UCC environmental justice center opens in Washington
Written by Gregg Brekke
September 29, 2011

The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, UCC executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, speaks at Plymouth UCC in Seattle during the service of recognition for the UCC's Environmental Justice Center at Pilgrim Firs. (Photo Gregg Brekke/UCNews)

Celebrating the opening of the UCC's Center for Environmental Justice, UCC justice leaders and congregations from the Pacific Northwest Conference came together Sept. 23-25 at the UCC's Pilgrim Firs Retreat Center in Port Orchard, Wash., and in downtown Seattle.

An estimated 100 participants gathered Sept. 24 at Plymouth UCC in downtown Seattle for a service to kick-off the newest of the UCC's Centers for Education and Social Transformation (CEST.)

“I want to say a word of thanks to the Pacific Northwest Conference,” said the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, the UCC's executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, at the Sept. 24 service. “I also need to thank Earth Ministries, Plymouth Church and many other congregations in the area that are working together to make [the center] possible.”

“It is our responsibility to God to care for God's creation,” continued Jaramillo. “We are excited to be here in this partnership at the launching of the United Church of Christ Center for Environmental Justice.”

With a focus on environmental justice and the steps individuals, churches and communities can take to change their own environmental impact – in addition to influencing local, state and national policy – the center will serve as a springboard for training others to take the center's message across the country.

The Rev. James Deming, the UCC's minister for environmental justice, said the program will not be confined to an experience at Pilgrim Firs, rather the retreat center will serve as the epicenter for empowering people to both train others on the tenets of environmental justice and to work toward policy impact. Deming also hopes the center will attract those outside the UCC, even those outside the faith community, as the other justice centers have done.

Three workshops are planned at Pilgrim Firs during 2012. Deming estimates 12-15 people participating in each workshop.

“Those people will sign a covenant before they come to go back to their communities and hold three workshops within a year,” he says. “So this is a train-the-trainer type program. The multiplier effect on this would be that within a year or two, we’ll have over 1,300 people who have been exposed to the training.”

The program addresses four key areas of justice activism: an ethical and biblical foundation; exposing people to environmental issues; a component involving observation, an activity, restoration or some combination thereof; and advocacy aimed at affecting public-policy makers. The training workshops will take about 16 hours, says Deming.

Participants in a young-adult Justice and Witness Ministries LED (Leaders Engaging and Developing) training were on hand for the event that included a preview of the Pilgrim First Conference Center on Friday and recognition of young-adult environmental justice leaders Kari Fulton, De'Anthony Jones and Marcus Grignon during the service at Plymouth UCC on Saturday.

“It's a different generation,” says Katelyn Macrae, a candidate for ordination at First Parish UCC in Saco, Maine, of her youth group. “Everybody recycles. We're not talking about it only because it's part of their DNA. But the base issues that we're starting with in justice has gone up ... The passion for justice comes from serving with other kids who are just like them.”

“The whole idea is to do immersion experiences in a contextual way,” says Jaramillo of the centers' impact. “Not only do we get to be in that environment, but we're changed and we can never go back.”

The Pilgrim Firs center joins Centro Romero in San Ysidro, Calif., Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, N.C., and the UCC's policy office in Washington, D.C., as the fourth immersion center in the country, each focused on a specific area of concern – Centro Romero on U.S./Mexico border issues, Franklinton on issues of racism and Washington on issues of national and international policy.

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