AWF and Huntingdon College Receive Lilly Grant to Identify Future Christian Leaders

December 16, 2015
The Alabama-West Florida Conference and Huntingdon College have received a grant of $596,285 for the establishment of an expanded Huntingdon Leadership Academy (HLA). The grant is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

The Huntingdon Leadership Academy was established in 2015. Through the Academy, pastors and youth pastors at churches in the Alabama-West Florida and North Alabama Conferences of the United Methodist Church are invited to participate in the identification and building of future church leaders, who come to the Huntingdon campus for an annual work-filled, learning-filled, and worship-filled retreat as they discern their individual calls to ministry vocations.  

The 2016 Huntingdon Leadership Academy will take place June 22-24. This three-day retreat is coordinated by the Huntingdon College Office of the Chaplain, under the direction of Rev. Woods Lisenby, and executed by Huntingdon Department of Religion faculty, area United Methodist clergy, Huntingdon student volunteers, and the College Chaplain. Registration will begin for the 2016 HLA in January. Rev. Lisenby was appointed Huntingdon Chaplain by Bishop Paul Leeland March 1, 2014. 

"This spring the General Conference of The United Methodist Church has many of our congregations and church leaders focused on the natural shift that occurs as a result of celebrating God’s presence in our ministries and the anticipation of embracing what God would have us do," stated Bishop Paul Leeland. "President Cam West and I have been sharing a mutual desire to identify the next generation of Christian leaders. As a United Methodist College located in the bounds of our Annual Conference, it has been natural for us to explore the possibilities of how we might contribute to an 'environment of call' where we identify students and future leaders who will serve our United Methodist Church. Additional encouragement from Duke Divinity School, working toward the same desire, provided a unique moment where we created a partnership that will align our common interests in shifting our energies over the next few years to identify and cultivate these new Christian leaders. We are thrilled with the awarding of this significant grant that will address our 'Culture of Call.' "

High school juniors and seniors who have the gifts and graces for ministry of any sort—whether as deacons or elders, missionaries, music ministers, children’s or youth pastors, worship leaders, or lay leaders, among the many ways to minister—are welcome at this retreat.

“Huntingdon College, a College of the Church in the United Methodist tradition, has from its founding in 1854 sought to encourage young people in their vocations, especially when that calling entails service in the form of parish ministry,” stated Huntingdon President J. Cameron West. “The College’s general education curriculum and robust Religion department reflect these deep commitments, and the HLA represents an extension of this good in the lives of high school-aged youth. It is my expectation that this program will help to create a culture of call and a seamless pipeline from high school to divinity school for students called to lives of leadership.”

Huntingdon College is one of 82 schools participating in the Lilly initiative. The schools are located in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Although some schools are independent, many reflect the religious heritage of their founding traditions. These traditions include Baptist, Brethren, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches, as well as Roman Catholic, non-denominational, Pentecostal and historic African-American Christian communities.

“These colleges and universities are well-positioned to reach out to high school students in this way,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “They have outstanding faculty in theology and religion who know how to help young people explore the wisdom of religious traditions and apply these insights to contemporary challenges.” The Endowment is giving $44.5 million in grants to help a select group of private four-year colleges and universities around the nation to create the institutes. The grants are part of the Endowment’s commitment to identify and cultivate a cadre of theologically minded youth who will become leaders in church and society.  

An additional grant to the Forum for Theological Exploration will establish a program that will bring together leaders of the high school youth theology institutes to foster mutual learning and support.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family - J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli - through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development.  Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians.  It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.