Lilly Endowment Awards $300,000 Planning Grant to Study Pandemic Impact

Hartford Seminary has been awarded a $300,000 planning grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to study the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had and will have on U.S. congregations.

“I couldn’t be more thankful for Lilly Endowment’s support of this project, one that allows us to build upon 40 years of highly focused and important congregational research at the Seminary’s Hartford Institute of Religion Research,” President Joel N. Lohr said. “This is a big moment and important research in a challenging time.”

Principal investigator of the project and Director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Scott Thumma, said the idea for the project, titled Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations: Innovation Amidst and Beyond COVID-19 (EPIC), was born out of conversations he had with clergy who were trying to adapt their worship at the start of the pandemic.

“They were reinventing out of necessity, changing dramatically in response to the crisis. I really felt like we needed to be systematically collecting detailed information on all the dimensions of congregational life to see how community life is changing, how social ministry is shifting, and how Christian education is adapting, because all of those could significantly alter the life of a congregation,” Dr. Thumma said. “In the future, congregational life could end up being a different reality. We want to capture the process of how it changes and the leadership required to make this happen.”

The planning grant, he explained, will fund six months of research to create a plan for a long-term study that tracks how congregations are changing, innovating, and establishing new behaviors as a result of the pandemic. The EPIC project would ultimately aim to monitor the health and vitality of faith communities across the country in the coming years as they adapt to a changed reality due to the challenging dynamics of the pandemic.

Additionally, the grant would allow the Hartford Institute team to gather together a network of scholars and organizations engaging in similar research as well as assist the Faith Communities Today project with its on-going collaborative efforts to track the pandemic’s effects on congregations.


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