Different Gifts, One Body

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.


Pan African Climate Justice Caravan event

Gary Payton as part of the witness for African cyclists for climate justice. Photo from UMC GBCS.


In Advent, we wait and anticipate a time to celebrate the incarnation, God coming in human form to be present in the world through Jesus’ birth. As COP 21 comes to a close, and many are anticipating what this Paris agreement will be, also we draw near to the third Sunday of Advent and anticipate the baby born in a stable.


This timing of things has made me wonder how we—we fragile humans in this time and place—can embody God’s love, represent Christ’s grace in this holy season of waiting and expectation. How can we not just spiritually anticipate Christ’s body coming on earth to share God’s amazing love with all the cosmos—but also how might we ourselves become smaller places of God’s love and grace in this real, problem-filled, messy world in which we live.


In the days I was at COP, I met many different people who offer themselves as one unique part of a larger body of work on caring for the world around us. Though different in gifts and passion and focus, together the whole is stronger.  


  • Michael Haduyu, a young adult who was part of the 250 person cycling caravan across 7,000km and multiple countries in Africa to deliver a strong message of climate justice for the COP 21 (called the Pan African Climate Justice Campaign). Watch short video of the Pan African Climate Justice cyclist educating the COP 21.
  • Yeb Sano, leader in the People’s Pilgrimage to the COP 21, walking 1500km Rome to Paris, to represent the very real impact climate change is having in his home (Philippines) and around the world. (Read more about Yeb here.)
  • Nalini Singh, a young woman who builds capacity and advocacy with the organization ARROW, focusing on climate’s impact on women’s rights.
  • World Council of Churches, ACT Alliance and various U.S. denominational policy experts, familiar with the D.C. scene, on hand to interpret, bridge and advocate for policies that denominations wish to see: an agreement with fairness, with strong ambition, with attention to the poor, and with inclusion of human rights.
  • Younger women of faith from India and Uganda and older women of faith from Armenia and Canada standing together with men chanting “Gender Justice for Climate Justice.”
Gender Justice and Climate Justice signs

Rebecca Barnes with ACT Alliance action on Gender Justice. Photo from UMC GBCS.


  • Government officials, balancing and holding tensions of values and possibilities, desires and practicalities, while being as open as possible to answering questions and hearing from constituents.
  • Business people wanting to help create a future where there is a virtuous cycle of demand for clean energy and the production of sustainable products that feed the economy, so all systems might flourish together.
  • Large NGOs organizing skits to help communicate, with humor, what are the deep and very serious commitments they hold, with permission in official spaces and without permission across the city.
  • For news and social media writers, bloggers, videographers sharing their own discoveries of what happens each day, what more is needed, and what we might expect.
  • People traveling to witness, to write, to be present—and people at home living daily lives with low carbon changes, spreading communication about climate action further, applying these global negotiations to local actions with rippling effect.


The Climate Ribbon Project

Participants wrote the parts of the earth they love and would hate to lose to climate change on ribbons to hang on this Climate Ribbon Project tree.


 We need each other, and can only move forward together. While there were many types of people with many different agendas present, what is powerful is to realize that everyone gathered in that space (official and civil society) all opted in. Everyone there wants to create a better future. The knowledge of how to do so, the opinions of the best route, and the politics and methods of what is core vary widely. Yet here are thousands of people using their precious human life, the breath they draw today and the time and energy and physical health they have right now, to be here, doing what they are doing. Since I left many people have been up all hours, nights in a row, negotiating, observing, writing, and working.


In more ways than one, many parts of the COP21 remind me of the times I’ve spent at General Assembly. There are plenaries and break-outs, open and closed committee sessions, side events and displays in the exhibit hall. While we gather as PC(USA) to discern the mind of Christ, each person there has opted to be there, is working for the world he or she believes God is calling us to help create. We Presbyterians also have widely various views of what this means. Just as country delegates balance their country’s desires with the movement throughout the two weeks of the COP and with the global need for a strong agreement, so do G.A. commissioners dedicate themselves to keeping in mind the whole church and all God’s world as they deliberate on issues that will also affect their home presbytery and church.


There will be more to come from Paris. We’ve just heard that negotations may continue through the weekend. And, even then, we know the work has just barely begun. What the COP 21 means for the world, for the U.S. and for PC(USA) will still reveal itself over time. As we move into 2016, working towards ambitious work for climate justice and looking forward to our Presbyterian General Assembly in Portland in June, let us be mindful of faithful brothers and sisters working all around the world, trying to do what each of us can with our precious human life, to build up the body that is this world, God’s blessed creation.


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