Theological center gets nice birthday gift: $1M grant

The Capital Region Theological Center, just an idea among a few ecumenical-minded people back in 199

The Capital Region Theological Center, just an idea among a few ecumenical-minded people back in 1999, celebrated its 10th birthday in rather impressive fashion on Tuesday morning at the Westminster Presbyterian Church on Chestnut Street in Albany.

“Some very exciting things are happening for us and this region,” said CRTC Executive Director Martha Reisner, who announced that her group had received a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, the same entity that kick-started the CRTC’s efforts with a $400,000 gift in 2002. “We submitted our grant proposal and had it accepted. We are very excited about being in this position, and we are very proud. As far as we know, this is the largest grant ever received by a faith-based organization in our area.”

The CRTC was officially formed in 2001 as a joint venture from four different local denominations: the Reformed Church of America, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. In 1997, those four national groups entered into what was called “A Formula of Agreement,” and the CRTC was the first nonprofit group of its kind to be formed after that collaboration was announced.

It wasn’t until November 2002 that the CRTC began in earnest when the group was awarded its first grant from the Lilly Endowment and an executive director, Mary Lou Hammer, was hired. A renewal grant of $200,000 was awarded by the Lilly group in 2007, and when Hammer resigned in 2008, Reisner was hired to replace her.

“We were founded in order to provide training for and the development of lay leaders in congregations in this area,” said Reisner. “Our first Lilly grant allowed us to become involved in the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program, and that expanded the number of our courses from three to 20. It also allowed us to not only offer education but also clergy continuing education as well. These days, we tend to have a mixed audience in our courses, and we’ve also had 23 different denominations or faith groups represented in our classes.”

With the new Lilly grant, the CRTC will begin a new aspect of its services to local congregations, implementing congregational resourcing services.

“Resourcing is a natural outgrowth of CRTC’s education program and is a logical next step in its organizational development,” said Reisner, who added that her group will hire another full-time person and perhaps two part-time people because of the grant. “Educational events play a part in congregational transformation, but a resourcing relationship, walking alongside congregations and engaging teams rather than individuals, is a more effective strategy for achieving long-term success in helping congregations develop their potential to carry out their missions.”

“CRTC will become a clearinghouse of resource information on any number of topics of interest,” said the Rev. Sherri Meyer-Veen, CRTC’s project manager. “We’ll become a more formalized, relationship-building, network-creating entity to help organize and coordinate the efforts of churches in this area.”

According to CRTC’s president, the Rev. Dr. Norm Tellier, the Lilly grant is an affirmation that the CRTC effort has been working.

“It means that we can move forward to broaden our ability to serve the churches of upstate New York,” said Tellier, who added that CRTC also serves churches in western Massachusetts and southern Vermont. “Now we can offer more than just educational courses. When a church comes to us and they need help with something, whether it be changing the locks or a new full-fledged youth program, we can do it.”

The CRTC has partly based its efforts on a program that began in 1997 called the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, a nonprofit totally financed by the Lilly Endowment.

A private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by members of the Lilly family and located in Indianapolis, the Lilly Endowment exists to “support the causes of religion, education and community development,” according to the group’s website.

“The CRTC is an extremely unique group,” said Tellier. “The only other entity like it is the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, and they are totally funded by the Lilly group. We do have the Council of Churches and the Capital Region Ecumenical Organization, but they don’t do what we do. We provide educational courses, and with this grant we also reach out to assist congregations in a number of different ways.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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