Lilly Endowment, Inc. recently awarded a $500,000 sustainability grant to the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, which will be used to help clergy be healthy and whole in light of pandemic-related challenges and stressors.
This “Phase 3” grant follows a $1 million Lilly grant that the Area received in 2016 and another $500,000 sustainability grant awarded in 2019, both of which focused on addressing economic challenges facing pastoral leaders. Lilly hadn’t planned to award additional funds beyond the two initial grants but after repeatedly hearing stories from recipients about COVID-related fatigue, burnout, and constant pivoting, Lilly invited them to develop a proposal to address those specific issues.
Diane Owen, who has led the Area Lilly Grant Initiative since 2017, collected feedback through a variety of avenues—an area well-being survey for clergy, individual interviews with clergy, and Cabinet insights, to name a few—in order to determine core needs across the Dakotas and Minnesota and put together the latest proposal to address them.
The key strategies addressed in the proposal, which still must be formalized and designed with input from clergy and other Area stakeholders, are:
Owen said another key takeaway from talking with clergy is that pastors in small, rural communities and clergy of color often experience a significantly higher level of stress as compared to their peers. As the grant money is allocated, a key question that will be explored is: What do we need to create to more effectively support those groups?
Rev. Rebecca Trefz, superintendent of the Southeast District and director of ministries for the Dakotas Conference, is excited about the grant because it will allow the Area to address core challenges and needs that clergy have identified as they have navigated ministry amid a global health crisis.
"Clergy have done amazing work during this liminal time of the pandemic and changes within the denomination. They and their congregations have been continually adapting to the changing reality,” she said. “But this constant state of change has been draining, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are blessed by the resources and systems we have in place because of our Higher Ground Initiative. But this Phase 3 grant will multiply these efforts in the Conference and throughout the Area. It will allow us to address the unique challenges that clergy face and support clergy in providing excellent leadership in this continually changing ministry landscape."
The Dakotas has already established a team to map out all existing clergy well-being support services, and Owen will soon convene the same type of team in Minnesota. From there, specific design groups will be formed to help formalize new offerings and processes using grant funds. The design groups will partner with a variety of existing teams and departments across the conferences—for example, the Boards of Ordained Ministry, the Boards of Pension and Health Benefits, and each Cabinet and leadership development staff--that already have responsibility for some aspect of clergy well-being so they can work together for more effectiveness.
Owen said that although the grant is focused on the well-being of clergy specifically, the goal is that by helping pastors achieve well-being, they can in turn support their staff and congregations in order to be able to do the same.
The $500,000 grant requires a $250,000 match, which the Area will raise in partnership with its respective Foundations.
The ultimate goal: “We want our clergy to be whole, to pursue a holistic approach to their well-being through resources that are available to them,” said Owen. “We want them to be able to access and tap into those resources without reservation, concern, or because they don’t have time.”