Shenandoah University, in partnership with Wesley Theological Seminary and the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, has received a $600,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to establish the Shenandoah University Youth Theology Institute.
The program is part of Lilly Endowment’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.
Rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors are eligible for the university’s institute, which will begin in July 2017. The students will be taught by Shenandoah University and Wesley Theological Seminary faculty and will be awarded three hours of college credit upon completion of a final project in their home church.
“This grant allows us to help shift the culture of the local church through empowering students,” said Dean of Spiritual Life and Director of the Institute for Church Professions Rev. Justin Allen, D.Min. “Youth Theology Institute students will explore the sacred scriptures thoroughly and address contemporary issues facing the church and the world.”
“Just this week world leaders gathered in France to address climate change,” added Allen. “The results of climate change will impact the poor and marginalized more than any other constituency, and the church should have something to say about that. We want our youth to wrestle with the scriptures and contemporary issues, and be a strong, passionate, and educated voice for change.”
The four-year program will focus on God’s love for the rural environment as illustrated in the Garden of Eden in the first book of the Bible and God’s love for the urban environment as illustrated in the holy city in the last book of the Bible. Therefore, students who participate in this program will spend a week deeply engaging the tradition and the future of the church at Shenandoah University against the backdrop of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and a week at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., within the political environment that determines our nation’s direction.
“This is an opportunity for Shenandoah University to give back to the community and the United Methodist Church by doing what we do best — educating and inspiring students to make a contribution in their community, the nation and the world,” said Allen.
Shenandoah University will hire a director for the institute by July 2016 in order to begin planning for the 2017 institute. Additional information regarding the application process and other details will be released later in 2016.
Shenandoah University is one of 82 schools participating in the initiative; participating 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,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “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 Lilly 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.