Metro NY District forms Environmental Justice Council

The Metro New York District of the Unitarian Universalist Association recently started an Environmental Justice Council for the purpose of educating UU leaders about global, regional, and local environmental justice issues. Participants and congregations hope to have more impact on these issues by working together.

For more information about how such a council operates, contact the Rev. Peggy Clarke at pclarke at Clarke is creating a list of other UUs doing similar work.

Deadline approaching for environmental fellowships

June 15 is the deadline for applying to become a GreenFaith Fellow through the group GreenFaith, Interfaith Partners in Action for the Earth. Lay and professional leaders who are accepted take part in programming over 18 months designed to help them address environmental issues in religious settings.

Several Unitarian Universalists—the Rev. Alison Cornish, Shelley Dennis, Dr. Cheryl Larsen, and Susanne Novak—are current GreenFaith Fellows. Up to four more UUs will be selected in June. Applicants must pay $750 in tuition fees. The fee is normally $1,500, but that has been halved for UU participants for the first three years of the program. The second year of the program begins this summer. Coursework is accomplished through retreats, field trips, and monthly seminars.

Cornish, minister of the UU Congregation of the South Fork in Bridgehampton, N.Y., is halfway through her GreenFaith fellowship. She said, “The first gathering we had—an environmental justice tour of Newark, New Jersey—was sobering and deeply moving. Sometimes, as Unitarian Universalists, we are better versed in the injustices on other continents than in our own backyards. It was good to . . . witness to this and to imagine what we saw as religious issues.”

Environmental curriculum for congregations ready

The Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth has created a five-session environmental justice curriculum. Called “Our Place in the Web of Life,” the curriculum was developed to help congregations meet the environmental justice requirement of the Green Sanctuary program. It provides an introduction to environmental justice concepts and a process to identify community needs so that a congregation can develop a local justice project.

The curriculum also emphasizes racial and ethnic relationships in doing environmental justice work. It is available as a free download from the UUMFE website. The curriculum was designed by Dr. Mark Hicks of the Meadville Lombard Theological School and Pamela Starr, environmental justice consultant.

UUMFE, an independent affiliate of the UUA, supports congregations in environmental justice work, including Earth Day activities and providing environmental resources for religious education and worship.

GreenFaith environmental fellows selected

Unitarian Universalist lay and professional leaders are eligible to apply to the interfaith group GreenFaith, Interfaith Partners in Action for the Earth, to take part in 18-month fellowship programs focused on environmental leadership in religious settings.

Current GreenFaith Fellows from UU communities are the Rev. Alison Cornish, Shelley Dennis, Dr. Cheryl Larsen, and Susanne Novak. Cornish is minister of the UU Congregation of South Fork in Bridgehampton, N.Y.; Dennis is a student in the Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities program at Northern Arizona University and in the Master of Theological Research program at Andover Newton Theological School, and an active member of First Parish UU in Medfield, Mass.

Larsen is a senior management analyst at the United Nations and a leader at the First Unitarian Society of Westchester, N.Y. Novak is a retired teacher and leader at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester in Mt. Kisco, N.Y.

They join 21 additional fellows from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Evangelical, Roman Catholic, and mainline Protestant backgrounds. The fellowship program is called the only comprehensive education and training program in the United States to prepare lay and ordained leaders from diverse religious traditions for environmental leadership.

Deadline for applications is June 15 of each year. Next June up to four more UUs can be selected. Applicants who are accepted must pay $1,500 in tuition fees. GreenFaith pays for food and lodging and educational materials. Coursework is conveyed through three retreats, field trips, and at monthly seminars.

For more information, go to the UUA Green Sanctuary blog and email Robin Nelson, the UUA’s Environmental Stewardship manager.

Energy Star now includes houses of worship

The Energy Star program, a voluntary labeling program for energy-efficient products, has been expanded to cover houses of worship.

Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Other areas it covers include computers, office equipment, residential heating and cooling units, lighting, new homes, and commercial and industrial buildings.

Two early recipients are the UU Congregation of Atlanta and First Parish in Needham, Mass. The Atlanta congregation is the first one in Georgia to receive the Energy Star designation. First Parish is the first house of worship in New England to be so designated. Advocates suggest that many congregations can cut energy costs by up to 30 percent with more efficient equipment, facility improvements and maintenance.

