$1 million grant to help Mississippi university’s Christian parenting and caregiver initiative

Published 8:49 pm Thursday, August 10, 2023

Millsaps College has received a grant of $1,183,275 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help create a partnership program with three local United Methodist churches, which will support local parents and caregivers as part of the Center for Ministry based at the college. The partner churches are Aldersgate UMC, Galloway Memorial UMC, and St. Luke’s UMC.

The effort is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative. The aim of the initiative is to help parents and caregivers share their faith and values with their children.

The Reverend Sylvia Blackwell, an ordained clergywoman in The United Methodist Church, has been named program director.

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“I look forward to working with local churches in reaching into their communities,” she said. “Our hope is to strengthen the faith of parents and caregivers to be models of and catalysts for God’s love and grace.”

Blackwell has served as chaplain resident for the Baptist Medical Health Center in Little Rock, Ark., and is also a certified Pilates instructor. She earned her bachelor’s degree in dance at the University of Southern Mississippi, and her Master of Divinity at Asbury Theological Seminary.

The Center for Ministry at Millsaps College is a shared initiative of Millsaps and the Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church and is uniquely equipped to work directly with local churches and communities. Work with parents and caregivers will allow the Center for Ministry and partner churches to understand contemporary families’ needs for daily faith-sharing and learn how they may adapt programming to support healthy, daily examples of faith inside and outside church activities.

“This initiative will encourage critical thinking and creative responses to the challenges churches face today in their efforts to host effective children and family ministries,” said the Reverend Sally Bevill, associate chaplain at Millsaps. “Our grant proposal was birthed from time spent in curious listening circles with parents and caregivers who are concerned about being equipped to show and share their faith and values with their children. As we listened, we repeatedly heard the cry: ‘We want our children to know God!’ Lilly Endowment has made this a new possibility, and we are beyond grateful.”

Dr. Keith Dunn, interim president of Millsaps College, said the college is thrilled to continue its partnership with Lilly Endowment through this new initiative.

“The Center for Ministry helps Millsaps live into and build on its Wesleyan heritage and commitment to free and open inquiry and purpose-based education,” he said. “Prior and ongoing support from Lilly Endowment has supported professional development and formal education for Mississippi clergy. This most recent generous grant will expand the Center for Ministry’s impact, allowing leadership to walk and work with our city and state’s churches, parents, and caregivers as they explore faith-sharing with the children and youth in their care.”

Millsaps College is one of 77 organizations that are receiving grants through this competitive round of the Christian Parenting initiative. Reflecting the diversity of Christianity in the United States, the organizations are affiliated with mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox Christian and Pentecostal faith communities. Many of the organizations are rooted in Black church, Hispanic and Asian Christian traditions.

“We’ve heard from many parents who are seeking to nurture the spiritual lives of their children, especially in their daily activities, and looking to churches and other faith-based organizations for support,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion.  “These thoughtful, creative and collaborative organizations embrace the important role that families have in shaping the religious development of children and are launching programs to assist parents and caregivers with this task.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative in 2022 because of its interest in supporting efforts to help individuals and families from diverse Christian communities draw more fully on the wisdom of Christian practices to live out their faith fully and well passing on a vibrant faith to a new generation.