About the Author
Robin Nelson

My UU-UNO Spring Seminar 2010 Experience

Two weeks ago I traveled to the United Nations Church Center in New York, NY for the Unitarian Universalist-United Nations Office (UU-UNO) Spring Seminar 2010, Thursday April 8 – Saturday, April 10. About two months prior I met with one of the UU-UNO Board members, Connie Baker,  to talk about the the Green Sanctuary Program.  Connie told me that their upcoming Spring Seminar was going to be about climate change and asked if I would be willing to attend.  I said “sure.”  The next week, I received an email follow-up requesting that I also speak on a panel to which I also agreed.

The theme of the seminar was “A Climate of Change: Heads, Hearts, and Hands Around the Planet.”  As the Program Manager for the Green Sanctuary Program at the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) I am expected to be one of “the” voices for the UUA on the environment and environmental justice.  I was slotted to be on the Friday after-lunch “Hearts” panel “Faith-Based Perspectives on Climate Change.”  I left for New York with a handful of notes for my time to talk on the panel.

Welcome abundance and generosity into your life…

I was invited to speak on a panel at the UU-UNO 2010 Intergenerational Spring Seminar – A Climate of Change: Heads, Hearts, and Hands Around the Planet.  The panel topic was: Faith-Based Perspectives on Climate Change.  When I speak at Unitarian Universalist events I like to start with a reflection and/or reading to get participants thinking in a certain way.  The reading I chose for this particular event comes from Earth Bound: Daily Meditations for All Seasons by Brian Nelson and just so happens to be today’s (April 12) entry so I decided that it would be interesting to share on this blog.  It addresses stewardship in the broadest sense and in the sense that my office approaches stewardship.

“As the days get longer and the temperatures get warmer, animals start shedding the fur that helps them weather the winter and hoard their body heat.  Unless they shed this fur, they’ll overheat in the months to come.

Similarly, the longer we act as though we’re in a winter culture, a culture of scarcity and deprivation, the more likely we are to overheat now that it’s spring.

Stop living in a winter of your mind and shed the barriers that keep things at bay.  Act as though abundance and generosity are not only possible but imminent.  Welcome easier times and they will happen more often.”

Financing options from the UUA

The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) has several financing options for congregations looking to acquire land, build a spiritual home, or make improvements to their existing buildings.  Below is a list of the current financing options offered by the UUA.  Click on the link(s) for additional information about the specific program(s).

Building Loan Program
The Building Loan Program provides affordable financing for three types of project:

  1. building or buying a new spiritual home
  2. repairing or renovating existing facilities where substantial construction is not required,
  3. expanding current facilities where substantial construction is required, especially to make facilities more accessible.

The interest rate is set at the time of closing and is based on the seven-year Treasuries plus three-percent.

First Home Grant Program
The First Home Grant gives money to congregations seeking to purchase their first piece of land and/or to construct their first spiritual home.  The program is not designed for congregations that already own a building.

Loan Guarantee Program
The Loan Guarantee Program offers to guarantee a loan made by a local lender in cases where the lender requires this support before agreeing to loan money to a congregation.

Site Acquisition Loan Program
The Site Acquisition Loan Program assists growing, financially healthy congregations that are without significant financial equity to acquire their first piece of land. The UUA, in consultation with and acting as an agent of a qualified congregation, will purchase a site in a location where demographics indicate a high potential for the growth of Unitarian Universalism.  Note: this program is a loan and not a grant or gift.

Small Projects Loan Pilot Program
The Small Projects Loan Pilot Program promotes congregational growth by financing relatively inexpensive projects that can improve congregational life and well-being. Smaller, shorter term loans can create positive changes in congregations by providing a new tool to tackle issues that may seem beyond their current financial means. The program focuses on three broad categories of projects: mission-oriented, environmentally friendly, and critical/emergency in nature.

Green Construction Award Pilot Program
The Green Construction Award Pilot Program provides financial awards to congregations that build or renovate green and have received LEED certification.  This pilot program is in effect until as many as six congregations have earned an award.  Only one congregation has received this award.  Congratulations to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wayne County in Wooster, OH for obtaining LEED Gold certification.

The “Ripple Effect” at South Church in Portsmouth, NH

Environmental activists, often on the verge of burn-out, ask themselves “Does my work really make a difference?”

The answer to this question is “YES!”

As Unitarian Universalists, we seek out action that has meaning in our lives.  We find that meaning by looking to the UUA’s Seventh Principle “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”  I’d encourage people to see how each of the Seven Principles calls us to be good stewards of the Earth.

The Green Sanctuary Program, originally founded and managed by the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth, was designed to give roots and wings to the vision that, together, we can create a world in which all people make reverence, gratitude, and care for the Earth that is central to our lives.  The Green Sanctuary Program offers a way to join our efforts, both symbolically and explicitly, with thousands of other Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country.  Additionally, the Green Sanctuary program projects have deepened the inspiration of many individuals in their congregation to make personal changes in their lives.

