In February, I met with Brooks Berndt, the UCC’s Minister for Environmental Justice, to discuss a proposal for an eco-justice ministries network within the UCC’s Southern Conference. During our conversation, the tragedy of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis arose, and Berndt made the comment that numerous “other Flints” are occurring across our country at this moment with their own terrible consequences.
His words turned out to be prophetic. (Read more.)
A few days ago the grassroots leadership in Flint began circulating the following list of demands following the ongoing crisis in the city:
As people of faith who want act in solidarity with the community in Flint, what can we do? Here are three ways to get involved:
1) Call President Obama to request an increase in federal funding directed to Flint that would allow for the replacement of the city’s water infrastructure. Call 202-456-1111.
2) Donate to the UCC Emergency USA Fund. You can choose to designate your contribution to Flint.
3) Share articles that highlight the role of systemic racism in the Flint water crisis:
- “How a Racist System Has Poisoned the Water in Flint, Mich.” by Louise Seamster and Jessica Welburn
- “Flint’s Water Crisis: A Story of Racial Injustice” by the Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt
On the anniversary of the United Church of Christ's historic vote to take action to lessen the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, United Church Funds announced the launch date of a new fossil-fuel-free investment fund. The Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is a domestic core equity fund that will be free of investments in U.S. companies extracting or producing fossil fuels, and is targeted to open for investment on Oct. 1, 2014.
"Our staff has worked hard this year since General Synod to identify appropriate investment options and managers for this fund," said Donald G. Hart, president of UCF. "Our final manager selection will be based on total investment commitments from current and new investors."
The UCC became the first mainline religious denomination to vote to move toward divestment from fossil fuel companies as one strategy to combat climate change on July 1, 2013, at General Synod 29 in Long Beach, Calif. The resolution calls for enhanced shareholder engagement in fossil fuel companies, an intensive search for fossil-fuel-free investment vehicles, and the identification of "best in class" fossil fuel companies by General Synod 30, taking place June 26-30, 2015.
Since the resolution's passage, UCF and The Pension Boards of the UCC, the denomination's main investment vehicles, have been actively engaged in various levels of shareholder activism, using the process of shareholder engagement to work toward the goals of the UCC resolution. The Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is another step toward meeting those goals, which the Rev. Geoffrey Black, UCC general minister and president, says is a realization of the UCC's act of prophetic witness on climate.
"As stewards of God's creation, we must continue to grow in our commitment to initiatives like this if we are to have a sustainable future on earth," said Black. "The United Church of Christ's support of this fund will make it possible for others to follow."
With a commitment of $10 million in seed money from the United Church of Christ Board's Investment and Endowment Committee, UCF will be able to offer a fund based on the S&P 500 index, free of fossil fuel companies and inclusive of UCF's traditional set of exclusionary screens, which eliminate companies that conflict with the values of the investor. However, UCF's preferred outcome would require a total commitment of at least $20 million, with which UCF would be able to offer an enhanced index fund that provides an opportunity for higher investment returns.
Investors who are interested in shifting part or all of their domestic core equity allocation to the Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund can visit the fund's website or send an email to BFFfund@ucfunds.org to receive a call from a UCF staff member. After Aug. 31, 2014, UCF will make a determination on fund style and manager based on investor commitments to the new fund.
"We, who are dedicated to protecting our planet, appreciate UCF's fidelity in fulfilling the commitment they made at General Synod," said the Rev. Jim Antal, conference minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC who spearheaded the UCC's resolution to move toward divestment. "I urge UCC churches and conferences to prayerfully consider an investment in this fund."
Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago is making some upgrades to its facility, and doing so with the good of the earth in mind. Under the leadership of the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity UCC, the church is working to raise funds to replace its current roof with a green roof, which will provide the church environmental and financial benefits, while preparing it for a sustainable future.
"We have a leader with a vision and the chutzpah to get it done," said Ramona Westbook, Trinity UCC member and an architect who is helping with the project. "We talk about the people who have a mind to build. Well this is our wall, and this is our time, and this is our opportunity to be part of some amazing stewardship."
