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University of the Ozarks Awarded $966K to Support Rural Congregations

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University of the Ozarks on Monday announced it received a $966,099 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish a program to  support rural Presbyterian Church congregations within the Presbytery of Arkansas.

The program at the private Christian university in Clarksville is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the initiative is to encourage the flourishing of congregations by helping them deepen their relationships with God, enhance their connections with each other, and contribute to the vitality of their communities and the world, the school said in a news release.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Co.

The new program will work in tandem with the university’s existing Thriving in Rural Ministry Program, which was established on campus in 2020 through a previous grant of $997,322 from Lilly Endowment. The Thriving in Rural Ministry Program supports pastors of rural and minority-serving Presbyterian Churches throughout Arkansas.

As part of the program, some congregations will be invited to host a student intern from the university. The churches will incur no expenses in participating in the program.

“The Thriving Rural Congregations program will enable us to expand our work with PC (USA) congregations in the Presbytery of Arkansas by focusing on the congregants themselves,” Phillip Blackburn, director of the university’s Thriving in Rural Ministry Program, said in the release. “The program will seek to form geographical cohorts of rural congregations that, in collaboration with University of the Ozarks staff and one another, will work to revitalize their theological foundations.

“I am beyond excited to expand the work we have already begun, and I believe this grant will pave the way to an entirely new means of support for and initiative within PC (USA) churches in the Presbytery of Arkansas.”

University of the Ozarks is one of 105 organizations that received grants through a competitive round of the Thriving Congregations Initiative.

The university has been affiliated with the Presbyterian Church since its establishment in 1834 in Cane Hill, Arkansas.

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