UTS Launches Initiative to Advance Eco-Justice in Faith Communities
Union Theological Seminary has received a $1.25 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to establish the Innovative Preachingand Eco–Justice Initiative (IPEJI). This landmark project will equip preachers and lay people with the tools to speak about climate change with creativity, enthusiasm, and insight – and inspire their communities to take action.
The program will be funded through Lilly Endowment’s Compelling Preaching Initiative, which aims 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.
Union designed IPEJI in response to a widespread challenge and opportunity. It is challenging for many preachers to communicate about scientific findings and highly charged global topics in easily digestible ways. But with a foundational layer of support from within theological education, they can access a whole new field of moral and spiritual inquiry and a range of ways to approach it with vigor, creativity, and imagination. Additionally, climate justice issues are an area of strong interest for younger generations; building capacity for church leaders and broader faith communities to engage with these issues has the potential to grow and retain membership.
IPEJI will address these hurdles through four core components: online preaching and earth ethics courses, an eco–preaching fellowship program, community eco-projects, and an ongoing proclamation-centered resource network and digital hub. These components will engage a wide variety of groups – including seminarians, seminary faculty, lay leaders and clergy, congregants, and broader leaders and members of faith-based groups.
IPEJI continues Union’s long legacy of scholarship, training, and community engagement on climate issues. Union’s Center for Earth Ethics – which will play a key role in IPEJI – has hosted regular intensive workshops for faith leaders interested in preaching on climate. Union’s Climate Mobilization Action Plan – which was guided by students – provides a roadmap to a more sustainable future. Union’s academic programs – including the addition of an online MA in Social Justice requiring ecojustice coursework – link faculty committed to eco–justice issues with students seeking to expand their capacity to engage. IPEJI will further Union’s dynamic and multifaceted work to tackle climate change and fight for environmental justice.
“There’s no question: Faith leaders should be at the forefront of the movement to protect our planet. God created this beautiful Earth, and we are called to love it,” said Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary. “We are proud to provide preachers and lay people with cutting-edge resources to strengthen their advocacy efforts.”
Professors Karenna Gore, Rev. Dr. Timothy Adkins-Jones, and Rev. Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes – all esteemed eco–justice advocates focused on uplifting diverse perspectives – will spearhead IPEJI. By combining their unique backgrounds and expertise, they’ll provide participants with revolutionary insight into climate change and preaching.
“The climate crisis is about more than data, science, and technology, as important as they are,” said Ms. Gore, CEE’s executive director. “It is about perception, values, and belief systems. It is about how much we care about the lives of people who live on the frontlines of pollution and extreme weather events, as well as the lives of the many species who face extinction and all future generations. Now is the time to draw deeply from our faith and wisdom traditions to help frame these issues and galvanize positive life-giving changes. We are honored to have the support of the Lilly Foundation to do that work within Christian communities in particular and feel confident that this important endeavor will greatly strengthen the movement as a whole.”
“Progress on our climate crisis looks like all of us, with our respective strengths and in our unique communities, doing what we can to inspire meaningful action that protects our planet and all of its inhabitants,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO of Hip Hop Caucus. “The development of Union Theological Seminary’s Innovative Preaching and Eco–Justice Initiative is undoubtedly bold and can play a critical role in deepening climate advocacy within the Christian faith community. I look forward to seeing its impact in advancing environmental justice.”
Union is one of 81 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.