Trinity UCC's Raise the Roof campaign launched last fall and is seeking to collect $5 million in the next three to five years to complete the green roof project, as well as other infrastructure improvements such as replacing roofs on other properties, updating heating and cooling systems, modernizing the worship center, and repaving parking lots. The Raise the Roof campaign has already received $4.1 million in donations towards its goal from Trinity UCC members.
"This is a tremendous response from 1,026 members and households from Trinity United Church of Christ," said the Rev. Mark A. Smith, Trinity UCC's minister of stewardship. "The members are overly excited about the campaign, as has been exemplified through sharing their Raise the Roof testimonies during Trinity UCC's regular worship services."
The Raise the Roof campaign website lists several benefits the green roof will provide the church and the surrounding community, such as providing insulation to the building, increasing the church's green space, and absorbing and cleansing rainwater. The roof could also provide space for urban gardening and help mitigate the "heat island" effect that can cause higher temperatures in urban areas that have few trees and little green space. Green roofs are also known to have longer lifespans than traditional roofs and decrease the amount of energy a building needs to operate.
Preliminary stages of the project are already in the works. The project's Feasibility Committee has provided reports detailing research and recommendations for moving towards energy efficiency and sustainability, and the church had a site assessment conducted by a sustainability services firm. On March 19, Trinity UCC had a lighting audit conducted, and on March 21, met with a project manager from the firm that will advise the planning and phasing of the project with LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification as an objective. At this time, a timeline to begin construction and to complete the roof has not been set.
"Taking advantage of the latest in green technologies as we reinvigorate our aging infrastructure is a wonderful way to match what we preach with what we practice," Smith said on the Raise the Roof campaign website. "It is truly a blessing for me to be in a position to witness our church moving into this exciting area."
Mission 4/1 Earth, the UCC's 50-day earth care campaign that took place last spring, inspired an organizing theme around environmental issues that has really caught on at Trinity, said Rosalyn Priester, member of Trinity UCC's Green Committee and member of the UCC's Environmental Ministries Steering Committee. The church's theme for 2014 is "Love God, Live Green, Liberate All," which is meant to provide an overall framework for worship and become infused into the congregation's language and theological understanding.
"The spiritual practices of this church draw on African spiritual traditions in which there is no separation between the sacred and the secular," Priester said. "This means that church is not just about what happens within the walls of the church building, but is also tied directly to what happens in the larger community."
- Pilgrim Point Camp in Minnesota, May 24-26 - Learn more and register.
- More information coming soon for workshops at Asheville, NC (Oct 4-6); and Templed Hills Camp in Ohio (Oct 18-20).
The UCC Centers for Environmental Justice are centers where participants can come from all over the U.S. and be immersed in a justice-centered response to climate change and environmental equity.
Originally founded at Pilgrim Firs Camp and Conference Center, the program has expanded to Silver Lake Conference Center in Connecticut and other training locations throughout the country. These trainings feature a curriculum designed for diverse participants to take what they learn and return to their home locations and communicate with knowlege of five core themes of environmental justice based on biblical and ethical principles:
Using video, discussions, and hands-on learning opportunities, each session will go far beyond the traditional “greening” of our congregations and communities to promote a transformational message. Upon registration, each participate will agree to teach this new approach to environmental justice at least twice in one year and will be given all the necessary tools to communicate with “the folks in the pew.”
This curriculum is Biblically based and centered on the deep issues of justice and the beloved community. It involves the learner in study, reflection, discussion, and hands-on learning opportunities, and can be tailored for weekly, weekend, and single-day learning opportunities.
Our History in the Struggle for Environmental Justice.
The United Church of Christ was an early leader in the cause of environmental justice and in the fight against environmental racism. We began with the protest against the establishment of a toxic waste dump in a predominantly Black community in North Carolina. Growing out of that event, the UCC Commission for Racial Justice conducted the now-famous 1987 statistical survey on "Toxic Waste and Race." The UCC sponsored two "People of Color Summit Meetings" and the first of those meetings generated what is now seen as the classic list of ethical norms for the environmental justice movement.
