Published on May 5, 2022 by Ashley Smith  
Animate Communion

Samford University’s Center for Worship and the Arts (CWA) is celebrating the award of a $1.3 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. for its proposal “Student Worship Ministry Innovation 2.0.” The grant will be awarded over a three-year cycle and will support the work of the CWA, which equips congregations to engage intergenerational and artistic worship practices that glorify God, honor Christ, and join the transformative work of the Spirit in the world. The Lilly Endowment, Inc. provided initial support for it in 2015 and awarded another substantial grant in 2017. 

The Lilly Endowment, Inc. gave its first charitable grant to Samford in 1991. Over the past 30 years, the university has received a total of $10.9 million from the fund.

“Lilly’s gifts have almost all been directed towards ministry in the Christian church: supporting research and training in order for local congregations to thrive and have maximum impact, training pastors to preach with excellence, research and instruction in vocational calling, and in worship music and arts education,” said Randy Pittman, vice president of advancement at Samford. 

“The Lilly Endowment practices extraordinary stewardship of financial resources to the benefit of Christian faith communities and Christ-centered institutions across the nation. Samford University humbly appreciates our partnership with such a vital organization in support of our distinctive mission,” said Beck A. Taylor, president of Samford.

“We are so grateful to the Lilly Endowment, Inc. for their continued support of the Center for Worship and the Arts,” said Emily Andrews, director of the CWA.

This grant will support a number of external- and internal-focused programs, with opportunities to engage faculty, students and staff, as well as church and community leaders.

“It will help CWA focus on research and development, and allow for continuing the important work of Animate, our flagship summer program, which centers around teenage worshipers and their mentors,” Andrews said.

Lilly Program Director Chanon Ross affirmed CWA’s aims to build out its insights among multiple audiences, allowing for multimedia resources and delivery methods.

The Center for Worship and the Arts is housed in the School of the Arts and integrates student and faculty through Faculty Fellows and Student Residency programs that fund faculty and student participation in this work.

“In particular, these programs allow for robust research efforts related to students, worship, theology and the arts. It’s my sincere hope that our own School of the Arts faculty will see in these initiatives ways to practice and promote their own creative and scholarly activity,” Andrews added.

Additionally, the funding will broaden the reach of CWA’s Worship Exchange Forum series to connect with underserved, minority communities, deepening partnerships with organizations like Selma University and the Mt. Gilead Scholastic and Artistic Institute in Coy, Alabama. The grant will also fund an artist-in-residency program to connect local congregations to artists equipped to engage congregations in creative, communal practices, and allows for the expansion of CWA’s already vibrant online certificate programs.

"The Center for Worship and the Arts furthers Samford's mission to serve the church community locally, nationally and globally. Thanks to Lilly Endowment, Inc. and other generous supporters, it has the opportunity to continue to grow and expand its reach," said Larry Thompson, interim dean of the School of the Arts.

Founded in 2012, the Center for Worship and the Arts has developed multiple resources and programs to support congregations’ engagement with intergenerational and artistic worship ministry.

“I hope our work will continue to solidify the Center for Worship and the Arts as a vital contributor to the wider conversation on intergenerational worship and ministry. This grant allows for CWA to continue to work alongside other leaders in a cohort that includes notable organizations such as Fuller Seminary’s Fuller Youth Institute, Princeton Theological Seminary’s Institute for Youth Ministry, Baylor University’s Center for Christian Music Studies, Azusa Pacific University’s Worship Arts Lab, Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Worship and the Arts, and the Center for Youth Ministry Training,” Andrews said. “Our forthcoming expansion and development of resources and insights position us to engage national partners in both the church and the academy, reinforcing our efforts to become a recognized leader on worship, theology and the arts.”

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.