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Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook’s Black women in ministry program gains $1 million grant

Cook called the grant-funded program a ‘game changer’ for Black women ministers and future generations.

Photo by Stefan Lehner/Unsplash/Creative Commons

(RNS) — A new program pairing Black women in ministry with mentors has received a $1 million Lilly Endowment grant.

The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, former U.S. international religious freedom ambassador, and her home church, Union Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, have partnered on the R.E.A.L. THRIVE Initiative. The program includes women in the New York and Washington metropolitan areas as well as in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas.

The R.E.A.L. acronym stands for relationship building, equipping and expanding, access and leadership and legacy development. It will feature two groups of 25 senior pastors and church planters who will serve as mentors for women representing about a dozen denominations.

The grant is part of Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry emphasis that supports U.S. religious organizations starting or enhancing programs that help experienced clergy mentor newer pastors as they lead congregations.


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The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook. Courtesy photo

The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook. Courtesy photo

“This is truly a blessing and a stain(ed) glass ceiling game changer, not only for the 50 women who are now advancing, being blessed and being placed and elevated in parish ministries, through this grant, but we hope it will help many generations who follow,” said Cook, in a Monday (Feb. 1) announcement.

Cook is the former minister at Mariners’ Temple Baptist Church, where she was the first Black woman senior pastor in the history of the American Baptist Churches USA.

In a recent interview with Religion News Service, Cook said the initiative marks a new juncture in her efforts as a faith leader, entrepreneur and diplomat as she continues to support women in ministry.

“I’m about legacy right now, making sure our people are whole and wholesome,” she said.

Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion, said programs like the R.E.A.L. Thrive Initiative especially help clergy as they make key professional transitions.

“When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced col-leagues,” he said in the announcement, “they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives.”


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RNS receives funding from Lilly Endowment.