Through the years, the UCC has actively provided support to a variety of grassroots groups addressing specific instances of environmental racism such as hog farming in North Carolina, the environmental destruction from military activities in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and pollution along the Mexico-US border. The UCC’s emphasis on environmental racism has been strengthened by its relationship to our denomination’s strong stands and constituencies related to racial justice, a well-established "issue-based" action strategy, and advocacy methods similar to that used for other justice work within the UCC.
The UCC Network for Environmental and Economic Responsibility (NEER) was formed in the late 1980s and early 90s as a grassroots effort with a broad eco-justice agenda. NEER was active in promoting "Whole Earth Churches" on the model of "Just Peace Churches", and over 300 congregations made that declaration. NEER gathered a large delegation of UCC members to attend the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, and organized several regional conferences for education and leadership training.
In the new century, the UCC has continued its environmental and racial justice advocacy at the Centers for Education and Social Transformation. In 2007, the Energy and Environment Task Force presented a report to the General Synod to combine the strengths of our historic advocacy against environmental racism and the added advocacy for climate justice towards establishing the UCC Environmental Justice Center at Pilgrim Firs in Port Orchard, Washington.
2009 Twenty-seventh General Synod--Grand Rapids
- On the Urgency for Action on Climate Change. Resolution of Witness. The Executive Council recommends referral of the resolution, "On the Urgency for Action on Climate Change," submitted by the Connecticut Conference, to the implementing bodies named in "A Resolution on Climate Change" as voted by the Twenty-Sixth General Synod (07-GS-16).
- Earthwise Congregation: On Mediating Climate Change. Prudential Resolution. The Executive Council recommends referral of the resolution, "Earthwise Congregation: On Mediating Climate Change," submitted by the Minnesota Conference, to the implementing bodies named in "A Resolution on Climate Change" as voted by the Twenty-Sixth General Synod (07-GS-16).
2007 Twenty-Sixth General Synod in Hartford
2005 Twenty-Fifth General Synod in Atlanta
- Call for Environmental Education and Action This Resolution calls on all expressions of the United Church of Christ to implement programs for education and action to address issues of environmental protection, environmental justice and sustainable development. It establishes an Environmental Steering Committee to implement this Resolution in close coordination with Justice and Witness Ministries.
- Resolution on Supporting Congregations and Providing Guidance for Leadership This resolution is offered to initiate exploration by the United Church of Christ of the role of the Church in meeting economic, ecological, and consequent spiritual challenges associated with predicted declines in future oil and natural gas supplies. The UCC is asked to begin a long term program to support faith based actions to create conditions that will foster a movement to sustainable conditions at the individual church, conference, UCC, and broader societal levels.
2001 Twenty-third General Synod
- Call For Staffing to Address EcoJustice Concerns This resolution urges each of the four Covenanted Ministries of the United Church of Christ to designate staff to deal with ecojustice issues and themes and to work cooperatively with the other ministries to ensure that the spiritual, theological, moral. and social dimensions of ecojustice are addressed across the life of the whole church.
Formed in 2005 from a combination of two prudential resolutions Call for Environmental Education and Action and Resolution on Supporting Congregations and Providing Guidance for Stewardship of God's Creation During the Coming Period of Declining Fossil Fuels at General Synod 25 in Atlanta, the Environmental and Energy Task Force (EETF) operates through Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) to help provide resources, networking and guidance for environmental programming in the congregations and conferences of the United Church of Christ
EETF has issued The United Church of Christ: Toward a National Environmental Focus. Its subcommittee, the Energy and Climate Work Group, has issued The next 50 years: sustaining our faith and promoting Peace and justice while using resources wisely to care for creation. Both were reports prepared for General Synod 26 in Hartford in 2007.
