The Story of UUCF’s Certification as a Green Sanctuary

After a congregation has achieved Green Sanctuary Accreditation I always encourage them to “begin to assemble a “scrapbook” which shares information about your Green Sanctuary movement – congregations create these in many different way; some use their applications, some include orders of service, newsletter columns, fliers about special events, and pictures, some write storybooks about the journey, and some come up with new ideas that we’ve never seen before.”

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick took this task to heart.  Sandi Smith-Gill sent me an email encouraging me to take a look at the “just finished Green Sanctuary pictoral history – which started as a project to send for the reception at the GA, but ended up taking 3 months to finish.”  I opened their scrapbook and was impressed by the amount of time and effort that was put into pulling it together.  I was equally impressed with how well they did at sharing lots of information and showing that lots of people from the congregation had been involved in the project.

I don’t expect all scrapbooks to look like this, each is individual and unique.  And I encourage you to look at what they’ve done for inspiration for projects as well as what a scrapbook might look like.  I have a feeling that the UU Congregation of Frederick will have a printed version of this book in their congregation for many, many years.

UUs participate in Tar Sands Public Hearing in Lincoln, NE

At least six UUs were at the Lincoln, NE Tar Sands Public Hearing on Tuesday, September 27th.

Vicki Pratt reported that “There were many, many more statements against the pipeline than those testifying in favor. Those in favor were corporate lawyers with prepared statements, Tea Party/Anti Tax people, and a union rep  in a suit. The unions (Laborer’s International Union of North America) bussed in people from Illinois, Iowa, and Oklahoma.  Local ranchers and the other locals against spoke from the heart.  The State Department reps had to be impressed by the passion of the  love of  the land and fear of contaminated drinking water.”

The pro-Keystone XL Pipeline were in Orange and the anti-Keystone XL Pipeline were in Nebraska red.  “Red vastly outnumbered orange.”

Ken and Helen Deffenbacher both testified urging the State Department to veto the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Ken wrote “mine is more lawyer-like, while Helen’s is more “spiritual.”  Prior to her testimony, various speakers had been cheered or booed by one side or the other–things had gotten border-line disrespectful.  When she spoke in a measured, soft cadence, it seemed a little like a sermon.  You could hear a pin drop, and people seemed to be hanging on every phrase.  She is not  comfortable with public speaking, but decided to go ahead and speak in  a somewhat raucous situation–she said later that she was doing for our grandkids.”

Read more for Ken and Helen’s statements (more…)

Unitarian Universalist Society: East Meetinghouse Earns EPA’s ENERGY STAR® Certification for Superior Energy Efficiency

Press Release, Pam Fine, UUS:E Communications Committee

(Sept 29, 2011, Manchester, CT)

The Unitarian Universalist Society: East (UUS:E) Meetinghouse of Manchester, Connecticut has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR certification, which signifies that the building performs in the top 25 percent of similar facilities nationwide for energy efficiency and meets strict energy efficiency performance levels set by the EPA.  UUS:E is the first house of worship to receive ENERGY STAR certification in the state of Connecticut.

Earning the ENERGY STAR is part of a long process and commitment that UUS:E has made to environmental stewardship. In 2006 UUS:E was accredited as the first Green Sanctuary Congregation in Connecticut through a program now administered by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). When it came time to expand, UUS:E was determined to do so in as green a way as possible. UUS:E earned two grants for energy efficiency and geothermal heating and cooling by following top standards in the renovation and building project. The building was dedicated on September 19, 2010. UUS:E is now in candidacy for Green Sanctuary Re-accreditation through the UUA by following an Action Plan to further its Earth ministry.

“UUS:E is pleased to accept EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification in recognition of our energy efficiency efforts,” said UUS:E president Jo Anne Gillespie. “Through this achievement, we have not only significantly lowered our energy costs, but also demonstrated our commitment to environmental stewardship, in keeping with the Unitarian Universalist principle of respecting the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part.”

Buildings that earn EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification use an average of 35 percent less energy than typical buildings and also release 35 percent less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  UUS:E improved its energy performance by carefully managing its energy use and by making major energy efficiency improvements to the Meetinghouse during a major renovation in 2010.

“Improving the energy efficiency of our nation’s buildings is critical to protecting our environment,” said Jean Lupinacci, Chief of the ENERGY STAR Commercial & Industrial Branch. “From the boiler room to the board room, organizations are leading the way by making their buildings more efficient and earning EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification.”

