The Collegeville Institute received a new five-year $250,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. for a project designed to promote clergy leadership that looks beyond the local worshipping community to further a broader civic good. The grant continues and expands the work of the Collegeville Institute Fellows Program. While for the past four years the program has focused on issues faced by pastors and religious leaders in the urban areas of the Twin Cities region, the new grant enables the Collegeville Institute to pursue leadership development specifically among clergy in the small-towns and midsize cities of rural Minnesota. The new initiative will encourage leaders of congregations across the state to become informed about, and address, issues that impact rural communities. Why a program focused on rural Minnesota?
Accounts of life in rural or small town America tend to fall into one of two narratives. In one, rural America is a place of bedrock religious values, clean living, community spirit, bucolic pastimes, and honest hard work—the “real America” evoked by countless political campaigns. In the other narrative small-town America is dying, plagued by declining populations, a brain drain of young talent departing for major urban areas, high suicide rates, poverty, drug problems, and the eclipse of the family farm by efficiency-minded agribusiness. The truth is that what is happening in rural America is complicated and follows many story lines rather than any one master narrative, positive or negative. What is unarguably true is that rural America is changing rapidly, for better and for worse.
Whatever might be going on in these local rural communities, congregations are there, served by pastors who know a great deal about the Bible, theology, and pastoral ministry, but who may be less informed about the broad social forces that are shaping their communities. The new grant program will address the relatively neglected social, civic, and economic issues of rural Minnesota. Through this new program, then, the Collegeville Institute hopes to assist pastors in mid-size cities and small towns to expand their understanding of themselves as leaders both within their congregations and in the larger communities in which their congregations are embedded, broaden and deepen their grasp of key public issues facing those larger communities within Minnesota, help them develop intellectual tools necessary for their discernment of wise responses to the issues they learn about, and support them in gaining a level of confidence in themselves as church and community leaders whose call is to witness to a scriptural message that bears upon all of life.