In February 2009 a covenant was written between JWM and EETF's Organizing Work Group to further define the partnership of this dedicated team of individuals—environmental leaders across the nation—with the traditional environmental justice work of JWM
The Collegium of Officers issued a Pastoral Letter on Faith and Environment "And Indeed it is very Good" in April 2008 which invites us to offer prayer for care of the earth, and opens our hearts to seek compassionate actions that can be taken to alleviate the suffering of our fellow children (and creatures) of God. "
Pilgrim Firs Camp and Conference Center is one of the two camp and conference centers owned and operated by the Pacific Northwest Conference. It is available for the outdoor ministry and educational programs of the United Church of Christ as well as other church, civic and educational non-profit groups. Pilgrim Firs is a year-round camp and conference center on the Kitsap Peninsula of western Washington. This beautiful site includes 120 wooded acres of which 40 have been developed with cabins, lodges and outdoor recreation areas for guest use.
Pilgrim Firs is a multi-use facility offering a variety of settings for programs and activities. The site includes play and sports fields, a lake with canoeing and kayaking, and a floating dock for swimming. There are hiking trails, indoor and outdoor chapel/meditation spaces, two campfire areas, basketball and volleyball courts within the four acre play field and many secluded quiet places where you can enjoy this beautiful piece of God's creation. It is located 3 miles from the City of Port Orchard and about an hour and a half drive or relaxing ferry ride from downtown Seattle.
Pilgrim Firs is located at 3318 SW Lake Flora Road, Port Orchard, WA 98367
Option 1: From North of Tacoma (Seattle): Take I-5 south to the Highway 16, Bremerton exit
just past the Tacoma Dome. (This exit takes off at the same time as 38th street. Be sure you
are in the correct lane.)
Option 2: From South of Tacoma (Olympia): Take I-5 north to the Highway 16, Bremerton exit.
(This exit takes off at the same time as 38th street, watch the signs to be sure you are in the
On Highway 16 from Tacoma, follow Highway 16 for about 16 miles to the Sedgewick exit. Cross
back over the highway. You will come to a stoplight where Sedgewick and Sidney intersect.
Stay in the middle lane and go straight through the intersection. (Chevron on right, Albertsons
on left). Continue for about 2.9 miles until you see the Pilgrim Firs Signs. (Sedgewick changes
to Glenwood, then Lake Flora roads, do not turn.) We are on the left.
Option 3: From Fauntleroy-Southworth Ferry. As you leave the ferry, take the first left
(across from the store). This will turn into Highway 160 (Sedgewick Rd.). Follow this road for
about 10.4 miles. You will cross Highway 16, and go through 3 traffic lights near the highway.
Continue straight. After you cross the highway, Sedgewick will turn into Glenwood, then Lk.
Flora roads. Do not turn, continue Straight. Aprox. 2.9 miles.
Option 4: From Bremerton and north (Highway 3): Highway 3 turns into Highway 16 as you
pass through Gorst. Stay on Highway 16 until the Sedgewick exit. Take Sedgewick and turn
right (west). Follow Sedgewick (which turns into Glenwood then Lake Flora Rd.) for 2.9 miles,
continue going straight. Pilgrim Firs is on the left.
- At the Sedgewick / Sidney interchange, there is a Chevron station on your right, and an Albertsons on your left. Go straight through the intersection.
- Pilgrim Firs is 2.9 miles after you cross the Sedgewick / Sidney intersection, and 1.4 miles from where Glenwood Rd splits off to the south. (Do not turn on Glenwood!)
- There is a streetlight directly across the road from the entrance to Pilgrim Firs. It is the only
streetlight on Lake Flora Road. Our driveway is marked with a large sign.
How can people of faith work for environmental justice for all? How can we create Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Beloved Community--one that is sustainable, healthy, and inclusive? This “train the trainer” workshop will explore these questions with the goal of empowering conversation and actions around environmental justice that will continue far beyond the initial workshop. In addition to discussing issues and viewing the film Renewal, participants will take a field trip to learn more in-depth about environmental justice issues specific to their setting. Open to adults from college through retirement.
- Pilgrim Firs in Port Orchard, WA, Fri-Sat Feb 10-11, 2017 - Learn more and register.
- Hartman Center near Milroy, Pennsylvania, Wed-Fri Mar 22-24, 2017 - Learn more and register.
