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Calvin Gets $500k from Lilly
November 23, 2005

The Lilly Vocation Project at Calvin College has received an infusion of funds that will allow the program to flourish well into the future.

Calvin will receive $499,979 from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment as part of Lilly's Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation.

In 2001, Calvin received a $2 million grant from Lilly that began the program and will carry it through 2006. That grant was one of 88 totaling $176.8 million that Lilly gave out in 2000, 2001 and 2002 to colleges and universities across the country.

The new grant will begin in January 2007 and sustain the program for 2 1/2 years, until the end of Calvin's fiscal year in 2009. The new money will help Calvin continue its efforts to build an understanding of and commitment to vocation for all college students and to strengthen the college's work with students interested in church-related ministry.

"It's a very welcomed support of what we're doing at Calvin," says Shirley Roels, director of the Lilly Vocation Project. "We are addressing some very important issues and this money will help us continue what we're doing, refine some things and expand our programs."

Roels says the big questions being addressed at Calvin are significant both for people on campus and for audiences well beyond Calvin.

"All denominations," she says, "are facing ministry leadership shortages - all denominations. Obviously this has a pretty significant impact on the future of the Christian church in North America. The challenges in terms of the needs of the church are not going to go away. What we are doing at Calvin is helping to address that challenge."

Indeed Roels notes that a student survey in 2001, prior to Calvin's first grant of $2 million from Lilly to begin the Vocation Project, showed that just three percent of Calvin's students were seriously considering becoming pastors. A recent survey, after four years of Lilly Vocation Project efforts, saw a doubling of that number as seven percent of students were seriously considering entering the ministry.

"As the program continues," says Roels, "we hope the number will climb even higher."

But, Roels says, the project is about much more than grooming the next generation of ministers. On campus, Roels says, the Lilly Vocation Project helps students think through age-old questions, regardless of their future career path.

"Students will always ask Who Am I, Whose Am I and What Do I Do With That," says Roels. "We hope to get professors and students thinking more deeply about God's calling for all of life."

Some of the new grant will go toward an evaluation of Calvin's current academic advising process, a process that Roels says helps students decide what courses to take, but falls short in terms of helping students decide what course their lives might take.

Such a shift would make sense, says Roels, as part of a growing emphasis at Calvin on the idea of vocation: God's call to be a certain kind of person in the world regardless of one's career.

"This," says Roels, "is the classic Christian sense of vocation. It's been at the heart of what Calvin is all about for a long, long time. It's this idea that Calvin, as our Mission Statement says, provides a comprehensive education that promotes lives of Christian service. It's this idea that whatever your life task you do it as a servant of God."

The Lilly Vocation Project at Calvin has allowed the college to create a variety of initiatives for students to help them explore vocation, including such efforts student retreats and small groups for Christian formation, the Worship Apprentice Program (where each school year 10 students plan on-campus worship), the Jubilee Fellows Program (that includes a 10-week summer internship in a congregation) and a Ministry Internship program.

Roels says the on-campus efforts have an impact beyond campus as well.

"Jubilee Fellows work in a variety of off-campus settings," she says. "Their impact beyond campus is obvious. But Worship Apprentices, for example, are making a difference beyond Calvin too. They have led workshops for student worship leaders from area high schools."

On the faculty side of the program, Calvin funds scholars each school year who explore connections between vocation and their academic discipline. So this school year engineering professor Paulo Ribeiro is exploring "Reflections on Temptation and Vocation via Screwtape Letters," while philosophy professor James K.A. Smith is looking at "Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Learning, and the Formation of Radical Disciples."

Also, notes Roels, over the last four years 62 faculty members from 23 of Calvin's 25 academic departments have participated in vocation-related retreats.

"These retreats," Roels says, "impact curriculum, they impact teaching and they also help faculty think about how they tell their own vocation stories, which students need to hear."

Calvin also began a Ministry Resource Center after its first Lilly grant, a collection of over 5,000 ministry resources (books, audio materials, videos and more) that are available both in the Center and for short-term check-out.

"The collection is carefully screened for sound Christian theology," says Roels, "but the array of resources iss diverse. It includes resources for worship, for children and youth ministry, for adult small groups, for community outreach and much more. And the staff is great."