Berkeley chaplaincy awarded Lilly Endowment grant

Posted on February 2, 2016

Tom Poynor, the Episcopal chaplain at UC Berkeley, was recently awarded a grant from the Lilly Endowment for the campus ministry at UC Berkeley. The grant, totaling $100,000, is to be paid out over three years and will provide much needed financial resources to support the campus ministry and start a program of moral and spiritual reflection for over 35,000 students on Berkeley’s campus.

The Lilly Endowment is a foundation based in Indiana dedicated to improving the education, religious, and community life of Americans. They are particularly interested in the “role and purpose of religion in American life” and strive “to create opportunities across the country to learn more about the subject through research and to encourage the development of a new generation of talented leaders.”

Poynor said that in a campus as large as Berkeley’s it can be difficult to connect with the campus in big ways without significant financial support. In addition, Berkeley’s extremely secular culture also makes attracting the interest of students and faculty difficult. “We have much more minimal access, so it requires much more creative ways of looking to see who your logical partners are, who your allies are, how you can gain access by collaboration.”

Poynor hopes to use the Lilly Endowment grant in part to jump start a lecture series that will put well known Christian thinkers in dialogue with Berkeley professors. This will involve collaboration with academic departments including the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion. He also plans, in collaboration with the university, to start a seminar class focusing on life’s ‘big questions’ and drawing from philosophy, literature, art, music, and religion. The purpose of this seminar, Poynor said is “acknowledging that the soul is an essential part of academic formation. There’s more to life than just getting the degree and working.”

“Ultimately, what’s at stake here is the question of if the chaplaincy that’s provided only for Episcopal students, or is it actually a service to the University provided by the Episcopal church?” Poynor continued. In a society where increasingly large numbers of adults are unaffiliated with the denominational church, chaplaincies must find new ways to engage with university communities in order to continue their ministries.

Poynor envisions the development of a campus ministry as becoming a center for spiritual and ethical reflection grounded in the Episcopal tradition while also providing oppurtunities for ministry. The chaplaincy hopes to use part of the grant to fund a choir to sing Compline and Evensong on Sunday evenings. Through academic debate and providing space for spiritual reflection, Poynor hopes to draw people towards Christianity—or at least get them thinking.  

The Lilly Endowment press release can be found here.