A $1.5 million grant from The Duke Endowment will support a project led by the Office of Black Church Studies and the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School to strengthen Wesleyan pastors in the Carolinas who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color, including from the AME, AME Zion, CME, and UMC churches. The project, To Heal the Wounded Soul, will develop peer networks, support groups, and retreats to address the specific mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of this community.

The Duke Endowment, a private foundation based in Charlotte, has been a long-time supporter of Duke Divinity School in its efforts to form Christian leaders, develop new research collaborations, and foster thriving local faith communities.

"We are grateful to God for the ongoing support of The Duke Endowment for our mission to train and support ministers in churches and communities," 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. "This grant will enable us to use our resources to respond to the needs we have seen and heard from our sisters and brothers who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color in Wesleyan and Methodist churches. By strengthening and supporting them, we believe we are investing in healthier leaders and communities throughout the Carolinas."

To Heal the Wounded Soul will be led by David Emmanuel Goatley, associate dean for academic and vocational formation, director of the Office of Black Church Studies, and Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Jr. Research Professor of Theology and Christian Ministry; and Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, research director of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative and research professor in the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research.

“Similar to the multiplying effect of compound interest on investments, racism increases dramatically stress for people of color,” Goatley said. “The generosity of The Duke Endowment will support pastors of color in the Wesleyan tradition on a journey of relief, recovery, and resilience to help strengthen and sustain their ministries in churches and communities.”

African American minister with Eucharist elements
Photo by Dawn McDonald/Unsplash

Focus groups and interviews conducted with Black Wesleyan clergy in the spring of 2021 revealed a lack of fellowship programs where clergy come together and raised concerns that many Black Wesleyan clergy had not witnessed a healthy support system to deal with painful experiences as clergy. To Heal the Wounded Soul will develop retreats that combine theological perspective, pastoral formation, and peer group expertise located in the Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities with psychological and wellbeing expertise developed from the experience of clergy holistic health retreats.

“The experiences of 2020 and 2021 have brought test after test, and many clergy have rallied repeatedly to support their congregants,” Proeschold-Bell said. “The challenges have been especially demanding for African American, Latinx, Native American, and Asian American clergy. I’m delighted that the Duke Clergy Health Initiative can partner with the Office of Black Church Studies to create an intervention offering resources and support tailored specifically for these clergy.”

The grant will also enable To Heal the Wounded Soul to work with participants to build robust referral networks for clergy and lay leaders to draw on to support congregants, and develop ongoing support among small groups of clergy to process trauma, begin the work of healing, and minister more effectively in their churches and communities.

“Clergy are the heart and soul of the communities they serve," said Robert R. "Robb" Webb III, director of the Rural Church program area for The Duke Endowment. "In addition to all that they do on a regular basis, seemingly overnight, they also became case workers, IT technicians, therapists, referees—all while being called to provide hope, guidance, and spiritual formation to their members. It has been an exhausting season for clergy, and this is especially the case for our brothers and sisters who lead Black, Indigenous and people of color congregations. The Duke Endowment is honored to participate in To Heal the Wounded Soul and we believe that the sanctioned space it provides will offer the opportunity for healing that leads to continued, fruitful ministry.”

Based in Charlotte, N.C., and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $3.7 billion in grants. The Endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, but all are separate organizations. For more information, go to https://dukeendowment.org/.