Lilly grants help with clergy mentoring, networking

The Rev. Paige Swaim-Presley (center) imposes ashes on the forehead of a student at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., during Ash Wednesday services in 2018. A grant from the Lilly Endowment to the United Methodist-related college will help women clergy in the South with mentoring and networking. File photo courtesy of Millsaps College.
The Rev. Paige Swaim-Presley (center) imposes ashes on the forehead of a student at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., during Ash Wednesday services in 2018. A grant from the Lilly Endowment to the United Methodist-related college will help women clergy in the South with mentoring and networking. File photo courtesy of Millsaps College.

Nearly $6 million in grants aimed at helping pastors thrive was awarded to five United Methodist organizations, including a grant for expansion of a program at Millsaps College.

The Lilly Endowment Inc. grants were among about $70 million Thriving in Ministry grants awarded to 78 organizations to support pastors in congregational ministry, the foundation announced on Oct. 1.

The grant to United Methodist-related Millsaps College assists women clergy in the South with mentoring and networking.

“My personal hope is to begin to create a culture of mentoring here in the South,” said the Rev. Paige Swaim-Presley, a female United Methodist elder and executive director of the Center for Ministry at Millsaps, which is located in Jackson, Mississippi. “It could have a powerful effect on clergywomen and congregations.”

The other grant winners affiliated with The United Methodist Church are:

• The Dakotas Foundation of The United Methodist Church, awarded $925,000 to help establish the Higher Ground program, which will provide coaching to pastors and fund resources to allow ministers structured times to take a break from their daily duties and retreat, reflect and refocus;

• Duke University, awarded $2.6 million to provide resources and support to Thriving in Ministry participants, assist with networking and keep tab of all the efforts so it can communicate insights to other religious leaders;

• The South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, awarded $31,500 over three years to fund the Start Right to Finish Strong program to support pastors who are in their first appointment; and

• The United Methodist Foundation of New England, awarded $910,652 to help improve its Innovate, Integrate, Elevate pastoral leadership program, which will help pastors create a network of colleagues and develop contextual and conference-level leadership skills. The Lilly funds will allow this ministry to involve cross-cultural appointments and part-time local pastors as well as jumpstart pastor — pastors who are trying to revive struggling churches and entrepreneurial pastors.

Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., is among 78 organizations to receive $70 million in grants from the Lilly Endowment. Photo courtesy of Millsaps College.
Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., is among 78 organizations to receive $70 million in grants from the Lilly Endowment. Photo courtesy of Millsaps College.

“Leading a congregation today is multifaceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly’s vice president for religion.

“Pastors have shared with us that they often find themselves isolated from colleagues and sometimes struggle to keep up with new challenges posed by today’s rapid pace of change,” he said.

“When pastors have opportunities to build relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to understand and negotiate new challenges and their leadership thrives. These promising programs will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.”

Mark A. Fowler called the Lilly grants “a great idea.” Fowler is author of “Mentoring into Vocation: Touchstones for the Journey,” which offers a framework for guiding persons in The United Methodist Church into ordained or lay vocations.

“I think mentoring is an essential part of discipleship and leadership,” he said. “I think it’s an essential part of discovering and nurturing and living out one’s call.”

The germ of the as-yet unnamed program at Millsaps was a smaller, separate effort involving four clergywomen, funded by a $10,000 grant to them from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The Lilly grant was won by the Center for Ministry at Millsaps.

“It has been really meaningful for us,” Swaim-Presley said. “We have traveled together, talked to female bishops and read books by female authors about ministry. We’ve also talked to women in business and government.”

Her education at United Methodist Candler School of Theology at Emory University was excellent, Swaim-Presley said. 

“But one of the things I noted was that the female experience in ministry was different than our male clergy. We (the four initial participants) recognized that we had a longing to talk to other women who could help us navigate the challenges.”


Patterson is a United Methodist News Service reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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