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Austin Seminary receives $1.2 million grant to strengthen preaching
Randal Whittington

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary has received a grant of $1,248,603 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish The Faithful Preaching Project, a new initiative designed to help preachers of small mainline congregations instill deeper faith in their listeners and empower them to live out their faith more fully in worship and in the community beyond their church walls.

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary has received a grant of $1,248,603 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish The Faithful Preaching Project, a new initiative designed to help preachers of small mainline congregations instill deeper faith in their listeners and empower them to live out their faith more fully in worship and in the community beyond their church walls. The Reverend Dr. Carolyn Helsel, Associate Professor in the Blair Monie Distinguished Chair in Homiletics, wrote the grant and will be charged with designing and administering the program.

The program is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Compelling Preaching Initiative. The aim of the initiative is to foster and support preaching that inspires, encourages, and guides people to come to know and love God and to live out their Christian faith more fully.

“The goal of the Faithful Preaching Project will be to identify what makes sermons faith-full and faith-inspiring, and then to coach preachers on how they can infuse their own preaching with those skills,” says Professor Helsel. “When I taught lay preachers in our Certificate in Ministry program last spring, I was struck by how the students’ sermons so powerfully demonstrated and communicated a deep faith. My hope is to help more preachers cultivate a preaching life that fosters faith in listeners.” The project is guided by three goals aimed at strengthening preaching skills for clergy and lay preachers:

1.     Coach preachers and lay proclaimers of small mainline congregations to inspire listeners to know and love God and live out their Christian faith in the world.

2.     Equip preachers to empower their congregants to create worship liturgies and testify to God’s love so all members practice being proclaimers.

3.     Train preachers to communicate faith-instilling messages to reach outside the walls of the church and engage the community beyond their congregation.

The project’s main activities include coaching preachers, hosting cohorts of preachers, hosting preaching workshops, and creating a worship camp for worship leaders and pastors to come together and consider creative ways to reimagine faithful worship.

Austin Seminary is one of eighty-one organizations receiving grants through this competitive round of the Compelling Preaching Initiative. Reflecting the diversity of Christianity in the United States, the organizations are affiliated with mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist, and Pentecostal faith communities. Many of the organizations are rooted in the Black Church and in Hispanic and Asian American Christian traditions.

“Throughout history, preachers often have needed to adapt their preaching practices to engage new generations of hearers more effectively,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “We are pleased that the organizations receiving grants in this initiative will help pastors and others in ministry engage in the kinds of preaching needed today to ensure that the gospel message is heard and accessible for all audiences.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Compelling Preaching Initiative in 2022 because of its interest in supporting projects that help to nurture the religious lives of individuals and families and foster the growth and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States.  

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

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 Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff, and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education, and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. A principal aim of the Endowment’s religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment also seeks to improve public understanding of diverse religious traditions by supporting fair and accurate portrayals of the role religion plays in the United States and across the globe.

About Austin Seminary

Founded in 1902, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary is an institution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) whose mission is to educate and equip individuals for the ordained Christian ministry and other forms of Christian service and leadership. For more information and ways to support Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, visit

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Dr. Donghyun Jeong publishes first book
Randal Whittington

Dr. Donghyun Jeong, assistant professor of New Testament, has published his first book, Pauline Baptism among the Mysteries: Ritual Message and the Promise of Initiation (De Gruyter, 2023).

Dr. Donghyun Jeong, assistant professor of New Testament, has published his first book, Pauline Baptism among the Mysteries: Ritual Message and the Promise of Initiation (De Gruyter, 2023).

Dr. Jeong explains, “The ‘mysteries’ (or mystery cults) are the various cults that existed from Classical Greece to the Roman world in late antiquity (chronologically and geographically widespread), characterized by initiation rituals … My book seeks to answer questions such as: Why did some first-century ‘pagans’ choose to perform Christian initiation rituals? What benefits did they gain from baptism, when compared to rituals devoted to other deities in the ancient Mediterranean world? … In doing this comparative work, I seek to articulate the social realities of Pauline communities and Paul’s theology of baptism.”

