Closing the ‘Ambition Gap’

Last month, United Methodists from across our church gathered in St. Paul, Minnesota to strategize about how we might close our own “ambition gap” between what we say (our official United Methodist Church positions) and what we do in response to the crisis facing God’s creation.

We were asked to reflect on the following question: In an age of widespread ecological degradation threatening human and planetary wellbeing … what unique charisms and assets might the United Methodist Church offer the church universal and the world in this “Great Work” (Thomas Berry) of our time?

I’ll admit that before answering, I had to look up the definition of “charism.” (According to Merriam Webster, a charism is “an extraordinary power given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church.”)  This focusing question helped to shape our time together and shift the conversation beyond the usual listing of the challenges we face to identifying the unique gifts our church has to offer in this unique moment.

I’ve attended countless conferences over the years focused on creation care and the ongoing climate crisis.  Often, these conferences have followed a predictable format: startling statistics in a plenary, break-out sessions and hands-on workshops, and plans for “taking it home” that get buried in our overflowing inboxes and overloaded calendars. Unfortunately, despite all the planning and good intentions, these conferences can result in momentary connections that don’t transform our ways of being and acting together.

What I appreciated about this gathering was that it brought together leaders from different areas of our church – clergy, educators, communicators and advocates to discuss how we might work together more effectively to create change in our church and in our communities. We had guided but open and organic conversations to identify where there is energy and capacity and commitment to deepen our work together.  We heard amazing stories of how churches are modeling eco-justice and solidarity in community. And we departed with a real sense of working together differently.

So what is my sense of the unique charisms the church might offer?  First, this gathering reminded me how profoundly rooted we are in hope.  Too often conversations about the climate crisis reflect fatalism about a future of despair and destruction. But we, as Christians, are an Easter people. We are not naïve to the challenges, but know that God is working in the world to bring about peace and justice and we join in that work so that one day all God’s children will experience abundant life.

The other unique gift I experienced at the conference was how deeply grounded our ministries are in relationships – intergenerational, cross-cultural, and international relationships that both inform and inspire how we go about doing this work.  And like my faith, these relationships help inoculate me against the despair that might set in amid the political posturing, inaction, and regulatory rollbacks.

Leaving the conference in Minnesota, I am renewed and recharged for the work of climate justice. And believe more strongly than ever that the church has unique charisms to offer as we build a more just and equitable world.

UMNS article on the gathering


John Hill is the Assistant General Secretary for Advocacy and Grassroots Organizing Director of Economic and Environmental Justice in the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society.

The United Methodist Church is a proud partner of Blessed Tomorrow, a coalition of faith leaders committed to serve as faithful stewards of creation. Founded by ecoAmerica, Blessed Tomorrow offers tools, resources, and communications to demonstrate visible climate leadership, inspiring and empowering faith leaders to speak about, act on and advocate for climate solutions. Learn more about our partnership and the resources available to you here.

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