UMO Receives Grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc.

The University of Mount Olive has received a grant in the amount of $269,509 to establish the Youth Theology Institute entitled, Youth, the Call of God, and the Rebirth of the Church. It is part of 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.

Dean of the Chapel Dr. John Blackwell said, “The Youth Theology Institute at UMO will use the literature of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as points for reflecting on the call of God and studying the Bible and theology in ways that are substantive and relevant to the lives of the youth and the world in which we live.”

According to Blackwell, youth will apply their learning by creating a laboratory church from scratch, and re-visiting it from time to time as they grow and develop in their leadership.  Each participant will be paired with a mentor who is a leader within the church, and they will keep in contact throughout the year and during a seven-day summer institute.  It is anticipated that a minimum of 25 youth will be recruited during the first year of the Institute, and increasing to 50 youth in subsequent years.

“I am very appreciative of Lilly Foundation for providing the significant support to this important activity,” said Dr. Philip P. Kerstetter, University of Mount Olive president.  “This is one additional way that the University can be supportive of our founding denomination, the Original Free Will Baptist Church, and help our young people better discern their callings.”

The University of Mount Olive is one of 82 schools participating in the High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative.  The schools are located in 29 states and the District of Columbia.  Although some schools are independent, many reflect the religious heritage of their founding traditions. These traditions include 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 Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Lilly Endowment. “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 Lilly Endowment is giving $44.5 million in grants to help a select group of private four-year colleges and universities around the nation to create the institutes. The grants are part of the Endowment’s commitment to identify and cultivate a cadre of theologically minded youth who will become leaders in church and society.

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

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company.  The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development.  The Lilly Endowment’s religion grant making is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians.  It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes

University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville.  For more information, visit