Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) has received a grant of $1.25 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish Caring Nurture and Nurturing Care Through Worship and Prayer with Children, a project which seeks to develop corporate worship and prayer practices that nurture children and their faith within congregational communities of care.
The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to support faith-based organizations as they help children come to know and love God and grow in faith.
Lilly Endowment is making nearly $32 million in grants through this invitational round of the Nurturing Children initiative. The grants are funding efforts to help organizations develop new and/or enhance existing programs that support congregations as they design worship services and prayer practices that more intentionally and fully engage children.
NTS, a long-time leader in congregational ministry and spiritual formation, will focus part of their efforts on a prior collaboration with west coast partners by engaging children in worship and prayer among diverse ethnic and immigrant congregations in Northern California. The rest of the project’s efforts will address children with autism, an area often overlooked by many faith communities, through the support of an ecumenical network of Kansas City-based churches. Each congregation will work collaboratively to develop forms of nurture sensitive to the needs of culturally diverse and neurodivergent children.
Dr. Dean Blevins, who serves as Professor of Practical Theology and Christian Discipleship at NTS, explains that both approaches will utilize “design thinking,” a creative problem-solving process, to determine best practices for moving forward. As congregations work together, their observations, reflections, and data will not only provide important benchmarks but will inform future denominational conferences and training events. Dr. Blevins hopes the project’s findings will stimulate further academic study and add continued insights in the caring nurture of culturally diverse and neurodivergent children.
NTS President Dr. Jeren Rowell expressed his hopes for the grant: “The generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc. enables NTS to shape the daily lives of children and adults through worship, prayer, and intergenerational engagement, but more than this, it offers a myriad of educational and academic opportunities and possibilities that will impact denominational efforts for years to come.”
Nazarene Theological Seminary is one of 26 organizations taking part in the initiative. They represent and serve congregations in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including Baptist, Catholic, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed and United Church of Christ and organizations that describe themselves as nondenominational, ecumenical and multi-denominational. Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic and Asian traditions.
Lilly Endowment launched the Nurturing Children initiative in 2022 as part of its commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private 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. While 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. Although the Endowment maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana, it also funds programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. While the primary aim of its religion grantmaking 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 diverse religious communities make to our greater civic well-being.