Applications Now Open for First Cohort of Perkins Testimony HQ Congregational Initiative

Applications will be accepted from June 1 until July 1 from congregations interested in joining Perkins School of Theology’s Testimony HQ grant-funded initiative. Ten churches will be selected for the first cohort, which launches January 1, 2022.  Churches within a 350-mile radius of Dallas, Texas, are eligible to apply.

The program, supported by a $999,975 grant made through Lilly Endowment’s nationwide Thriving Congregations Initiative, aims to increase the practice of testimony as community engagement both inside and outside the church. The Rev. Priscilla Pope-Levison and Bart Patton of Perkins School of Theology are the co-principal investigators.

“The stories we tell our children, our neighbors, our co-workers about how, when and where we have experienced God remain the most winsome, invitational way for people, both inside and beyond the church, to encounter God for themselves,” said Pope-Levison. “We are looking for congregations, of any denomination, that are ready to focus wholeheartedly on testimony as community engagement.”

Pope-Levison added that the practice of Christians telling stories about how and where they experience God’s activity in their lives can be transformative for individuals and communities. When people see how others are discerning the presence of God in their lives, they are inspired to do the same.

“The program’s purposes are to capture the stimulus toward testimony in this COVID-19 moment, when people are eager to tell stories about God’s presence and activity in their lives, and to build that stimulus into the life-giving pulse and practice of congregations,” said Patton. “The practice of testimony as community engagement, within and beyond the church walls, will become an indispensable part of the DNA of each cohort congregation.”

This is the second Lilly Endowment grant awarded to SMU to fund the work of Pope-Levison and Patton; the first was a $1 million grant awarded in 2018 to strengthen congregational ministries with youth.

SMU is one of 92 organizations funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them gain clarity about their values and missions; explore and understand better the communities in which they serve; and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.

Ultimately, the project at SMU will enable the Perkins School to embed testimony as community engagement into the practice of 30 congregations within a 350-mile radius of Dallas.

“Testimony is a fundamental building block of the church as a welcoming body, where even newcomers can overhear authentic faith stories,” said Pope-Levison. “Community and connection flow out from a thriving congregation’s practice of testimony into the world around it.”

This grant will engage a core value of Perkins’ mission statement: “To prepare women and men for faithful leadership in Christian ministry.” The ability to articulate how one experiences God is foundational to training Christian leaders, especially for an institution in the Wesleyan tradition.

The Rev. Priscilla Pope-Levison, co-principal investigator, associate dean for External Programs and professor of ministerial studies, is an award-winning author, pastor, professor and higher education administrator.

Bart Patton, co-principal investigator and director of youth and young adult ministry education, is a proven congregational leader, youth minister, worship leader, teacher and pastor.

For more information and to connect with the application portal, visit testimonyhq.com. To contact the grant team, email testimonyhq@smu.edu.