Local Organizations Awarded Major Grant To Help Dane County Churches Thrive

Nov 10, 2020 | University Relations

In close partnership with three regional ministries, the Wisconsin Council of Churches has received a grant of $999,990 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to establish Awaken Dane. The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationship with God, build strong relationships with each other, and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $93 million in grants through this initiative. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them gain clarity about their values and missions, explore and understand better the communities in which they serve, and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.

Awaken Dane is a creative initiative forged among four organizations committed to advance thriving churches in Dane County. Managing the grant is the Wisconsin Council of Churches, a statewide organization with a long history of ecumenical engagement, led by Rev. Kerri Parker. Partner organizations include: Collaboration Project, led by Rev. Jon Anderson; University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, represented by Rev. Dr. Christopher James; and Upper House, led by Dr. John Terrill.

Specifically, Awaken Dane is focused on equipping congregations and church leaders to discern God’s Spirit at work within their local communities, even beyond church walls.  The project includes monthly pastor learning communities, monthly congregational small group gatherings led by pastors, and semi-annual large group gatherings. Large group gatherings will aid church leaders in understanding prevailing social and cultural trends, the distinctives of their own faith traditions, and the dynamic Dane County context where they serve. Participating churches will cultivate habits of learning and discernment that can be used well beyond the duration of the program. 

“This is about so much more than strengthening individual churches,� said the Rev. Kerri Parker, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches. “It’s about helping us all thrive. Through Awaken Dane we expect to see an increase in collaborative and ecumenical ministry. As we learn common language and build trusting relationships, leaders will be able to work more effectively together. Collectively, we will frame good questions, which is an excellent start to sorting out what God may be up to around us, and how we can best get involved.�

Awaken Dane is one of 92 projects which are part of the Lilly-funded Thriving Congregations Initiative. Others represent and serve churches in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including Anabaptist, Baptist, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Restoration, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, as well as congregations that describe themselves as non-denominational. Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American traditions.

“In the midst of a rapidly changing world, Christian congregations are grappling with how they can best carry forward their ministries,� said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “These grants will help congregations assess their ministries and draw on practices in their theological traditions to address new challenges and better nurture the spiritual vitality of the people they serve.�

Lilly Endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019 as part of its commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.

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About Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s grantmaking in religion is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen their pastoral and lay leadership.

About the Awaken Dane Project Partners
The Wisconsin Council of Churches is a statewide ecumenical organization with ties to 20 Christian traditions – over 2000 congregations -- and other faith-based organizations. The Council’s work includes preparing leaders and churches for public witness rooted in Christian concepts of justice, and fostering ecumenical innovation – equipping churches to make courageous decisions for vital ministry in a time such as this.
Website: wichurches.org

Collaboration Project fosters church collaborations in Dane County for the welfare of the broader community so that all may flourish. It celebrates the local church through storytelling, facilitates affinity groups around issues that impact people in our communities, tends to pastor care and connection, and leads the annual Kingdom Justice Summit.
Website: collaborationproject.us

University of Dubuque Theological Seminary currently serves residential students in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois as well as 30 additional states through its online degree programs, launched in 2001. Rev. Dr. Christopher James has been commissioned to work with this program and contribute his extensive research-based knowledge concerning the habits, preferences, and practices of the church in Dane County. UDTS will make available options for certificates and graduate and doctoral credit to participating pastors.
Website: udts.dbq.edu

Upper House is a center for Christian study located at the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. In service to the academy, the marketplace, the arts, and local Christian ministries, Upper House welcomes all who long to explore the life of the mind and the questions of the soul.
Website: upperhouse.org