Hartford Seminary has been awarded a five-year, $5.3 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to fund research into how congregations are changing, innovating, and establishing new ministry practices as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research (HIRR) will lead the project.
“Not only is the grant award substantial, but the research it will support is incredibly important, building upon the outstanding 40-year history of the HIRR. I could not be more proud,” said President Joel N. Lohr.
Principal Investigator of the project and Director of HIRR, Scott Thumma, explained that the study, titled Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations: Innovation Amidst and Beyond COVID-19, will explore how Christian faith communities across the nation are adapting to a changed reality due to the challenging dynamics of the pandemic. In 2020, a nearly $300,000 Lilly Endowment planning grant helped HIRR design the research project.
The new grant will enable the HIRR team to collaborate with a network of scholars and organizations working around the nation who are researching the health and vitality of congregations that are representative of the diversity of Christianity in America. These researchers will assist the Faith Communities Today project as it tracks the pandemic’s effects on churches. Additional funding will be sought to include other faith communities in the research.
“This moment is such a critical time for congregations. If churches can leverage the creative adaptations in response to the pandemic, the struggles of the last 18 months might lead to the revitalization of spiritual and worship practices,” Thumma said. “Our team is thrilled to be given this opportunity to take an active role in tracking that unfolding reality across the United States. We deeply appreciate Lilly Endowment’s faith in our project and our team’s ability to undertake this vital exploration.”
He said because of Lilly Endowment’s generous support, HIRR will be able to gather data and engage religious leaders during the next five years to develop beneficial lessons and pathways for congregations in a post-Covid era.
Clare R. Feldman, chair of Hartford Seminary’s Board of Trustees, said the benefits of this grant are numerous.
“Most noteworthy is that it will enable Hartford Seminary to study the impact of Covid-19 on congregational life and to make those findings available to religious leaders as they go forward,” she said, adding that it will further the Seminary’s commitment to religion research.