According to a press release from the educational institution, the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (UDTS) is embarking on a transformative journey with the help of a $1.25 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. The grant is part of the Thriving Congregations Initiative and aims to establish, "Plentiful Gifts: Nourishing Members for the Flourishing of Small Member Congregations." This innovative initiative responds to the evolving landscape of mainline churches experiencing smaller memberships and clergy shortages.

Plentiful Gifts seeks to redefine the narrative around small churches. Instead of viewing the trend as a decline (smaller memberships & budgets), it represents a shift towards a "fresh form" of church. The initiative recognizes the challenges posed by retirements of clergy and an insufficient pool of theological students. Plentiful Gifts intends to equip small congregations without full-time pastors, empowering members to sustain essential congregational practices.

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Launching in 2024 with six judicatory partners, including the Presbytery of John Knox and the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, the initiative will engage clusters of four to seven churches in a two-year program. These congregations will focus on mission discernment and areas like preaching, worship, care, service, formation, governance, and communication.

Plentiful Gifts represents a departure from traditional leadership patterns, encouraging a forward-looking approach to distributed ministry. By identifying and nurturing practical and spiritual gifts within small congregations, the initiative aims to revitalize local faith communities. University of Dubuque Theological Seminar is one of 105 organizations receiving grants. Additionally, UDTS was awarded a $500,000 grant to sustain and extend two projects support clergy coaching in community and context.

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