Whitworth University has been awarded a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to fund a new comprehensive church engagement initiative called The Ekklesia Project. 

The grant proposal, written by Dean of Spiritual Life Terry McGonigal, Professor of Theology Jerry Sittser, and President Beck A. Taylor, will fund current and new initiatives to better connect Whitworth to the needs of churches and congregations throughout the western U.S. 

The Ekklesia Project will be administered by the new Office for Church Engagement, and Terry McGonigal will transition from his current role as dean of spiritual life to lead the office as its first director. A search for a new dean of spiritual life will begin in January.

The goal of The Ekklesia Project is to enlarge and develop Whitworth’s ability to function as a catalyst, center and resource for conversation, vision-casting, planning and programming. The project seeks to assist churches and other Christian organizations in the region as they discern how they can be the church and do ministry in the cultural setting of the Pacific Northwest in the 21st century.

In addition to administering The Ekklesia Project, the new Office for Church Engagement will pursue opportunities to develop and deepen partnerships with Presbyterian denominations, and with other expressions of the global church, and will also look to expand local and regional ministries. 

Additionally, the office will work with churches to assess needs in the local community and to develop strategies and programs to meet those needs.

“The grant provides the immediate opportunity for the university to expand its capacity to serve the church,” says Vice President for Student Life Dick Mandeville, noting also that McGonigal will bring a number of strengths to the table as the director of the new office, including relationships with a wide network of church organizations.

McGonigal, who has served as Whitworth’s dean of spiritual life for 20 years, said, “Whitworth is held in high regard by many churches, in large part due to the vast number of alumni who are faithful members of churches across the western region of the U.S.,” he says. “I look forward to meeting with alums and other church members to pursue God’s vision for ministry.”

McGonigal says he also looks forward to serving as a bridge between churches and current Whitworth students in order to provide them with significant ministry experiences.

“Whitworth was founded by the church and for the church,” says Taylor, pointing to the fact that the university’s connections to its founding denomination and to other local churches have been an important part of Whitworth’s identity since its founding in 1890. 

“As Whitworth dives into new opportunities to serve churches and congregations, in part due to the generous Lilly grant Whitworth just received, the university must be intentional to support those initiatives with appropriate coordination and personnel, which the new Office for Church Engagement will do.”