ESR launches Congregational Leadership Center

Earlham School of Religion sign. Photo by Seandreas,

Earlham School of Religion (ESR), with a million-dollar grant from the Lilly Endowment, is establishing the Quaker Center for Transformational Congregational Leadership. ESR says that the center will be used to support students’ careers in congregational ministry and to support ESR’s future fundraising efforts.

“The world of churches is changing considerably,” says ESR Dean Gretchen Castle. “Fewer people are entering the ministry and many congregations can no longer support full-time pastors.”

Friends United Meeting, Everence Financial Services, Western Yearly Meeting, and Bethany Theological Seminary are partnering with ESR on the Quaker Center for Transformational Congregational Leadership.

“We are focused on serving Quakers, but we will call on and use wisdom from other denominations as we build out this vision of supporting the pastoral needs of congregations around the world,” Dean Castle said.

The Lilly Endowment’s Pathways to Tomorrow Initiative is designed “to help theological schools strengthen and sustain their capacities to prepare and support pastoral leaders for Christian congregations.” Ranging from $500,000 to $1 million, the initiative’s grants were awarded to 74 U.S. theological schools and 10 theological schools in Canada.

In preparation for the grant, consultant Jana Schroeder and student Ruth Cutcher conducted interviews with alumni of ESR about the needs of ESR graduates. Schroeder says, “The establishment of this center provides a tremendous opportunity for Quakers and others to experiment and learn together. I had the privilege of speaking with dozens of Quakers, Unitarians, and others about the current needs and challenges within meetings and churches. There were remarkable similarities across the Religious Society of Friends and other denominations of ESR alumni. People are hungry for opportunities to develop skills and deepen their religious education.”

ESR says that its Entrepreneurial Ministry and Bivocational Ministry certificates and continuing education non-credit certificates will provide a basis for the center’s work. The school will hire a director to lead the center in 2022.

FJ News Editors

Erik Hanson and Windy Cooler are the news editors for Friends Journal. They contributed to the reporting of this story. Do you know about any Quaker news stories we should be covering? Send us tips at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Maximum of 400 words or 2000 characters.

Comments on may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.