Philander Smith College awarded $599,000 grant to establish theological institute for high school students

philander_smith_logoUnited Methodist-related Philander Smith College on July 7 announced it has received a grant of $599,519 to establish the Philander Forward Theological Institute.

The grant to the historically Black college in Little Rock is part of the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

The Philander Forward Theological Institute will be open to all high school students, offering a spectrum of activities and experiences designed to shape and contribute to their spiritual growth and development, encouraging them to explore how theological and religious traditions and cultural competence inform and shape their life decisions in a changing world. Beginning in summer of 2017, the new institute will engage four programmatic pillars: Summer Institute, Wilderness Experience, Summit Experience and Faith/Share. Through each of these areas, students will gain an understanding of Scripture, including applying Scripture in the context of current societal challenges.

“The Philander Forward Theological Institute is a continuance of our institution’s commitment to academic excellence, social justice and service,” said Roderick Smothers Sr., the college’s president, in a news release. “As part of our Forward movement, we want to increase our depth and level of institutional service to our students and the community. This grant and the formation of the Theological Institute for youth will help us in achieving that goal.”

Philander Smith College is one of 92 schools selected for the initiative. The institutions are located in 30 states and the District of Columbia. Although some schools are independent, many reflect the religious heritage of their founding traditions, including Baptist, Brethren, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian and Reformed churches, as well as Roman Catholic, non-denominational, Pentecostal and historic African-American Christian communities.

“These colleges and universities are well-positioned to reach out to high school students in this way,” said Lilly Endowment vice president for religion Dr. Christopher L. Coble, in a news release. “They have outstanding faculty in theology and religion who know how to help young people explore the wisdom of religious traditions and apply these insights to contemporary challenges.”

The Endowment is giving $50 million in grants to help a select group of private four-year colleges and universities around the nation to create these institutes. The grants are part of the Endowment’s commitment to identifying and cultivating a theologically-minded youth who will become leaders in church and society.

An additional Lilly grant to the Forum for Theological Exploration will establish a program to bring together leaders of these high school youth theology institutes to foster mutual learning and support.