SVOTS awarded $1M to build up Orthodox parish leaders through online programs

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Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded a $1 million grant to help St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS) build healthy North American Orthodox parishes by providing training and resources to more ordained and lay leaders—particularly through online education.

The efforts are being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. It is a three-phase initiative designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada as they prioritize and respond to the most pressing challenges they face as they prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations both now and into the future.

“We are so thankful and honored that Lilly Endowment recognizes SVOTS as being a key cog in the future of theological education,” said SVOTS President The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield. “They want to see bold and innovative solutions from schools such as ours because theological education is at a crossroads in North America. And because of Lilly Endowment’s support, we will be able to position the Seminary as a catalyst for healthy, thriving parishes.”

Through the five-year Pathways grant, SVOTS will design and develop online learning programs for:

  1. clergy continuing education;
  2. lay catechist certification;
  3. introductory theology courses for adults; and
  4. a variety of skill-building and training for parish lay leaders.

“Orthodoxy in North America faces a critical shortage of clergy as well as multiple other vocations. We also need more trained servants to welcome and catechize the large numbers of seekers and inquirers flocking to Orthodoxy in recent years,” added Fr. Chad. “In light of this and other realities, we want to extend our online learning capacity and target practical and pastoral needs at parishes right now—wherever they are—in addition to training their future clergy and lay leaders here on campus.”

An important facet of the learning programs will be their practicality and accessibility. The online programs are being designed using a new online platform capable of delivering interactive sessions as well as pre-recorded lectures and access to various educational resources. Clergy continuing education will be ideal for Orthodox parish priests already taxed with ministry responsibilities, who may not be able to set aside even a few days or the resources to travel to a regional workshop. For laity who are often asked to serve in positions of leadership—but frequently without adequate preparation—SVOTS will provide training and advanced skills for specific roles such as parish treasurer, council member, and others. Introductory theology studies will be taught by seminary faculty members over the summer months; those courses will be designed for anyone wishing to deepen their understanding and commitment to Orthodoxy, as well as members of the general public who are curious about what Orthodoxy has to offer. Catechist certification will enable trained lay leaders to partner with their parish clergy to welcome, educate, and integrate new individuals and families into the Church.

More details regarding the online learning programs made possible by the Lilly Endowment grant to SVOTS are forthcoming.

SVOTS is one of 105 theological schools receiving phase two grants. Together they represent the broad diversity of Christianity in the U.S. and Canada. The schools are affiliated with evangelical, mainline Protestant, nondenominational, Pentecostal, Orthodox, Catholic, Black church, Latino, Asian-American, and historic peace church traditions (e.g., Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Quakers).


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Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic 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. Although 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 and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. A primary aim of its grantmaking in religion is to deepen the religious lives of Christians, principally by supporting efforts that enhance congregational vitality and strengthen the leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment values the broad diversity of Christian traditions and endeavors to support them in a wide variety of contexts. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion by encouraging fair, accurate, and balanced portrayals of the positive and negative effects of religion on the world and lifting up  the contributions that people of all faiths make to our greater civic well-being.

Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS) is a higher education institution that embraces the challenge of serving the Church and the needs of Orthodox Christians in the twenty-first century. SVOTS trains priests, lay leaders, and scholars to be active apologists of the Orthodox Christian Faith—focusing on academic rigor and spiritual formation within a residential Orthodox community. The Seminary is chartered by the University of the State of New York and accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS) to offer the following program degrees: Master of DivinityMaster of ArtsMaster of Theology, and Doctor of Ministry.