Diocese of Indianapolis Awarded $1 Million Lilly Grant

The Episcopal Dioceses of Indianapolis has been awarded a three-year, $1 million grant by Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving Congregations Initiative to establish a joint program with the Diocese of Northern Indiana titled “Maximizing Church Building Assets in Advancement of Mission and Ministry.”

The grant will fund a project designed to help congregations become more integral parts of their communities by sharing space in church buildings with community partners, said Canon Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, who spearheaded the initiative. Leaders in participating congregations will take part in training provided by Partners for Sacred Places and Indiana Landmarks, as well as the College for Congregational Development and Faithful Innovation Learning Communities. The project is intended to serve as a national model for other Episcopal dioceses and mainline judicatories in the United States.

“We believe that our collaboration will build healthy, thriving congregations throughout the state of Indiana that are able to fully activate their spaces and enliven their buildings in partnership with their communities,” Bishop Jennifer said. “Thanks to this grant, we can help lay and clergy leaders develop skills and resources to connect their buildings to their heart for mission and community-based ministry.”

“The pandemic is changing the world that our congregations occupy and serve more rapidly than ever before, and that has brought both challenges and opportunities to our ministry,” Bishop Douglas E. Sparks of the Diocese of Northern Indiana said. “Through this project, we aim to build parish health by helping maximize the value of church properties in service to mission.”

The initiative will be led by a half-time program director to be hired by the end of 2020. One of its tangible outcomes, according to the grant application, will be “a web-based inventory of all unused and underused space across all parishes, organized to make searches easy for church and community leaders.”

The inventory, says O’Sullivan-Hale, will make it more possible for congregations to follow the lead of congregations like St. Thomas, Franklin, and St. Stephen’s, New Harmony. Years ago, St. Thomas transformed its education wing into the community’s only free clinic serving the uninsured. Last year, St. Stephen’s burned the mortgage on its parish hall, a venue for community meetings and arts events, after raising community donations to pay it off.

“With so much to lament and grieve in the midst of a pandemic, we find our hope in the growing clarity of mission and service in our congregations and the buildings that make it possible to meet acute community needs,” Bishop Jennifer said. “I am extraordinarily grateful to the Lilly Endowment for their continued and generous support of our ministry.”