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Bethel Receives $484,852 Lilly Endowment Grant

Bethel University has received a Lilly Endowment grant to establish theology institutes for high school students.

Bethel University has received a grant of $484,852 to establish “Living the Questions.” It is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues, and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

Bethel’s “Living the Questions” will be a 10-day summer residential program for high school students beginning in June 2017, after a director is selected to implement the details of the program. The design of “Living the Questions” is steeped in Bethel’s Pietistic tradition and educational philosophy of nurturing whole and holy persons; it introduces students to Bethel’s core values of living as character-builders, salt and light, and world-changers. The institute will be offered in three consecutive summer sessions, each focusing on a different theme: Faith and Justice (2017), Faith and Science (2018), and Faith and the Media (2019).

The institute will help participants to connect the intellectual, emotional, and practical aspects of their faith, and to understand the role of Christian discipleship within the context of current issues. Students will explore how their vocation—where and how God is calling them—enables them to respond to contemporary cultural challenges. They will engage in deep dialogue and textual criticism, learning how to think theologically in the classroom by interacting with college and seminary professors, and then put faith into action through community service projects and job shadowing. In addition, participants will be connected with current Bethel students as mentors, both during their time on campus and in follow-up communications afterwards.

A distinctive element of Bethel’s design is partnership with participants’ home churches. Several churches have already indicated their support of the program. Nominations for participants will be solicited from those churches, as well as others. In addition, students will be paired with a mentor from their church community to continue the discovery and exploration process during the year following their participation.

Dean of Arts and Humanities Barrett Fisher, who chaired the committee of faculty members and staff that developed the proposal, is excited about the opportunity to introduce participants to Bethel’s approach to faith. “As the title of our institute indicates, we are focusing on helping participants to ask important questions about their culture, and then equip them to pursue good answers in light of God’s call,” says Fisher. “The institute is not a course in doctrine, but an orientation to what it means to think theologically and to discern how to act faithfully.”

Bethel University is one of 82 schools participating in the initiative. The schools are located in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Although some schools are independent, many reflect the religious heritage of their founding traditions. These traditions include Baptist, Brethren, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches, as well as Roman Catholic, non-denominational, Pentecostal and historic African-American Christian communities.

“These colleges and universities are well-positioned to reach out to high school students in this way,” says Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Lilly Endowment Inc. “They have outstanding faculty in theology and religion who know how to help young people explore the wisdom of religious traditions and apply these insights to contemporary challenges.”

The Endowment is giving $44.5 million in grants to help a select group of private four-year colleges and universities around the nation to create the institutes. The grants are part of the Endowment’s commitment to identify and cultivate a cadre of theologically minded youth who will become leaders in church and society. 

An additional grant to the Forum for Theological Exploration will establish a program that will bring together leaders of the high school youth theology institutes to foster mutual learning and support.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based 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 & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.


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