The Rev. Dr. James Kenneth Echols, president of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago announced that Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded $1.67 million to inaugurate the seminary's Serving Christ in the World program. The goal of the program is to deepen the faith lives of high school students and excite in them the calling to ministry. The grant, the largest single gift ever awarded the seminary, will sustain the program over the next four years.
"At a time when the church is facing a shortage of ordained and lay leaders and its seminaries are producing less than half as many graduates as needed, this program provides an opportunity to reach younger, pre-college students," said Dr. Echols. To be inaugurated in the summer of 2003, "the program is integral to the seminary's ability to pursue its mission by nurturing the call to ministry and preparing future generations of church leaders," he said.
Serving 30 to 40 high school youth annually, the three-week residential program will help students explore what it means to live boldly as Christians in today's church and society. Using Chicago and Mexico City, Mexico, as vital, urban learning laboratories, participants will deepen their spiritual formation through daily worship, peer ministry training, and small group discussions. The small group discussions provide a safe place to form relationships of trust and friendship from which honest and diverse opinions may be expressed and theological inquiry engaged. Through "Mini School of Theology" classes, participants will be introduced to theological education and given a common theological vocabulary.
In the middle week of the program, students will travel to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Lutheran Center in Mexico City and return to Chicago for the last week. The international component will enable students to experience Mexican Christianity and culture and challenge them to consider issues of pluralism, race, gender and poverty through the lens of their values and faith. In Mexico, students will participate in daily worship, lectures, cultural and educational excursions, and small group discussions. Classes will be led by Mexican theologians, ecologists, doctors, economists and community leaders. Currently being sought, the program director will work with the seminary's partner synods, youth pastors and other key youth leaders in congregations and synods to identify and nurture high school students for selection into the program.
The grant was the result of an invitation by the Indianapolis-based Endowment asking seminaries and divinity schools to create new programs that engage young people in theological learning and encourage them to explore Christian ministry as their life's work. By funding these programs the Endowment wants to attract a new generation of talented people to ministry and to help build vibrant and healthy congregations throughout the country.
In 2002 the Endowment's "Theological Programs for High School Youth" grant program awarded $25.3 million to graduate schools in the U.S. and Canada, including all the seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.