Others to be announced. In the meantime, you can schedule you're own! Trainings promote both personal and community transformation and equip participants to lead workshops in their home communities. For more information, contact Rev. Meighan Pritchard, Minister for Environmental Justice, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Customize Your Own Training
Learn more about our recent training in Florida:
The UCC Environmental Justice team hosted a retreat for 12 participants at Silver Springs Christian Church conference center at the request of the Florida Conference. The group took a field trip to Silver Springs State Park to learn about water issues. The discussion explored the overdrawing of water from the Floridan Aquifer, which can reduce water flow in the springs and could lead to problems with sinkholes. The participants also learned that nitrates from cattle ranches, lawn fertilizer, and leaking septic systems get into the aquifer and create algae blooms that are detrimental to the health of the ecosystem.
Customize a retreat to explore what's happening in your community.
Working with Meighan Pritchard, UCC minister for Environmental Justice, you can build experiences into your training to reflect the environmental challenges unique to your location in the country, honing in on problems in the local community. Each retreat includes a field trip; the content of the field trip varies depending on location. During the Florida retreat, a local Presbyterian pastor, Bruce Seaman, and his son Ray met with the group to examine some of the political ramifications of decisions about water management for new development. How you design it is up to you.
Following the retreat participants are encouraged to keep in touch with each other, support each other, spread information, and become resources for each other.
After the Florida retreat the Rev. Sarah Lund, Regional Minister of the Western Region, Florida UCC created a Facebook page for Environmental Justice Retreats. All participants of previous and future EJ retreats will be invited to join this page in order to create a real network for environmental justice work in the UCC.
Read comments from the most recent training evaluations:
"Well worth the time and expense to come--so re-energizing! Thank you."
"Great material--easy to implement. I look forward to using this material! Thanks so much!"
"I came to this workshop looking for a way forward amid divergent worldviews and I leave with the support of fellow seekers and materials and ideas to implement. I had a great time! Thank you for making this possible."
"The training was very well done... serious conversation, yet balanced to allow for group cohesion and dialogue. I look forward to doing this training at my home church. Thanks!"
Sample Workshop Schedule
Weekend workshops begin on Day 1 at 5:00 p.m. and continue through Day 2 at noon with a “head and heart” focus on the five core themes listed above. On the afternoon of Day 2, the group of about 15 will travel in the local area to observe and experience how communities and individuals are impacted by both environmental destruction and environmental restoration, returning in the evening to discuss how to develop inclusive community-based strategies and responses. On the morning of Day 3, the group will gather to address how partners in Creation can work through the issues of environmental despair and lead lives based on hope. The final session will help participants develop strategies on how to bring what they have learned to their local community. Day 3 will conclude at noon to allow participants to return to their home communities. Sample schedule below:
|5:00 – 6:15 pm||Arrival, room check-in, and dinner|
|6:15 – 6:45 pm||Introduction of process, setting, and opening devotional|
|7:45 – 8:00 pm||Break|
|8:00 – 9:00 pm||Core Value Session 2: Humility|
|9:00 pm||Social time and rest time|
|7:30 – 8:15 am||Breakfast|
|8:15 – 8:30 am||Morning Devotional|
|8:30 – 9:30 am||Core Value Session 3: Responsibility|
|9:30 – 9:45 am||Break|
|9:45 – 10:45 am||Core Value Session 4: Justice|
|10:45 – 11:00 am||Break|
|11:00 – 12:00 am||Core Value Session 5: Community|
|Noon – 12:45 pm||Lunch|
|12:45 – 6:00 pm||Hands-On EJ Project|
|6:00 – 7:00 pm||Dinner|
|7:00 – 7:45 pm||Observations, Conclusions, and Actions on Environmental Justice|
|7:45 – 9:00 pm||Telling the Story of Environmental Justice Exercise|
|7:30 -8:15 am||Breakfast|
|8:15 – 8:30 am||Morning Devotional|
|8:30 – 10:30 am||Bringing Environmental Justice to Your Home Community|
|10:30 – 10:45 am||Break|
|10:45 – 11:45 am||Living with Environmental Despair|
|11:45 – noon||Evaluations|
|Noon||Lunch and rides to the airport|
Who are UCC young adults?