To earn the ENERGY STAR, UUS:E took the following actions during its recent renovation:

  • Designed the building to incorporate multi-use space whereby rooms, including the sanctuary, were designed for multiple uses to minimize the increase in size of the building.
  • Installed a geothermal heating, cooling, and hot water system, reducing energy use by 30-40% versus the best conventional systems
  • Included extensive insulation in new building walls and utilized high efficiency windows.
  • Installed energy efficient lighting and light controls in all rooms
  • Use of ENERGY STAR appliances
  • Installation of paddle fans in the sanctuary
  • Training for key employees in the use and management of the new geothermal heating/cooling system

EPA’s ENERGY STAR energy performance scale helps organizations assess how efficiently their buildings use energy relative to similar buildings nationwide. A building that scores a 75 or higher on EPA’s 1-100 scale may be eligible for ENERGY STAR certification.

ENERGY STAR was introduced by EPA in 1992 as a voluntary, market-based partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. Today, the ENERGY STAR label can be found on more than 60 different kinds of products as well as new homes and commercial and industrial buildings that meet strict energy-efficiency specifications set by the EPA. Last year alone, Americans, with the help of ENERGY STAR, saved $18 billion on their energy bills while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of 34 million vehicles.

For more information about UUS:E, see; for further information concerning ENERGY STAR, contact Jim Adams (; for further information concerning Green Sanctuary, contact Janet Heller (

Fracking in the Delaware River Basin – NO!

The folks from Food and Water Watch recently contacted the UUA to let us know about an important anti-fracking action in Trenton, New Jersey.

What is fracking?

“Fracking (aka, hydraulic fracturing or industrial gas drilling) is a dangerous way of getting oil and gas and a shortsighted energy strategy. It’s poisoning our air and water and on its way to jeopardizing the health of millions more Americans.  We can find a better way—one that protects our health and gives us clean, safe energy sources that never run out.” — Earth Justice

“Relatively new drilling technology, high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, now makes it possible to reach natural gas reserves that underlie much of the state of Ohio.
Commonly referred to as “horizontal hydrofracking” or just “fracking,” deep-shale natural gas drilling uses high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals to release the trapped gas.
The environmental and health impacts from high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing in other states are shocking and well documented, with a significant number of spills, blowouts, leaking wells, and other accidents and releases of contaminants.” — Ohio Environmental Council

If you want the positive spin on fracking you can visit Energy Tomorrow. NOTE that this is information from American Petroleum Institute who will reap all of the benefits of natural gas extraction while placing all the risk on the American public and the interconnected web of life.

Fracking, much like the Tar Sands, that have most recently been featured on this blog, will only continue our country’s reliance and dependency on oil and gas detracting attention from developing renewable energy resources.  Fracking is an environmental justice issue mostly because it puts the risk on people especially people who have historically been oppressed and marginalized.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is meeting on Monday, November 21, 2011 (note: this is a change from the original date) to vote on whether or not to allow fracking in the Delaware River Basin, which spans parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

In response to this Food and Water Watch and their supporters and networks will are planning a massive demonstration rally prior to the vote “to show commissioners that people are opposed to fracking.”

You are invited to join the demonstration rally – take your signs, your congregational banners, Standing on the Side of Love swag, etc to show that as a person of faith, you oppose fracking.  Food and Water Watch is arranging for buses and vans to bring people to Trenton, NJ.

If you can’t make the rally on Monday, November 21st sign the online petition to stop fracking in the Delaware River Basin.

An excellent resource about fracking is the film Gasland by Josh Fox.

Ralph’s Arrested Development

Ralph Sklarew. Credit: Josh Lopez, tarsandsaction.

Guest author Ralph Sklarew
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax

We were told not to bring anything except our government issued photo ID, $110 (one hundred dollar bill and one ten dollar bill), water in a throw-away bottle and snacks as needed. No jewelry, not even a wedding ring! No body piercing studs. No hair pins. None of the normal wallets, belts, shoe laces. No coins. No cameras, no photos! No cell phones! No email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, texting, sharing photos…life on hold! Retreat to the 20th century.

We were told to pee on arrival and wear an adult diaper. We wouldn’t be able to go again for 61/2 hours because we were volunteering to be arrested.

Arrested! Most of us were virgins. We’ve always stayed on the right side of the law. I was a Boy Scout in body and spirit and never lost it as I grew older through 50+ years. But now I was going to purposefully break a law and forevermore I will have an arrest record. And I didn’t even think the law I’d be breaking was very unjust. It was just a means to a statement.

