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Whitworth awarded $1 million from Lilly Endowment to fund Ekklesia Project, new Office of Church Engagement

December 4, 2013

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 of 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. Both The Ekklesia Project and the new Office of Church Engagement are consistent with the university’s Whitworth 2021 goal to position Whitworth as a valued resource to the church and society.

In addition to administering The Ekklesia Project, the new Office of 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 will help the university defer costs for the Office of Church Engagement over the next few years, as revenue opportunities establish the office as a self-funding effort.

“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.

“Those relationships, and precisely Terry’s ability and passion for nurturing them, will contribute significantly to his success as director,” says Whitworth President Beck A. Taylor. “As director of church engagement, Terry will report directly to me, so that the opportunities available to Whitworth as we serve our denominational and congregational partners continue to be among my highest priorities.”

McGonigal, who has served as Whitworth’s dean of spiritual life for 20 years, is looking forward to starting his new role. “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.

Planning for the office’s infrastructure will begin in the spring; McGonigal anticipates an energetic launch by summer 2014. The grant will provide for a director, assistant director, and additional staff to manage the new office. The grant will also help establish an advisory committee on local and regional church ministry.

McGonigal expressed deep gratitude for the Lilly Endowment’s grant and how it will continue to allow Whitworth to expand an understanding for vocations in ministry for Whitworth students, faculty and staff. “This is a big grant, and it will empower the university to move quickly in our desire to help the church engage the culture here in the Northwest and beyond,” McGonigal says.

“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 of Church Engagement will do.”

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian church. The university, which has an enrollment of 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Rhosetta Rhodes, chief of staff, Whitworth University (509) 777-4238 or

Lucas Beechinor, media relations manager, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or