In the UCC, young adults are considered those between the ages of 18 and 30. The reality is that a young adult could be female, male, a student, a professional, single, married, a parent, still living with a parent, Generation X or a Millennial, a seminarian, an ordained minister, someone who hasn't set foot in a church since high school and anything in between. "Young Adult" is a distinction of age that encompasses a group as diverse and dynamic as any in the UCC.
How can young adults get involved?
Young Adult Service Communities are unique opportunities for you to live in intentional community with others who share your commitment to service and social justice. Together, you will find the space to reflect on questions of meaning and to network for change.
Service and Justice Internships
The YASC network gives you the opportunity to grow professionally and change the world through intern placements with local nonprofit agencies, which are dedicated to justice advocacy and collaborative action.
Your placement will also allow you the opportunity to grow spiritually as you serve in a leadership position at a United Church of Christ congregation. Through this work you can see the convergence of church and world.
Finally, YASC provides you a space to grow personally by living in community with other young leaders, exploring together your direction, calling and future action in the world.
The Summer Communities of Service program is an ecumenical collaboration between the UCC Volunteer Ministries and Alliance of Baptists. Particpants live and serve from June to mid-August in host congregations from around the United States. There a four fundamental facets, which together form the foundation of the SCOS program:
The "intentional Christian community element" makes this program distinct and effective. Interns share a common food allowance, transportation funds and spiritual growth insights. Participants live in community with each other and with their hosts in their temporary city.
In the UCC and Alliance of Baptists diversity is a big piece of our identity. Both churches uphold socially progressive statements and advocate politically from a faith perspective. Diverse, community-service-integrated ministries show interns, congregations, the wider church and world where this faith-inspired work is happening in our midst. The SCOS projects help interns develop long-term commitment to engage in this kind of ministry.
Hands-On Justice Advocacy/Service Opportunities
Grow professionally. Change the World.
Grow Personally. Grow Spiritually.
The Global Mission Intern program invites you to challenge yourself in a one to three year international mission service opportunity. As you offer yourself in service, you will also learn more about yourself, your relationship with God, and your place in God’s world. You will build relationships that will change the way you look at the world. You will be a part of a growing group of young adults who have been transformed by these experiences and will provide you a new community on return. You will come back from your year in mission equipped to provide a global perspective on issues facing the church in our hurting world today.
The UCC national setting recommends sites within the United States that host mission opportunities for groups. These host sites are rooted in local communities and utilize volunteer groups in their on-going service within those places. Volunteers experience God’s presence among new people and in new places through these experiences. UCC Mission Trip Opportunities are short-term, lasting up to a week.
Working together as a significant partner in the ministry and future of the church, OMA seeks to advise, connect and advocate on behalf of the network of persons responsible for Outdoor Ministries in the United Church of Christ. The Outdoor Ministry Association works to support and encourage the staff, volunteers, board members and conferences at these special places; to promote outdoor ministries in all areas of the church; and to celebrate the many wonders of God's nature!
The Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM) advocates, communicates, coordinates, and networks on behalf of youth and young adults of the UCC. CYYAM members work together and with other church leaders to establish strong youth and young adult ministries throughout the UCC by advocating to church leaders, helping make youth and young adult voices heard at General Synod, seeking to address issues of social justice and peace, and serving as a voice for UCC youth and young adults.
The vision of Justice & Witness Ministries is of a more just, peaceful and compassionate world that honors all of God’s creation. Leaders are needed throughout our churches and communities to help share, pursue and achieve this vision. Justice Leaders Engaging and Developing (Justice LED) is a program that offers training, leadership skills and support to local churches and UCC members who seek tangible ways to move our world towards this vision.
Together with Sexuality and Our Faith, Our Whole Lives helps participants make informed and responsible decisions about their relationships, health and behavior in the context of their faith. It equips participants with accurate, age-appropriate information in six subject areas: human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture. It provides not only facts about anatomy and human development, but helps participants to clarify their values, build interpersonal skills and understand the social, emotional and spiritual aspects of sexuality.