MC receives $216,000 Lilly Endowment grant to support MAST youth theology program

MC receives $216,000 Lilly Endowment grant to support MAST youth theology program

Aug. 17, 2020

Maryville College recently received a $216,576 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support the continuation of Maryville Adventures in Studying Theology (MAST), a program that aims to cultivate youth leaders for the church and world by helping them discover and embrace the traditions of Christian faith, put their faith into practice, and explore important questions of our time.

The MAST program has a number of components, with Expanding Horizons, the College’s weeklong ecumenical summer theology and leadership retreat for high school youth, as its centerpiece. Expanding Horizons gives rising 10th, 11th and 12th graders from a variety of faith backgrounds an opportunity to explore their faith, plunge into service, build friendships and gain confidence.

Since it was established in 2016, the MAST program has helped build on the strengths of Maryville College’s commitment to youth theology and vocation programs. It also has expanded the reach of this work through a strengthened partnership with the Presbytery of East Tennessee and other church bodies.

“Since receiving support from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. for the MAST program, Maryville College has helped our partner churches expand both the depth of theological reflection in youth programs and access to vital fellowship and space for learning, both for young people and their leaders,” the proposal letter states. “This has happened both on campus, through Expanding Horizons summer youth institute, and in congregations and presbytery gatherings.”

The program has had a positive effect on Maryville College students: their experiences of mentoring young people have equipped many of them to pursue paths of ministry or renew the way in which they view the world. One such student is Mason Warren ’19, a neuroscience graduate of Maryville College who worked with Highland Presbyterian youth throughout his time in college. Upon graduation, he accepted a job as youth director at Farragut Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tenn., and has recently been chosen to represent youth and young adults in local and national denominational events.

“As someone who was involved with the MAST program throughout college, this program helped me discern my call to service,” Warren said. “The MAST program is a crucial part of developing and fostering theological understanding and critical thinking amongst youth and young adults within the Southern United States.”

The grant provides roughly half of the program’s funding through 2025, with the remaining half coming from the program’s partner churches and organizations. The grant is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

“This grant allows the MAST program to continue its efforts to engage critically with students from Maryville College and high schools throughout the region by exploring subjects surrounding faith, vocation and spirituality,” said Carrie Niceley, MAST program director. “Through this grant, the MAST program will be able to further the College’s mission to offer students opportunities for worship, service and fellowship, while offering support and resources to the faith communities in our area. We are especially grateful to the Presbytery of East Tennessee and churches throughout our region who have made a committed effort to support us financially, through prayers, and educational support for our programming.”

Next year’s Expanding Horizons is planned for June 13-19, 2021, and the theme is “Evolve: Practicing Faith in a World of Science.” For more information about Expanding Horizons or the MAST program at Maryville College, please visit maryvillecollege.edu/mast or contact Niceley at carrie.niceley@maryvillecollege.edu or 865.981.8180.

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Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family - J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli - through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”