Find out more at the UUA’s Green Sanctuary blog and at Energy Star for Congregations.

Wind will power congregation’s building

A small congregation in Minnesota will soon provide most of its own power with its own wind turbine. The 58-member Nora Unitarian Universalist Church, a rural congregation in southcentral Minnesota, will receive a $20,000 federal grant to help pay for the $94,000-project.

Surplus power will be sold back to the local utility company. The congregation’s social justice committee began exploring alternative energy projects several years ago and settled on wind power. It expects to recover the cost of the project in 11 years.

The turbine will have 31-foot fiberglass blades on a 120-foot tower. Groundbreaking was to be November 21.

Films focus on consumerism

Looking for a way to start a conversation at church about consumerism, waste, and other environmental topics? Two short films, The Story of Stuff and The Story of Electronics, are a good place to start.

Each is 15 to 20 minutes. The films are suitable for youth groups, adult education sessions, and other purposes. The Story of Stuff explains that overconsumption is rapidly depleting the world’s resources and that many of the actual costs of production, including environmental hazards for factory workers, aren’t apparent in the prices we pay for things.

The Story of Electronics focuses on what goes into making computers, cell phones, and other electronic goods: from the children in the Congo who dig dangerous metals out of the ground, to planned obsolescence and what happens when we dispose of these products.

The films also describe ways people can work on environmental issues, including advocating for fair and labor practices, creating products that last longer, and requiring more restrictions on toxic components.

Both films, and much more information about consumerism, is at

Congregations reduce energy use

Several Unitarian Universalist congregations have recently made environmental improvements that have allowed them to reduce their energy consumption.

  • The UU Church at Washington Crossing in Titusville, N.J., installed solar panels, which are generating about 90 percent of the electricity needed by the congregation. The system is expected to pay for itself in about four years.
  • The UU Community Church of Santa Monica, Calif., was honored by the city for making energy improvements that decreased its electrical bill by 9 percent. It also added cisterns to its property to reduce pollution runoff.
  • Cedar Lane UU Church in Bethesda, Md., is making efforts to reduce energy and paper use, including using permanent rather than disposable dinnerware. The church earns money from selling recycled ink cartridges.
  • The UU Congregation of Atlanta has adopted a “Sustainable Living Initiative,” which helps members weatherize their homes and encourages everyone to live more sustainably. It is working on a Buying Club to make green products more affordable to everyone.

Stories about these and other congregations are on the Green Sanctuary blog of the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Office.

Earth Day resources available

For congregations planning events around the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in April, the UU Ministry for Earth has developed an Earth Day resource packet. Earth Day itself is Thursday, April 22, and many congregations will hold events that week or the weekend before or after.

The resource packet includes information on the UUA’s current Congregational Study Action Issue “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice,” fair trade products, labor issues, and organic food. It also has an Earth Day order of service cover and insert, and a certificate to honor your Congregational Eco-Hero.

There is also information on what other congregations are doing and ways to engage your own community. You can share what your congregation is doing for Earth Day by registering the event and by emailing the UU Ministry for Earth photos and information about how the event went.

The Ministry for Earth is also encouraging congregations to hold a special collection to support its ongoing work.

Environmental justice stories and resources from the UUA

Stories about the work that congregations are doing in the area of environmental justice and new resources that they can use in that work are now on Environmental justice is the newest category of congregational stories on the Congregational Life webpage at

The stories highlight the work of Green Sanctuary congregations. Robin Nelson, program manager for the Green Sanctuary program, which is administered through the Congregational Stewardship Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association, will be posting monthly environmental justice articles to the page. Send stories to Nelson at

The Green Sanctuary program invites congregations to develop projects and activities that are focused on care for the earth. There are currently 214 congregations participating in the Green Sanctuary program, which began in 2002.

Here are other environmental justice resources from the UUA:

• All congregations received a copy of the film Renewal and a viewing guide in September. This documentary, composed of eight stories of various faith communities engaged in environmental work, could be included in a congregational film series, used to start an interfaith discussion or as part of a worship service, and to inspire interest in the Green Sanctuary program. If your congregation did not get a copy, email

• The 120-page Green Sanctuary manual is available online, as are reviews of green books and films.

• Information on the International Day of Climate Change, October 24, in which many UU congregations are participating, is also online.