One UU Church that decided to embark on the Green Sanctuary journey together was South Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  In their Green Sanctuary accreditation application they discussed sustainability and how it has become a major issue in Portsmouth. They have become a huge supporter , as well as a prominent leader, in the wider efforts in the New Hampshire seacoast region.  In addition to that, they were able to the see the “Ripple Effect” of the Green Sanctuary Program.  The list below is a sampling of the change effects that have resulted from what congregants describe as personal lifestyle modifications that were likely the result of the work of the environmental activism work of South Church:

Environmentally and Socially Responsible Electronics Recycling – Hinsdale, IL

elec-recycl 003The members of Unitarian Church of Hinsdale understand that environmental justice and environmental actions are directly related not only to the Seventh Principle – the respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part – but also to the First Principle – the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  Recently, Unitarian Church of Hinsdale has begun working on electronic waste (e-waste) issues.  E-waste that is not disposed of in local landfills but collected in “recycling” efforts is transported to China or developing nations in Asia or Africa.  This e-waste is then processed in primitive conditions, with plastic insulation burned to get at copper wiring, lead-based solder melted over hot plates, and poisonous residue washed into drinking water.  Congregants at the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale felt that they needed to help break this cycle to help heal these environmental injustices.

After hosting the films The Digital Dump and Exporting Harm to educate the congregation and community about e-waste by, members of UCH found a local responsible electronics recycler through the Basel Action Network (BAN).  The company accepts electronics of all kinds and removes the most valuable copper wiring, pulverizes lead-containing monitor glass for transport to a smelter in Canada, and crushes and sorts the remaining plastic, ferrous, and non-ferrous metal parts.  None of the material is sent overseas and all waste is disposed of in accordance with the BAN recycler’s pledge.  Recently, thirty members of the congregation toured their responsible electronics recycler, Sims Recycling, to see how the electronic devices are dismantled, shredded, and the pieces are separated for recycling.  After this, the UCH Green Sanctuary committee scheduled two electronic recycling events at the church: one in the fall of 2007 and one in the spring of 2009.  The first event brought in 1,800 pounds of electronic devices.  The second event, after being publicized to the wider community, led to the collection of over one ton of material.  Each person dropping off an electronic item paid a fee (as much as $10), to promote the idea that responsible recycling is not free, and received printed materials about the need to recycle e-waste locally and responsibly.

A Thriving Ministry of Local Foods – UU Rockland, ME

Port Clyde, home to he fleet of the Midcoast Fisherman's Association, credit Peter Ralston
Port Clyde, home to he fleet of the Midcoast Fishermen's Association, credit Peter Ralston

When First Universalist Church of Rockland, ME (UU Rockland), with other local churches, founded the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Bank, the seeds were planted for a thriving ministry of local foods.  In addition to regularly collecting food for the Food Bank, the congregation participates in the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen where they prepare, serve, pack-up left-overs, and clean-up a meal on the fifth Sunday of the month at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rockland.

In November 2004 the congregation teamed up with the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Maine Council of Churches Environmental Justice Program to co-sponsor a Harvest Supper potluck with the theme “Thinking Globally/Eating Locally” , featuring locally produced foods,  followed by a program inviting conversation on how food choices impact the environment.  In November 2005 the congregation again participated in the Harvest Supper featuring Russell Libby, Director of the Maine Organic and Gardeners Association speaking on “Who Is Your Farmer?” (more…)

Multi-faceted, Multi-Generational Project hosted by Second Unitarian Church of Omaha: Pumpkin Patch and Fall Festival Project

1stUOmaha1On October 4, 2009, the Second Unitarian Church of Omaha hosted a Pumpkin Patch and Fall Festival.  This projected highlighted all four focus areas of the Green Sanctuary program: worship and celebration, religious education, environmental justice, and sustainable living and brought attention to the Congregational Study Action Issue – Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice for 2009-2012.  

Members created a festival plan, designed advertising, built family friendly interactive games, implemented sales of pumpkins, collected and contributed canned donations, sat at booths to run games, prepared food for volunteer workers and interfaced with the public.  The intended scope of the project was to bring membership in alignment with agricultural reality versus the ideal.  Using the religious education curriculum started in January 2009, the children planted seeds and nurtured them into young sprouts.  The teens were introduced to long-term planning and commitments by aiding in the labor to prepare the ground for planting in March 2009 and later to supply the labor to distribute flyers and run the booths at the festival.  Beginning January 2009 church members provided pre- and post- Sunday service commitments by providing the vision, sprouting seeds, transplanting seedlings, watering the patch, consulting and problem solving things like soil balance, predator control, early ripening while reaching out to the church neighborhood and connecting the church to the local community via contact with the Omaha Food bank and surrounding farmers.  

Through the process, the members of Second Unitarian of Omaha learned about the very issues the small organic farmer faces each day, and became more enlightened and compassionate toward the future of food.  They acknowledged the fragile connection we maintain with nature and the intimate pledges we maintain as to how we care for the environment.  Materials for the patch were a collaborative effort of farmer donations, merchant donations, and purchases paid for with money from the sales of Free Trade coffee and teas.  The project yielded sixty-seven pumpkins grown to maturation.  They collected one 55 gallon blue barrel filled with canned food items, and made a $592 monetary contribution from pumpkin sales to the Omaha food bank.   Through the Pumpkin Patch and Fall Festival members celebrated the completion of a multi-faceted, multi-generational educational, environmental justice, and sustainable living agricultural project.  Learn more about the project at Second Unitarian Church of Omaha’s website.