How did this happen? I’ve been a closet, pragmatic environmentalist all my life. I’ve worked in the environmental field a few times in my career but those were “clean jobs.” I was just a scientist and I did computer simulations of air pollution and smog, of ocean oil spills, of wind power, of chemical spills and of nuclear fallout for governmental agencies and private companies.

Oh, I know about demonstrations. How could I not; I grew up in the ‘60s. Freedom rides evolved into Vietnam war protests. But I was on the sidelines. Talking was my only demonstrating. First it was in school right through to a PhD. Then marriage and family. Along the way I needed a security clearance–no problem for this grown-up Boy Scout.

Now retirement, grown “kids”…and grandchildren! How did they arrive almost instantly? No matter, they melt my heart instantly. Somehow they’re our children distilled, purified to the best moments.

With time I read. With the Internet I research and learn. I learned about global warming–a threat to my children and grandchildren, everyone’s children! I learned about making oil from tar sands–starting with strip mining and requiring much more energy (and thus CO2) to produce oil than other oil sources. It’s a greater threat to our grandchildren!

That’s how a senior is radicalized. That’s why I was arrested. That’s why I now have an arrest record.

The Story

One Woman’s Birthday Gift to The Planet

Sue Kirby arrested for civil disobedience in protesting the Key Stone XL Pipeline. Credit Shadia Fayne Wood, tarsandsaction.

Guest author Sue Kirby
The First Church in Salem, Unitarian (MA)

On August 31, 2010 I turned sixty. I spent the morning of my birthday at Mt Auburn Hospital receiving a radiation treatment as part of a grueling 7-month treatment for breast cancer. I decided that this year I would mark my birthday in a way that expressed the life I now struggle to reassemble with my new expectations and a new sense of responsibility that has arisen from that experience.

I decided to celebrate my 61st birthday in Washington DC getting arrested to protest the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline. I have never been arrested before. It was a bold statement about the direction my life is heading in what now appears to be the last phase of my life.

I didn’t know that turning 60 would portend such a profound shift in my psychological, physical, and emotional outlook. Perhaps it’s because my cancer is such a reminder of the finiteness of life, or the fact that I was laid off and facing a “forced” semi-retirement, or perhaps it’s my sense of the increasingly apocalyptic dysfunction of the US and world governments, globalization, climate change, etc. that has forced me to reexamine my place and role in the scheme of things.

August 31st Tar Sands sit-in. Credit Shadia Fayne Wood, tarsandsaction.

Why Tar Sands?

The State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.

Tar sands oil extraction has wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease.

The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year.

These local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.

Keystone XL is an export pipeline. Gulf Coast refiners plan to refine the cheap Canadian crude supplied by the pipeline into diesel and other products for export to Europe and Latin America. Proceeds from these exports are earned tax-free. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers’ tanks.

I will cherish the memories I have of standing with the 130 fellow human beings who “risked arrest” to draw the world’s attention to such an important cause. In the end over 1,250 people were arrested in the 2-week action. Perhaps in 50 years a little one will say “My great grandmother was arrested at THE Keystone Pipeline protest in 2011”.  However many birthdays I have left I intend to celebrate them working to make a more environmentally sustainable and socially just world. Thanks to my friends and family for all the “atta girls”.

¯ Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to the planet, Happy Birthday to You! ¯

From the moment I signed-up to the Tar Sands Action my life has not been the same

Carlo Voli being arrest for civil disobedience. Credit: tarsandsaction

Guest author Carlo Voli
Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church

It was Saturday August 20th in the evening and I opened an email from YES magazine noticed the article by Bill Mckibben – “This is getting exciting”, about the Tar Sands pipeline issue and the civil-disobedience campaign that was about to begin. I immediately went to the Tar Sands Action website, watched a couple of videos, and read the news that Bill and a group of other protesters had just gotten arrested and jailed that very same day. At that moment, something inside of me completely took over and I immediately decided to sign up for the sit-ins. Even though I was not in a financial situation to be able to afford the trip and I had no vacation days left at work, it did not matter. This inner force within me was over-riding all logic and insisting that I go. This was the moment I had been waiting for since I graduated in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics, back in the early nineties, ready to save the world.

