This project is funded through a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.
New York – Union Theological Seminary has received a $1.25 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to establish the Innovative Preaching and 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.
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 Union Theological Seminary
Union Theological Seminary (utsnyc.edu), founded in 1836 in New York City, is a globally recognized seminary and graduate school of theology where faith and scholarship meet to reimagine the work of justice. A beacon for social justice and progressive change, Union is led by a diverse group of theologians and activist leaders. Drawing on both Christian traditions and the insights of other faiths, the institution is focused on educating leaders who can address critical issues like racial equity, criminal justice reform, income inequality, and protecting the environment. Union is led by Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, the 16th president and the first woman to head the 187-year-old seminary.
About the Center for Earth Ethics
The Center for Earth Ethics (centerforearthethics.org) at Union Theological Seminary works at the intersection of values, spirituality, education, and civic engagement to confront the climate crisis. CEE seeks to change the dominant value system from one that is based on short-term material gain – no matter the pollution, depletion, and inequity – to one that is based on the long-term health of the whole community of life. Founded in 2015, CEE pursues positive changes in policy and culture through four areas of focus: sustainability and global affairs; environmental justice and civic engagement; Indigenous wisdom, values, and rights; and ecology, spirituality, and faith.