The Spirit Is With Us: A Tribute to John Ackerman

By Julia Nerbonne

John Ackerman always started our meetings with a question:  "Well, how are you today, in body, mind and spirit?"  For the past two years John has been courageously living with lung cancer, but you wouldn't have known it from all he was up to.  "I’ve believed that climate change is the greatest moral issue facing us for a good while."  At St John's Episcopal church, John carefully worked to balance his approach activating people around the climate crisis: calling on spiritual, systemic, and practical change initiatives.  (See his article in Sojourners). John worked hard in his own congregation, bringing the work of Bill McKibben and others to his community.  But he didn't stop there.  In May 2013 he joined the board of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Lightand agreed to head up the Program Committee.  The goal:  To spark a movement.  "What we need is to help people 'let go' so they can 'let come'.  We can't solve the problems of today with the same competitive, economically-driven thought that has gotten us into this mess. We've got to slow down and let the spirit guide us."  And from that powerful moral place he encouraged us to listen patiently and act courageously.
Over the summer John received chemotherapy.  Yet even while he navigated that difficult process his attention remained on engaging with his community, meeting with his spiritual directees and beloved small groups, enjoying dinners with friends, practicing Qi gong, writing and prayer.  His inquiring spirit remained honed in on this question of how to respond to the climate crisis as people of faith.  He brought his creativity, open heart and skills to bear as he  met with a small team of us to design an empowering approach to congregational organizing on the climate crisis that would reach into the heart of congregations around the state.
On Friday November 22nd, John passed away peacefully at home.  He was surrounded by his family, and flooded with prayers from his greater community.  John's support, insight, wisdom, encouragement and collaboration with MNIPL has been integral to the work of developing the "Be the Spark" series.  As we move forward using a deeply relational approach to organizing, he will continue to guide us on.  He was, and is, an elder, mentor and friend.  We will miss him terribly in body and in mind, but his spirit is with us.