From the moment I signed-up to the Tar Sands Action my life has not been the same. I felt really excited; on a mission; empowered; committed; finally making a bold action in a larger arena. I informed all my networks, including the members of the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church I have been attending for the last 7 years, know that I was going to take part in this civil-disobedience action in DC and the reasons behind it. I was overwhelmed by the responses and shows of support I received, including several spontaneous offers from fellow EUUC members to help me financially. (more…)

What would lead an ordinary person like me to the White House fence?

Guest post by Terry Wiggins
First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

What would lead an ordinary person like me to the White House fence?

My immediate inspirations were three: Tim DeChristopher, my daughter Erica, and Bill McKibben.

Terry Wiggins (blue shirt) sits in front of the White House at the Tar Sands Action between the UUMFE and UUA banners.

I found Tim’s actions to be truly inspirational. His civil disobedience in 2008, for which he was sentenced to two years in prison this year, and his words upon being sentenced – “I do not want mercy; I want you to join me” were powerful.

Erica’s plea, “Mom, why didn’t you do this earlier,” referring to my environmental activism, came back to me.

Bill McKibben clinched the deal that I would go when he publicized the action he had organized, and said that “those of us without kids or careers to worry about” should be the ones on the front lines.

Other inspirations were probably in the back of my mind, including my husband Bruce, my granddaughters, and fellow religionists. When I met Bruce, he had participated in anti-war work and demonstrations; I had never done any such thing. His actions were a model.

We now have two adorable granddaughters (thanks, Erica!) to whom we want to leave a livable world.

A couple of decades ago, we became Unitarian Universalists, and met people who truly had the courage of their convictions, and moved (not just stood up) for what they believed in.  Also, I learned to be a conservationist (the original conservatives?) from my parents.

What is the Tar Sands issue, and why is it important?

There are sands under boreal forests, especially in Alberta, Canada. Those who want to exploit them call them “oil sands” and those of us who want to protect them call them “tar sands.”  There’s no oil, only gunk called bitumen, mixed with sand.

Oil companies would pipe the gunk in the Keystone XL Pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands, south to Texas refineries, and then sell the result to the highest bidder. First Nations communities in Canada and Native American tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have already experienced some desecration of their lands, and have demanded the destruction ceases.

Keystone would cross the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska, a major water source, including for much of American agriculture, and it’s predicted to have relatively frequent leaks. Another concern about the Tar Sands Pipeline is the long-term climate change consequences: climatologist James Hansen has said that “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over” to stabilize climate and “disastrous global climate impacts.”

For all these reasons, and more, building the pipeline wouldn’t help get the US off foreign oil (much less get off oil altogether), it would be an environmental injustice to First Nations/Native Americans and to future generations. In general, it would be a disaster for our society. “Silence is deadly,” as Hansen recently titled a paper.

What Now?

The decision to issue a permit for the Keystone XL is in President Obama’s court, and will probably be decided by the end of November.  He alone must make the decision, although he will be advised by the State Department. Fortunately, congress doesn’t have anything to say about it.

States will be holding hearings around the country later this month, in Port  Arthur, TX; Topeka, KS;  Glendive, MT; Lincoln, NE; Austin Texas; Pierre, SD; Atkinson, NE; and Midwest City, OK.  I hope to attend at least one of the hearings. Will you join me?

Unitarian Church of Harrisburg at Tar Sands Action

Rachel Mark with the Police Officer Herron after she was arrested and placed in handcuffs in front of the White House. Credit Ben Powless, tarsandsaction.

Guest post by  Rachel Mark
Unitarian Church of Harrisburg

Thoughts about Tar Sands Action

I am an environmentalist–the chair of Green Sanctuary, chair of Harrisburg Interfaith Coalition for the Environment, a board member of PA-Interfaith Power and Light, and a member of Gas Truth of Central PA.   Several years ago, Naomi Klein’s TED talk first brought to my attention the Canada Tar Sands.  I was appalled and subsequently watched a number of tar sands videos, some of which I showed at a meeting of Green Sanctuary.

In June 2011 at UUA General Assembly,  I heard that a Tar Sands rally would be held in Washington DC in late August.  At that time, I decided I would participate.   When it later became apparent to me that it was civil disobedience, with a possible arrest, I was already committed, no matter what happened.  Two of my fellow UU’s and environmentalist friends,  Susan Norris and Barbara VanHorn, decided to go, and we signed up.  It was an easy decision for the three of us.

