Traditioned Innovation Awards honor work that holds together past and future

Leadership Education at Duke Divinity grants Traditioned Innovation Awards to initiatives that engage in experiments to transform communities by living out the convictions of an ancient faith in the current challenging circumstances.

“Traditioned innovation” is a way of thinking developed by theologian L. Gregory Jones that holds the past and future in tension, not in opposition, and is crucial to the growth and vitality of Christian institutions. The awardees inspire Christian leaders to consider our convictions and daily activities so that we may more abundantly bear witness to the reign of God. They do that by:

  • embodying one or more Christian practices in their pattern of work;
  • cultivating an economic imagination for sponsors, participants and observers;
  • nurturing the conditions for friendships that move beyond transactional relationships to ones of mutual appreciation, learning and growth;
  • rooting their work in building and sustaining community; and
  • inspiring and nurturing other groups with similar vision for thriving communities

The 2021 winners are Green The Church in Oakland, California; The Learning Tree in Indianapolis, Indiana; The Coalition for Spiritual & Public Leadership in Chicago, Illinois; and The Industrial Commons in Morganton, North Carolina. Each will receive $10,000 and be featured in Faith & Leadership.

A panel of judges collects nominations and recommends award recipients.

“The Traditioned Innovation Award recognizes and affirms the faithful and innovative work of an outstanding community initiative rooted in Christian practices,” said Victoria White, Leadership Education’s managing director of grants. “This year the award focuses on catalytic organizations that are effective in their own community while also nurturing groups with similar vision for thriving communities. Their work creates a broad impact because they are committed to cultivating future faith-rooted leaders and creating interconnected networks for sharing resources and support. Focusing on the flourishing of others while also transforming their own communities, especially in this season of change and uncertainty, is work we want to affirm. Catalytic leaders are making thoughtful and strategic decisions to guide their institutions through uncertainty and often come out stronger on the other side.”

2021 Award Winners

Image courtesy of Green the Church

Green the Church in Oakland, California

Green The Church encourages African American congregations to commit to an environmental theology that promotes sustainable practices and helps build economic and political change. They help churches explore and expand their role as centers for economic and environmental resilience. Forging catalytic collaboration networks enables Green The Church to provide resources and support so churches can experiment with bold green initiatives such as strengthening the local food economy, planting community gardens, conducting energy audits and installing rooftop solar panels and rainwater cisterns.

How does Green the Church exemplify traditioned innovation?

By connecting to the African American experience, Green The Church taps into the power and purpose in the Black Church to develop practical solutions for environmental issues. Sharing and retelling individual and collective stories of relationships with the land offer sustainable opportunities for the church to contribute to thriving communities and be good stewards in protecting God’s creation.

Photo courtesy of The Learning Tree

The Learning Tree in Indianapolis, Indiana

The Learning Tree is an association of neighbors in Indianapolis, IN, that sees the abundance of gifts and talents in “irrelevant” places where there appears to be “nothing.” Employing the practices of Asset Based Community Development, The Learning Tree neighbors know how relationships, learning and education improve the quality of lives of people, communities, schools and businesses. They also teach others how to do the same by gathering and listening to each other’s stories and identifying their gifts and dreams to put them to work in the community.

How does The Learning Tree exemplify traditioned innovation?

The Learning Tree unearths, validates and connects the abundance of gifts within each neighbor in their community. By investing in one another, The Learning Tree offers innovative and practical ways for the community to love God and love one another through their individual and collective God-given abundance.

Image courtesy of The Coalition for Spiritual & Public Leadership

The Coalition for Spiritual & Public Leadership in Chicago, Illinois

The Coalition for Spiritual & Public Leadership (CSPL) is a not-for-profit, multi-racial, multi-ethnic grassroots-led coalition that includes parishes, institutions and communities to address racial, social, economic, and environmental injustice by building community power that is rooted in the vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. CSPL trains and develops faith leaders and their respective congregations and institutions to enter into public life in a manner that is strategic, communal, and grounded in the Catholic spiritual and theological traditions. As such, they are revitalizing communities, cultivating individual and collective visions for mission, stewarding resources with an ethical commitment to the common good, and centering the leadership of women, people of color, immigrants and other historically marginalized people.

How does The Coalition for Spiritual & Public Leadership exemplify traditioned innovation?

The Coalition trains and develops faith leaders and their respective congregations and institutions to serve in public life in ways that are strategic, communal and grounded in spiritual and theological traditions.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Hanson

The Industrial Commons in Morganton, North Carolina

The Industrial Commons (TIC) founds and scales interconnected employee-owned enterprises and industrial cooperatives that solve industrial problems for businesses and workers, and manufacturers hope for the people of Western North Carolina. Building on the assets of the region, TIC addresses business resiliency, worker agency and environmental issues by creating an inclusive economy rooted in community and dignity. Their work is inspired by Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 and the belief that there is always enough, even some left over, if communities can get organized and recognize the gifts among them.

How does The Industrial Commons exemplify traditioned innovation?

This regionally-rooted cooperative business model centers worker dignity and justice and fights inequality through democratic participation and principles in a way that improves traditionally marginalized livelihoods and roots wealth in communities as embodied in traditional Christian social practices.

For more information about the Traditioned Innovation Award, please contact us at

Past Traditioned Innovation Award Winners

Read stories about how past winners are creatively addressing challenges and renewing their institutions.


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