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GRTS and the Urban Church Leadership Center Awarded $1 Million Grant From Lilly Endowment Inc.

News April 30, 2020

Grand Rapids Theological Seminary (GRTS) announced that the Urban Church Leadership Center (UCLC) received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., for the UCLC’s new Thriving Congregations project.

Funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative, the project aims to help Black, Hispanic and Asian churches assess their changing communities, think deeply about the connection between theology and Christian practice and develop ministry strategies that clarify missional priorities and activities. The project will engage clergy and lay leaders in cohort-based learning during the next five years. Rev. Khary Bridgewater, who has overseen the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation’s congregational work for the last decade, will lead this new project.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the project will help churches in Kent County face the challenges of COVID-19. Short-term funding will be provided to ensure that congregations keep their members safe while mobilizing to serve the community during the current health crisis. More specifically, grant funding will help congregations digitally conduct video streaming, online meetings and virtual volunteering.

“Lilly Endowment supports the Urban Church Leadership Center’s work serving churches in the Greater Grand Rapids community,” said Bridgewater. “We are grateful that this grant will help us address the urgent needs of churches in this short-term crisis while building the long-term competencies that will empower churches for years to come.”

The UCLC is located on the GRTS campus and is led by Rev. Julián Guzmán. It is a personal and professional development center that trains, supports and provides urban church leaders with resources and renewal. Over the past two years, the UCLC has served more than 200 churches in West Michigan. This grant will enable the UCLC to deepen its services locally and serve as a model for assisting urban churches throughout the country.

“At Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, we are excited to continue our partnership with the Urban Church Leadership Center in serving and supporting urban clergy and urban churches,” said Dr. John VerBerkmoes, executive vice president for academics and dean of GRTS. “The grant will be used to empower Black, Hispanic and Asian churches from West Michigan to better understand and respond to emerging social and cultural trends. The goal of our Thriving Congregations project is to enhance the vitality of the participating congregations in the face of these trends.”

The Thriving Congregations project will start with a rigorous nine-month planning and design process. Recruitment for the first cohort of urban churches is slated to begin in October 2020. Those churches currently involved in UCLC programs will have the opportunity to engage in this exciting new program.

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