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.)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
Written by Rev. Brooks Berndt
On the heels of a June and July that saw riots in major cities throughout the United States with death tolls reaching 23 in Newark and 43 in Detroit, King delivered his last presidential address to the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta on August 16, 1967. Newspaper headlines on that day reflected the controversy and criticism generated in response to King’s remarks the previous day when he denounced the racism of Congress, affirmed black outrage over urban conditions, and called for “mass civil disobedience.” In his address entitled “Where Do We Go from Here?” King displayed his remarkable ability to articulate the systemic character of oppression in a way that raises the consciousness of his hearers.
In the speech, King makes a case for the fundamental restructuring of society. In doing so, he lays out a series of provocative questions that ultimately compel a critical view of the entire “capitalistic economy.” Ahead of his time, King posits questions that would now be considered central to an environmental justice perspective. He asks, “Who owns the oil?” and “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?” With prophetic clarity, King saw how different evils become intertwined and interrelated. As much as ever, these insights are still needed today.
Excerpt from “Where Do We Go from Here?”
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here?" that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. (Yes) There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. (Yes) And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. (Yes) But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. (All right) It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?" (Yes) You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" (Yes) You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that's two-thirds water?" (All right) These are words that must be said. (All right)…. Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. (All right) These are the triple evils that are interrelated.
Rev. Brooks Brendt is the UCC Minister for Environmental Justice.
Written by Rev. Brooks Berndt
In his encyclical on the environment, the pope says that he wants to be in “dialogue with all people.” I have been imagining what it would be like to take him up on this offer—literally, perhaps over coffee. Compliments are always a great place to begin, so I figure I would start by giving him a couple of high fives before getting to a few burning topics.
The first high five would be for his environmental theology. The pope pointedly refutes theologies that interpret the opening of Genesis as a mandate for humans to rule tyrannically over all of creation. As an alternative, he instead proposes that God’s gift of creation necessitates an ethic of mutuality and solidarity, of love and care. For too long Christians have suffered from “anthropocentrism”—a fancy way of saying we need to get over ourselves and start caring for the world around us. When love directs us outward, the pope notes that it is not only concerned with immediate relationships but also with the larger world with all its economic, political, and social dimensions. Love propels us to care about giant-size wrongs and injustices. In a world dominated by individualistic piety, how refreshing to hear a prominent religious leader with such a broad perspective!
A second high five would be for the pope’s critical understanding of our economy and how the desire for more and more profit leads to the perpetual exploitation of both the poor and the environment. He excels at highlighting interconnections on this front. He reminds us that it is the poor who often suffer the most when air quality declines or weather disasters strike. His analysis further points to the ongoing legacy of colonial imperialism. He describes how the wealthy industrialists of the global north have pillaged the global south for raw materials while leaving toxic pollution in their wake. For using his holy megaphone to draw critical attention to the environmental injustices of the world, the pope certainly deserves a high five of resounding gratitude!
Before our coffee chat ends, however, there are a few other matters I would want to discuss. First, I would suggest that during his visit to the United States he give some attention to the intersections of race and the environment. Studies show that black people are more likely to breathe in higher levels of air pollution than whites. They are also more likely to live within 30 miles of a coal plant, the high exposure zone for the pollutants that cause afflictions ranging from birth defects to heart disease.
Second, I would want to explore with the pope how people of different faiths might come together to promote the kind of policies for which he calls—policies that shift our planet away from fossil fuel use to renewable energy. On Ash Wednesday, could Christians of diverse faiths join together for worship outside coal plants and corporate headquarters as we call for a national moment of confession and repentance? During the season of Lent that follows, could we then call upon our elected officials to put our nation’s economy on a permanent carbon fast as soon as possible?
While my conversation with the pope may be imaginary, it does lift my spirits and inspire bigger dreams. Maybe this Sunday preachers everywhere should ask their flocks, “If you had coffee with the pope, what would you say? What are your hopes for how people of faith can put love into action?”
The Rev. Brooks Berndt is Minister of Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ.
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."
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.