The UCC Center for Environmental Justice at Pilgrim Firs in Port Orchard, Wash., is a place where participants can come from all over the United States - and particularly in the northwest United States - and be immersed in a justice-centered response to climate change and environmental equity.
It features a curriculum designed for diverse participants to take what they learn and return to their home communities and communicate five core themes of environmental justice based on biblical and ethical principles: gratitude, humility, justice, responsibility and community.
"This is not about a weekend in the woods," says the Rev. Jim Deming, minister for environmental justice at Pilgrim Firs. "What we're really talking about is giving people the tools they need so they can come back, in their home community, and be advocates of environmental justice issues."
Using video, discussions, and hands-on learning opportunities, each session goes far beyond the traditional "greening" of our congregations and communities to promote a transformational message. Each participate agrees to teach this new approach to environmental justice at least twice in one year and is given all the necessary tools to communicate with "the folks in the pew."
"There is no more pressing crisis in the world than those multiple crisis' relating to the degradation of the environment," says the Rev. Mike Denton, Conference Minister of the UCC's Pacific Northwest Conference. "As is true with most crisis, it is the impoverished and people of color that are bearing more than their fair share of the problems this degradation creates. The Pacific Northwest Conference, in response to our denominations' call to address environmental justice, is grateful for the opportunity to partner with Justice and Witness Ministries in the creation of the UCC Environmental Justice Center at Pilgrim Firs. Our hope is that this center can be a touchstone to help the United Church of Christ fulfill its call to become the just, fair and responsible people God calls us to be."
As with all of the UCC's Centers for Education and Social Transformation, which are projects of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, the curriculum at Pilgrim Firs 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. The curriculum also is tailored for weekly, weekend, and single-day learning opportunities.
Pilgrim Firs inspires an openness of thought and a commitment of energy to work for the health of God's Creation as participants become allies and leaders in their communities.
"Environmental justice goes way beyond changing light bulbs," says Deming. "It involves changing values and changing people's information base. We are trying to give people a deeper experience of immersion that will transform the way they think about this so that they can act on it."
Justice and Witness Ministries' central purpose is to enable and encourage engagement in God's global mission via direct action against systemic injustice. This can be achieved through community mobilization, leadership training, issues education, public witness and public policy advocacy. We are called to this work as instruments of God for the integrity of creation, justice and peace. Some topical issues Justice and Witness staff are working on include human trafficking, the privatization of public institutions, climate change, immigration, and the economic crisis. Justice and Witness Ministries has education centers across the nation where people can be immersed in an issue, even transformed by experience, which may result in a change of personal and communal behavior on departing.