a nearly $1 million, four-year grant to work with urban congregations responding to trauma. “Trauma-Responsive Congregations: Equipping Thriving Urban Congregations to Respond to Collective Trauma” identifies the need for urban congregations to respond to trauma from theologically-informed and spiritually-integrative perspectives, as their congregants are continually shaped by and are reacting to the compounding of domestic and global traumatic events.

The grant awarded to BUSTH is one of 92 grants Lilly Endowment is making through Thriving Congregations, a national initiative. According to the Lilly Endowment, the initiative is designed to “help congregations strengthen their ministries and thrive so they can better help people deepen their relationships with God, enhance their connections with each other and contribute to the flourishing of their communities and the world.”

The project will be focused in three urban areas of the United States: Boston, San Diego, and Atlanta, each of which has its own geographically-influenced challenges. Urban congregations across the United States are already responding to various forms of insidious trauma, including systemic racism, gun violence, homelessness, or immigration stressors.

“This program is organized around assisting [urban congregations] in developing models of trauma-responsive care that are deeply integrated into the mission of the congregations and that draw from the organic resources of congregational life,” says BUSTH Associate Professor of Theology and principal investigator on the project Shelly Rambo.

The project will be completed in two phases and will draw on BUSTH’s strengths in practical theology, chaplaincy, and Black church studies. The first phase will involve three churches in each metro area, selected by co-principal investigators BUSTH Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Bryan Stone and BUSTH Associate Dean for Students and Community Life Teddy Hickman-Maynard. Congregational task forces will be formed and supported by an educational team composed of area chaplains, theological school faculty, Clinical Pastoral Education educators, and the principal investigators. Together, they explore how to contextualize trauma in their urban settings to develop a unique trauma response plan for each congregation. The second phase will allow the selected churches to reach out to additional congregations in their metro area by sharing the work they have done, and then helping their fellow congregations move forward in their own trauma responsiveness.

“When congregations consider what it means to be trauma-informed, they often look outside for resources. As educational partners, we hope to provide some “theological on-ramps” for congregations to explore, from within, what it means to be a trauma-responsive church,” says Rambo. “We are excited that the Lilly Endowment has made it possible for BU School of Theology to collaborate with congregations in this work.”


Since 1839, Boston University School of Theology has been preparing leaders to do good. A seminary of the United Methodist Church, Boston University School of Theology is a robustly ecumenical institution that welcomes students from diverse faith traditions who are pursuing a wide range of vocations – parish ministry, conflict transformation, chaplaincy, campus ministry, administration, non-profit management, social work, teaching, justice advocacy, peacemaking, interfaith dialogue, and more. Our world-renowned faculty and strong heritage help students nurture their academic goals and realize any ministry imaginable. For more information, please visit www.bu.edu/sth.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a national private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J. K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Co. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.