Lilly grant supports new Candler program nurturing children’s faith through art | Emory University

Emory University has received a grant of $1.25 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support Candler School of Theology in establishing The Sacred Arts Collective, a program developed by Khalia J. Williams, associate dean of worship and spiritual formation and associate professor in the practice of worship. 

The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to support faith-based organizations as they help children grow in faith and deepen their relationships with God.

Williams’ Sacred Arts Collective will engage Atlanta area congregations in the work of imagining how to nurture and grow the faith of five- to 12-year-olds by intentionally integrating the arts and worship, forging partnerships among congregations, children, caregivers and creative artists alike.

Throughout the program’s five years, The Sacred Arts Collective will develop a series of immersive experiences for congregational teams — 30 in total, split into cohorts — to explore in-depth creative and digital arts projects led by expert consultants over one year.

Teams will meet in artists’ chosen locations and fully participate in learning the artforms, which will range from visual art and movement exploration to workshops in drama, photography and music, all focused on liturgical engagement of the arts. These hands-on experiences will be followed by dialogue to envision strategies for empowering children and cultivating their faith through the arts. Ministry leaders also will have opportunities to network with one another and take part in professional development.

Williams says she created the program to expand opportunities for children’s ministers and worship leaders to deepen their awareness of the creative arts’ ability to enhance worship for the youngest in the pews.

“Through experimentation and multiple modes of support, the project will create both imaginative and reflective spaces for congregations to develop clarity on how they can nurture children’s faith in worship and prayer,” Williams says.  

Lilly Endowment awarded nearly $32 million in grants through an invitational round of the Nurturing Children initiative. The grants are funding efforts to help organizations develop new and/or enhance existing programs that support congregations as they design worship services and prayer practices that more intentionally and fully engage children.

Candler is one of 26 organizations taking part in the initiative. They represent and serve congregations in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Pentecostal, Black church, Hispanic and Asian traditions. Many organizations also serve churches that describe themselves as nondenominational, ecumenical and multi-denominational.

Lilly Endowment launched the Nurturing Children initiative in 2022 as part of its commitment to support efforts that strengthen the religious education and formation of children and enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.

The principal aim of the Endowment’s religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment also seeks to improve public understanding of diverse religious traditions by supporting fair and accurate portrayals of the role religion plays in the United States and across the globe.

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