A grant to Hope College from Lilly Endowment Inc. will provide support to area churches to create and enhance programs that will help their members explore vocation — a sense of calling — in their lives.

“A growing body of research and popular literature tells us that the vast majority of Americans want their work to amount to more than a paycheck,” said Dr. Jonathan Hagood, who is an associate professor of history and director of the college’s Senior Seminar program, and led the team that developed the project proposal.  “Engaging the themes of calling and vocation — understood broadly as not only matters of employment and career but also larger questions about meaning, purpose and the direction of one’s life — will provide a richer church life for Christians, equip them for faithful lives at work and contribute to a greater sense of coherence in their lives.”

Hagood noted, though, that churches don’t always have the resources to devote to creating and running such efforts.  With the $1.5 million grant through Lilly Endowment’s “Called to Lives of Meaning and Purpose Initiative,” the college will provide a series of workshops and conferences to help churches develop programs that make sense for their individual congregations; funding to implement them; and opportunities to gather afterward with other participants and discuss what worked and what didn’t.

Coordinated through the college’s Center for Ministry Studies, the “innovation hub” will run in three year-long cycles beginning in the summer of 2019 and continuing through 2022.  The organizers anticipate that 12 to 24 small teams — comprised of three to five people each — from local churches will participate each year.  Churches interested in developing or reshaping more than one program will be able to participate more than once, to the benefit of all.

“We’re hoping that congregations that are successful early on will mentor other congregations,” said Dr. Andrew McCoy, director of the Center for Ministry Studies and an assistant professor at Hope.  “With several churches participating at a time, we’re also hoping that relationships between churches will develop that will also be a benefit to the area.”

In keeping with the innovation theme, McCoy noted, the program will also equip participants to apply its step-by-step process at their churches in other ways, in the hope that their experience will continue to be a benefit.

Hope developed the proposal with support from a $50,000 planning grant awarded this past spring by Lilly Endowment Inc.  Also earlier this year, the college received a $458,502, three-year grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. for “Generation Spark: Mentoring Tomorrow’s Church Leaders,” which is addressing the steep decline in church attendance and religious affiliation among the millennial generation and adults who no longer affiliate with a church while also meeting needs in local communities.  Coordinated through the college’s Center for Leadership, “Generation Spark” is working with individual churches to connect their youth and adults of age 45 and older in one-on-one teams focused on helping to meet needs in the world about which they’re concerned.

Previous grant support to Hope by Lilly Endowment includes a $2 million grant in 2002 through the initiative to support “Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation” at colleges and universities.  Hope established the CrossRoads Project, which began in 2003.  Through a variety of initiatives it encourages students to explore intersections of faith, career, calling and life. Many of the CrossRoads initiatives are now coordinated through the college’s Center for Ministry Studies.  In 2015, Hope received a $500,000 grant through Lilly Endowment’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative to establish Awakening, a summer institute designed to deepen high school students’ faith formation and understanding of Christian theology, and to help them explore the moral dimension of contemporary issues and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

Lilly Endowment 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.