Based upon his PhD dissertation, Professor Jeong’s book is intended for an academic audience. According to the publisher, this study substantiates that “Paul is an innovative interpreter of ritual who recalibrates the messages of preexisting rituals for his theological and ethical program, seeking to radically extend the implications of initiation to the embodied life of every Christ-believer. Students and scholars of New Testament, early Christianity, classics, and ritual studies will benefit from engaging this volume.”

“As a Presbyterian,” says Jeong, “I confess that ‘as a sign and seal of God’s gracious action and our grateful response, Baptism is the foundation for all Christian commitment.’ My study of early Christian baptism in the first century is a way for me to explore these theological implications in social, cultural, and historical terms. Personally, I was already attracted to things beyond human words and expressions. Although the term ‘mysteries’ and the notion of mysticism do not refer to the same thing, my study of the mysteries is partly related to my desire to explore mystic, non-linguistic aspects of religious experience.”

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 Love in the Hebrew Bible by Dr. Song-Mi Suzie Park published in May
Randal Whittington

Professor Song-Mi Suzie Park has written her fourth book, Love in the Hebrew Bible, published by Westminster John Knox Press (WJK) this May.

Love in the Hebrew Bible, the fourth book by Dr. Song-Mi Suzie Park, associate professor of Old Testament, was published by Westminster John Knox Press (WJK) this May.

In its promotional materials, WJK says, “Christians insist that love stands at the heart of who God is. Yet, when we talk about love in the Hebrew Bible, how much do we really know? Possessing such a belief alone does not mean that we possess a clear understanding of what love is. Are we aware of how often divine and human love are tied up with the idea of preference for one individual or group over another? Do we know how often descriptions of love involve questions of power, authority, and gender? Do we see that love is connected to suffering, betrayal, and sometimes death in the Hebrew Scriptures? In Love in the Hebrew Bible, one of the first book-length studies of its kind, Suzie Park provides fascinating and essential insights into these questions, refreshing our understanding of the meaning of love in the Hebrew Bible. Pushing against characterizations of the loving God of the New Testament narrative universe versus the wrathful God of the Old Testament, Park shows that love is integral to the ways in which relationships, both among people and also between humanity and God, are imagined in the Hebrew text. Reflecting matrices of meaning and associations, love thus is a vital component of the ideology and theology of the Hebrew Scriptures, and an understanding of it remains fundamental to our knowledge of the biblical text.”

A reviewer, Jonathan Kaplan, associate professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, says "Love can be sweet, beautiful, and joyous. It can also be daunting, jealous, and violent. The descriptions of love in the literature of ancient Israel are no different. In Love in the Hebrew Bible, Song-Mi Suzie Park … does not shy from the fraught complexities of these descriptions of love–by parents, siblings, friends, lovers, and God. Rather, she shows how these stories and poems portray unique ancient cultural understandings of what it means to love and be loved and how perspectives on love were intertwined with ancient Israelite conceptions of kinship, gender, and politics. Love in the Hebrew Bible is a must read for anyone interested in what the Hebrew Bible has to say about love."

“Looking back, my family’s background influenced my interest in the biblical text and my decision to become a scholar of the Bible,” says Park. “And in turn, my background influences how I read these stories and how I understand love in them. For example, the centrality of God and family in the understanding of love in the Hebrew text feels familiar. Also recognizable is the idea that love is intrinsically connected to sacrifice and suffering in the Hebrew Bible; and that love, while deeply felt, is more often and more clearly demonstrated through behavior and actions than through words.

Since joining the Austin Seminary faculty, Dr. Park has also published Hezekiah and the Dialogue of Memory (Fortress Press, 2015), 2 Kings (vol 12, Wisdom Commentary Series, 2019) and was co-author, with Professor Carolyn Helsel, of The Flawed Family of God: Stories about the Imperfect Families in Genesis (WJK, 2021).

