Duke Divinity School is launching a new program to partner with diverse congregations from across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia to address congregational leadership challenges.

Funded with a $1 million Lilly Endowment grant to Duke University, the Community Craft Collaborative is designed to facilitate mutual learning and capacity-building, uniting the practical insights and lived theology of congregational leaders, especially those historically at the margins, with the logistical capabilities and theological assets at Duke University.

Lilly Endowment made the grant through its Thriving Congregations Initiative. The initiative is supporting organizations to work with congregations to strengthen ministries so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other, and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.

The grant will strengthen the Divinity School’s commitment to congregations and communities in which more than half of Duke Divinity School alumni serve, and from which the school draws 40 percent of its students.

Through the Community Craft Collaborative, the Divinity School will build cohort-based learning communities and customized curricula developed in partnership with local leaders and Divinity faculty to meet the needs of particular communities. Also, the collaborative will work to develop accelerated, flexible credit pathways that fit the bi-vocational realities of most congregational lay leaders and many clergy in these communities.

“This five-year grant will enable Duke Divinity School to support underserved and under-resourced congregations in a time of shrinking resources,” said L. Gregory Jones, dean of the Divinity School and Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Jr. Distinguished Professor of Theology and Christian Ministry.

“We will strengthen the ministerial formation of our students by informing and expanding the skills, capacities, and competencies they will need to nurture healthy ecosystems, and we will nurture the larger ecosystem by focusing on congregations in communities most likely to be impacted by the overlapping pressures of racial inequities, demographic change, economic distress, and environmental disruption.”

Congregations for the regional partnership will represent the specific geographic character of the region—including the coastal plains of east, the urban corridors of the central Piedmont, and the Appalachian mountain regions—as well as to ensure a representative selection of each region’s denominational, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic makeup. Duke Divinity School will leverage its extensive congregational relationships and expand the collaboration to congregations that historically have not had access to Duke or to denominational networks through the leadership of the Hispanic House of Studies, the Office of Black Church Studies, and the Office of Field Education.

“Through these collective efforts we will journey alongside congregational leaders as they seek to faithfully adapt their ministries to contexts of increasing complexity, volatility, and vulnerability,” said Jones. “Duke Divinity School will also learn and grow from our engagement with these communities.”