Duke University has received a $992,621 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., part of the second phase of grants of its Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. The grant will help Duke Divinity School implement its new Hybrid Master of Divinity degree program and to develop a new digital learning platform called Divinity+.
Funding through the Pathways initiative is part of a long history of Lilly Endowment support for Duke Divinity School. In early 2021, Lilly Endowment made a $50,000 planning grant in the first phase of the Pathways initiative to help the school identify and prioritize the most pressing challenges it faces in preparing pastoral leaders for Christian congregations.
Lilly Endowment launched the Pathways initiative to help theological schools in the U.S. and Canada strengthen and sustain their capacities to prepare and support pastoral leaders for Christian churches.
‘We are grateful for the ongoing vision and support of Lilly Endowment to support pathways to theological education,” said Edgardo Colón-Emeric, the dean of Duke Divinity School and the Irene and William McCutchen Associate Professor of Theology and Reconciliation and director of the Center for Reconciliation. “Our mission is to train and support Christian leaders for the church and its ministries in the academy and the world. However, we realize that many people are in current ministry contexts or geographic locations that make relocation difficult in order to study at Duke Divinity School. With the support of this grant, we will be able to advance our mission and reach a richer variety of learners and leaders. By God’s grace, this greater outreach will result in stronger congregations, revitalized communities, and dreams of a new Pentecost.”

Online meeting on laptop
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

The Hybrid Master of Divinity degree program is in its inaugural year at Duke Divinity School, with a strong enrollment that reflects a desire for theological education among many people who are unable to relocate to Durham, N.C., due to their current professional or personal responsibilities. Students include pastoral staff, nonprofit leaders, and others who are now able to access the academic opportunities and ministerial formation offered at Duke Divinity while continuing to serve their congregations and constituents.
Divinity+, a new digital learning platform, is being developed to support theological education for pastoral leaders and Christian professionals, especially in underserved communities. Short courses and certificate pathways will expand access to Duke Divinity’s faculty, centers, and initiatives. The new grant will enable certificate pathways specifically designed to support pastoral leadership development for Black, Asian-American, and Hispanic ministry contexts.  
According to Frank Yamada, executive director for the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the Pathways for Tomorrow initiative is the most significant investment in the future of theological schools in its history.
“It comes at a time when theological schools are in the midst of rapid and significant change,” Yamada said. “The initiative creates a substantial opportunity for theological schools to plan for and implement changes needed to better position themselves to carry out their missions to prepare women and men for ministry in communities of faith.”

Duke Divinity School has long focused its primary attention on congregations and preparing women and men for pastoral leadership in and through congregations. The Pathways grant will help transform possibilities into platforms that expand and extend the mission of faithful and effective leadership in theological education.
“Theological schools have long played a pivotal role in preparing pastoral leaders for churches,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Today, these schools find themselves in a period of rapid and profound change. Through the Pathways initiative, theological schools will take deliberate steps to address the challenges they have identified in ways that make the most sense to them. We believe that their efforts are critical to ensuring that Christian congregations continue to have a steady stream of pastoral leaders who are well-prepared to lead the churches of tomorrow.”
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and 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 supports the causes of community development, education, and religion and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The primary aim of its grantmaking in religion, which is national in scope, focuses on strengthening the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion and lift up in fair, accurate and balanced ways the contributions that people of all faiths and religious communities make to our greater civic well-being.