The Synod of Lakes and Prairies has received a five-year grant from the Lilly Endowment to help launch a new program to nurture Christian vocation among college students.

The program will be operated by Pres House at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Pres House ― known officially as the Presbyterian Student Center Foundation and in covenant with the synod ― is a 100-year-old ministry on the UW campus.

The new program at Pres House, titled “Soul-Work: Nurturing Christian Vocation in College Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” offers opportunities for students at UW-Madison to explore and appreciate the role of religious tradition, faith commitment and values on life choices, especially as related to career aspiration and plans, according to the Rev. Mark Elsdon, executive director of Pres House.

“We’re thrilled to announce the program along with the grant,” Elsdon said. “The gift from Lilly Endowment really makes it possible for us to put this program to work.”

Elsdon said the goal of the program is to make university students aware of faith-related career opportunities they might not have otherwise considered, and to facilitate intentional exploration and reflection about those opportunities in a supportive environment.

Core to the five-year program will be a new Vocational Internship Program that provides a year-long opportunity for up to 27 students to conduct an in-depth exploration of vocation in ministry through internships at local churches and faith-based organizations while living together in Pres House Apartments, Elsdon said.

Pres House Apartments, part of the Pres House ministry, offers a student housing option at UW-Madison with the mission to be a “safe and welcoming home, grounded in the love of God, where growth is nurtured and encouraged, and where students of any faith or of none at all can engage together in an intentional journey toward wholeness,” according to the Pres House website.

Elsdon said Pres House will work with local churches and faith-based non-profits to establish internship sites, program expectations and on-site mentoring. “We will provide opportunities for reflection and conversation about how their internship experiences have provided insight into their gifts, created new experiences in hearing and responding to God’s call,” Elsdon said.

“We will also talk about the challenges and obstacles that program participants experienced, and we’ll offer the opportunity to explain how the internships have ultimately enriched their faith and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives,” Elsdon said.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based, private philanthropic foundation founded in 1937. The foundation issues grants primarily in the areas of community development, education and religion. It is one of few major foundations to fund religion.

The Endowment supports religion through “efforts that make available and accessible the wisdom of the Christian tradition for contemporary life,” according to its website. 

Duane Sweep is associate for communication of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies. He is a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.