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Title: History
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In May 1999, Lilly Endowment Inc. invited a group of outstanding colleges and universities to design programs for this initiative. Schools were asked to establish or strengthen programs that 1) assist students in examining the relationship between faith and vocational choices, 2) provide opportunities for gifted young people to explore Christian ministry, and 3) enhance the capacity of a school's faculty and staff to teach and mentor students effectively in this arena. In the fall of 2000 the Endowment made awards totaling $39.7 million to twenty schools to implement their proposed designs for the theological exploration of vocation on their respective campuses. In November of 2001, an additional twenty-nine schools were awarded implementation grants totaling $57.3 million in the second round of the program. A request for proposals in round three, which was open to any four-year, church-related, accredited institution in the United States, elicited 320 applicants, from which fifty were awarded planning grants in January 2002. In November of 2002 an additional thirty-nine schools were awarded implementation grants totaling $79.2 million in this third and final round.

These awards generated considerable excitement, reflection, conversation, and activity on the campuses. With the concept of vocation at the center of institutional planning, educational programming, and extracurricular activity, students, faculty, and staff, and in some cases alumni/ae and parents, have benefited from this guided consideration of the Christian concept of vocation.

Each school's program was unique to its history and context, and is described elsewhere on this site. Some of the programs supported by these grants included:

  • Incorporating the theological exploration of vocation into courses or campus experiences
  • Enhancing worship on campus
  • Developing or strengthening campus-ministry programs
  • Restructuring or enhancing new-student orientation
  • Developing or strengthening vocational reflection as a part of career services
  • Expanding student internship programs
  • Hosting summer theology institutes for college students and promising high-school-aged youth
  • Establishing faith and learning centers or institutes
  • Forming cooperative efforts with theological schools, congregations, and/or denominational offices



Lilly Endowment Inc. believes that vital religious communities are essential for a flourishing and humane society. The Endowment values congregations and parishes as key institutions where faith and values are formed, shaped, and lived out. In order to keep these important religious communities strong and vibrant, a new generation of talented, energetic, creative, and committed pastors and religiously informed lay leaders is needed.

If such persons are carefully identified, educated broadly and well, and nurtured in strong faith commitments, they will be well equipped to enable
churches and other institutions to contribute to the strengthening of American religious life and the common good of society.

The college experience is an extremely important time in the lives of most young people. Many of their most important decisions are made during this time, ranging from the choice of a career to the acceptance of a guiding faith. In college classrooms, students engage in intense intellectual discussion and debate and, in the process, develop and clarify their own intellectual and moral commitments. College faculties and administrators play a central role in forming the educational environment and are deeply influential in shaping the aspirations, convictions, and commitments of students. Colleges and universities thus have a pivotal opportunity to help students explore their options and make life-defining decisions in light of their intellectual and faith commitments.

Liberal arts colleges and universities are particularly well suited to undertake the task of the identification and education of future leaders. The demands of leadership, whether in congregations or professional or business organizations, require leaders who are exposed to a wide range of ideas and who can respond creatively in a challenging cultural context. Liberal arts colleges and universities - especially those that recognize the value of religious traditions as resources for enlarging their vision of excellence - provide an indispensable educational environment for developing intellectually well formed and religiously committed leaders. Furthermore, these institutions offer a setting where young persons preparing for a wide range of professional careers study and learn together. Whether intending to serve as a pastor in a congregation or to work as a professional in medicine, law, education, business, the arts, or some other field, students in liberal arts institutions can be encouraged to understand the mutually interrelated nature of their various endeavors and to view their work in terms of a calling or vocation, which endows their lives and work with lasting meaning.

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