On our night at St. Stephen’s and the following day of protest, we met and spent time with a member of Salt Lake Unitarian Church who knows Tim DeChristopher.  I had been following Tim’s story for quite some time, and UCH had held a solidarity vigil in July at the Federal Building in Harrisburg.  I was ecstatic to meet a fellow Unitarian who knew him!   I also felt energized and delighted to meet other environmentalists from around the country, it made me feel hopeful and happy.  We appreciated hearing Bill McKibben and all the volunteers whose upbeat enthusiasm was infectious.   On the day of the protest, the three of us from Harrisburg had a deep sense of sharing in a larger movement with others who feel as strongly as we do that business-as-usual and the expansion of the Keystone pipeline is the absolute wrong direction this country should be taking.

I am happy that Green Sanctuary and UUMFE is supporting strong action, and hope the UUA will make climate change issues and environmental devastation, such as the tar sands, a strong priority in the years ahead.

How you can support the Tar Sands Action Interfaith Day!

Last week, Rev. Craig C. Roshaven, UUA Witness Ministries Director, and Barbara Ford, UUMFE member and past-President, asked UUs to join them in non-violent civil disobedience on the Tar Sands Action Interfaith Day .

Since then, a number of UUs have contacted Robin Nelson, UUA Environmental Stewardship Manager, to indicate that they will join Craig and Barbara in risking arrest. We are so excited to see the momentum for this movement building and encourage others to join and support us in whatever ways they can.

The Tar Sands Action started on August 20th and will continue until September 3rd.  On Saturday, August 20th 75 people were arrested and 50 of those were held over the weekend awaiting arraignment on Monday.  Bill McKibben, author, educator, environmentalist, and one of the driving forces behind the Tar Sands Action, passed along a statement from the central cell block where he was held since Saturday through Monday saying “Hello everyone! We don’t need sympathy, we need company. It’s clear to us that police were hoping to deter this action, and it’s equally clear to us the opposite will be the result.”

Terry Tempest Williams said this about Tar Sands: “The act of civil disobedience is the act of taking our anger and turning it into sacred rage. It is a personal and collective gesture of resistance and insistence….We can travel to Washington, D.C. mentally, create an image of support to those who can be there on the front lines physically…. We can participate in building this climate change movement, each in our own way, each in our own time with the gifts that are ours. We can become the fire of hopeful action that burns through corruption and complacency. We can be the river of concern that cools our sweltering planet. And we will be the voice of resistance that says yes to a more compassionate way of being in the world and face those who say no with the force of our steady gaze.”

Ways in which you can support Tar Sands Action Interfaith Day and the UUs who are participating:

  • Attend All Souls DC service at 10:15am on Sunday, August 28th where Tar Sands Action participants will be recognized.
  • Join Tar Sands Action folks for lunch after the service to show your support.
  • Attend the rally at Lafayette Park on Monday, August 29th around 9:45am to show support for those risking arrest.
  • Risk arrest by participating in non-violent civil disobedience on Monday, August 29th – a required interfaith gathering and training and legal briefing for our witness will take place on Sunday, August 28th from 4-9 p.m.
  • Sign the Stop the Tar Sands Petition. The petition will be delivered to President Obama during the Tar Sands Action.
  • Sign the Religious Tar Sands Petition.
  • Write an oped to  your local news editor. (Check out the editorial in Monday’s New York Times.)
  • Talk with your friends, neighbors, colleagues, congregation members, etc. about the Key Stone XL Pipeline and how it is a danger to our environment and get them to take action.
  • Make use of the End Big Oil subsides tool kit.
  • Make a donation to the UUMFE or become a member.  The Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) is a non-profit organization whose supporters envision a world in which reverence, gratitude, and care for the living Earth is central to the lives of all people.

 For Earth,

UU Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) Board
UUA Environmental Stewardship
UUA Witness Ministries

Nancy King Smith, Co-Chair UUMFE
Irene Keim, Co-Chair UUMFE
Barbara Ford, UUMFE member and past President
Terry Wiggins, Former UUMFE Treasurer
Pamela Sparr, Environmental Justice Consultant to UUMFE
Robin Nelson, UUA Environmental Stewardship Manager
Rev. Craig C. Roshaven, UUA Witness Ministries Director
Kat Liu, UUA Witness Ministries Program Associate
Rev. Terry Ellen, Executive Director of UUs for Social Justice
Jo Ann Bachar, First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee
Linda S. Cooper, First UU Society in Burlington, VT
Lynn Dash
Wes Ernsberger, UU Congregation of Binghamton, NY
Celeste McCollough Howard, Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Washington County, Hillsboro OR
Vincent Pawlowski, UU Congregation of North West Tucson, AZ