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Alumna Crystal Silva-McCormick to teach evangelism and missions
Randal Whittington

The Reverend Crystal Silva-McCormick will become visiting instructor of evangelism and missions on July 1

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary is pleased to announce that The Reverend Crystal Silva-McCormick will become visiting instructor of evangelism and missions on July 1. During this two-year appointment—created when Professor João Chaves resigned to take a position at Baylor University—she will be promoted to visiting assistant professor following the successful completion of her doctoral work. A native of El Paso, Texas, and a graduate of Austin Seminary (Class of 2010), Silva-McCormick began her education at Lubbock Christian University. After earning her MDiv at Austin Seminary, she completed a Master of Theology degree (2016) and matriculated into the PhD program at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. With an emphasis on Christian-Muslim relations and world Christianity, her research interests include Christian Zionism, post-colonial studies of global Christianities and world mission, Latine theologies, and the intersection between colonialism, imperialism, and Western missions.

She is a Hispanic Theological Initiative (HTI) Doctoral Fellow (2021-present) and has been an adjunct instructor at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (2022-present). She also has teaching experience from St. Edward’s University, Texas Lutheran University, the University of Texas at El Paso, and Elmhurst College.

An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. Since 2014, Silva-McCormick has served as a pastor, chaplain, director of youth ministries, and immigration advocate for congregations and hospitals Texas and Iowa. She serves the UCC denomination as treasurer for the Colectivo de UCC Latinx Ministries (2021-present) and is the moderator for a new church plant in the Rio Grande Valley. Professional affiliations include the Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana (AETH), the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and La Comunidad AAR/SBL.

Esther Menn, academic dean at the Lutheran School of Theology, says, “I am thrilled that Rev. Crystal Silva-McCormick will be joining the faculty at Austin Seminary as a visiting professor of evangelism and missions. She is already an accomplished teacher, and her pastoral experience and commitments to immigrant advocacy work and to ecumenical and inter-religious relations will contribute so much to student learning and to the community.”

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Patricia Bonilla to teach Christian education
Randal Whittington

Patricia Bonilla to become instructor of Christian education, effective July 1, 2023.

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary has called The Reverend Patricia Bonilla as instructor of Christian education, effective July 1, 2023. She fills the position formerly held by Professor Emeritus David White who retires at the end of the academic year. Upon the successful completion of her doctoral work at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, she will be promoted to assistant professor of Christian education. Her dissertation topic is “Anticolonial Latina Feminist Praxis: Toward a Decolonial (Re)framework of Christian Religious Education with/for Latinx Youth, A Case Study of the Hispanic Youth Leadership Academy.”

Bonilla has served in several roles with the Hispanic Youth Leadership Academy and is currently the national program director. She co-coordinated and implemented programing for a $100,000 grant received by Garrett Seminary from the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry for the Young Clergy Initiative (2015-19). She has teaching experience with the Hispanic Summer Program and at Lexington Theological Seminary, Garrett Seminary, and Drew University.

A native of Illinois, Rev. Bonilla received her education from Lake Forest College (BA, international relations and French), Drew University (master of philosophy), and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (Master of Arts in Christian education and PhD in Christian education and congregational studies, ABD). An ordained United Methodist (UMC) deacon, Bonilla has served churches throughout Illinois since 2005, primarily in the area of Christian education and youth and family ministries. She has served as the chair of the Hispanic/Latinx Ministries Committee of the Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC since 2019.

Among many awards and honors, she is a 2022-2023 HTI (Hispanic Theological Initiative) / Lily Dissertation Fellow and was named the United Methodist Woman of Color Scholar (2018-21). Her professional affiliations include the Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana (AETH), the Association of Practical Theology (APT), and the Religious Education Association (REA. 2022). Bonilla has published in Religious Education, the official journal of the REA, Connecting Faith and Justice: Junior High Curriculum, Lectionary Year C (UMC Church and Society, 2018), and Wellsprings, A Journal of United Methodist Clergywomen (2015).

According to Jessica Love of the UMC General Board of High Education, “Bonilla’s research and work attempts to close gaps in academia, particularly gaps between the Latinx community and seminary. Her research examines ways to give voice to Latinx young people connected to the church by exploring how they practice their faith.”

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