An Activist in My Home

By Lynne Nittler
Member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, CA

“Would you host Tim DeChristopher for the May California Student Sustainability Coalition?” asked UCD Student Lauren.

I gasped.  The Tim DeChristopher who stopped the illegal auction of public lands in Utah, Bush’s parting gift to the oil companies just before he left office?  The young man who drove up the bids with no money, and when he was caught, simply confessed?  His action stopped the auction and before it could resume, President Obama declared the auction illegal.  For his civil disobedience, Tim was found guilty on felony charges and awaited sentencing.

Tim walked in my house, glanced around, and said, “So you’re a Unitarian?” noting the hymnal on the piano.
“I need the moral foundation. The principles ground me, keep me on course,”  I said.

He nodded agreement.  He is a member of the Salt Lake City UU Church with its huge and active congregation.

Tim has an agreeable, gentle manner.  He taught kids outdoor adventure and loved being in the wilderness. He appreciated the peacefulness of my home, biking to campus, the enthusiasm of the students.

He’d been “in training” for awhile, studying Martin Luther King and Gandhi and soaking in coaching by writer Terry Tempest Williams.  He realized that it took only a few brave souls willing to take risks to ignite the civil rights movement, and soon the whole country took up the challenge.  He believed the same could be true for our present climate crisis.  It might only take a few people to stand up against the fossil fuel industry to tip the scales.

Here’s the thing, though.  I thanked Tim for his action for all of us, hoped he would receive the mildest sentence, and admitted I lacked his courage.  Tim looked right at me.

“I thought it would be a sacrifice, risking going to prison.  But the minute I took action, I was free.  I could never go back to being a victim now, having tasted freedom.”

Tim told the judge at his recent sentencing.  “You have control over my life, but not over my principles.”    I’m not worried about Tim in prison; he knows exactly what he’s doing and now he’s writing and thinking.

Already Tim’s activism is inspiring others to take action.   More than 2,000 committed individuals are arriving in Washington DC in waves for two weeks of peaceful sit-ins August 20 – September 3.  He’s also inspired the interfaith community to take action nda plan a specific Tar Sands Action Interfaith Day.

Join us for the Tar Sands Action Interfaith Day!

Dear friends,

We want to invite you to join us in an effort to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  The UU Ministry for Earth (UUMFE), All Souls Unitarian in Washington, DC and other national and local UU groups are joining with interfaith leaders from Jewish, Catholic, Christian, and Buddhist communities on August 28th and 29th to protest the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline (the proposed pipeline to transport Tar Sands to the US for refinement).

The Keystone XL Pipeline will be built from the Tar Sands in Canada, across the US, down to Texas refineries.  First Nations communities in Canada and Native American tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction of their sacred lands cease.  People impacted by the construction and the “state of the art technology” predicted to leak every seven years don’t want to see it built.  People of color and the poor are at a significantly greater risk of health impacts from dirty fossil fuels, and are amongst the first to suffer from the impacts of climate change.  Concerns about the Tar Sands Pipeline include the risky extraction methods, the dangers of the pipeline itself, and the long-term climate change consequences.

The Tar Sands Action rolling wave of civil disobedience (or “divine obedience”) is shaping up to be the longest civil disobedience on climate change in U.S. history. The Obama Administration has the sole authority in deciding whether or not the pipeline will be built which is why folks across faith communities are participating in a rolling series of demonstrations, including risking arrest, from August 20th – September 3rd.

More than a dozen UU’s from around the country are coming to DC to participate. We invite you and members of your congregation to participate if you feel called in one or more of the following ways:

  • Join the religious contingent (including UUs) and risk arrest at the rally on Monday, August 29thA required nonviolence civil disobedience training and legal briefing for our witness will take place on Sunday, August 28th from 4-9 p.m.
  • Attend the rally at Lafayette Park on Monday, August 29th at 9:45am to show support for those risking arrest.  The legal witness in Lafayette Park will begin mid-morning, probably around 10 a.m. Look for the Green Sanctuary Banner in Lafayette Park to stand in solidarity with other UUs.
  • Sign the Stop the Tar Sands Petition. Those who can’t join the rally can join the movement to stop the Keystone XL pipeline by signing the petition that will be delivered to President Obama during the Tar Sands Action.
  • Join the UUMFE.  Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth 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. As a 501(c)3 organization, contributions are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.
  • Please contact Robin Nelson, Environmental Stewardship Manager for the UUA, if you or people from your congregation will be attending the rally, especially if you are intending to risk arrest (Rnelson at uua dot org, 617.948.4251). Robin will be providing a support role and organizing UUs.  Watch for more timely information on the UUMFE Facebook page.

In faith,

Rev. Craig C. Roshaven, Witness Ministries Director
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Barbara Ford, UUMFE member and past President


UU Church of Palo Alto readies solar panels

In their December 2006 Green Sanctuary Candidacy Application the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA) decided to raise money to pay for the increased cost of purchasing green electric power.
Also during that time they had congregation members writing carbon dioxide reduction pledges on colorful plastic leaves and hanging them on a small madrone tree in their courtyard. Now that the total pounds of CO2 saved is just under 100,000 the leaves are displayed on their bulletin board.
UUCPA is taking their green energy a step further; instead of buying green energy, they are going to make green energy.  UUCPA has installed new solar panels that they are ready to turn-on once the city of Palo Alto gives them the go-ahead.  The solar panels are on the roofs of two walkways, facing SE and SW. They will produce up to 12,000 watts.  We wish them good luck and hope they get the approval soon!UUCPA became an accredited Green Sanctuary on September 9, 2009.

Going to jail for peacefully disrupting an oil and gas lease auction?

That may soon be the fate of Tim DeChristopher. By peacefully participating in civil disobedience, Tim DeChristopher now awaits his sentence.

Peaceful Uprising: Defending a Liveable Future Through Empowering Non-Violent Action is asking folks to Show your Support, Speak your Truth, and Take a Stand!

On July 26th 2011, climate activist Tim DeChristopher will be sentenced at the Salt Lake City federal courthouse. On March 3rd, Tim was found guilty of two felony counts for participating in a peaceful act of civil disobedience. He could face up to ten years in federal prison, along with a $750,000 fine, for outbidding coal, gas, and oil companies as they attempted illegally purchase thousands of acres from the public.

First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City is standing in solidarity with Tim DeChristopher as he awaits his sentence.  Through their outreach work, First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, has engaged other UU congregations (including):
First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, WI
Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, MA
Newark, New Jersey, Unitarian Universalists
UU Peace Fellowship in Raleigh, NC
Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, PA
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northwest Tuscon, AZ
Prairie Circle Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Grayslake,IL
and Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE, Facebook page)
in standing in solidarity with Tim DeChristopher.

Today, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) has shared information about this debacle through the use of UUA social media.

How is it that participating in the American tradition of peaceful civil disobedience, a historical tool for social change,  a crime?

Peaceful Uprising asks folks to stand in solidarity with Tim DeChristopher and send the message loud and clear that:
We will not be intimidatedWe will not sit idly by as our government uses Tim DeChristopher as an example to deter other activists. We will not compromise when it comes to defending our right to a healthy and just world.”



Important up-coming dates for environmental activists

It’s time to put on your organizing hat and mark your calendars!

The Fall offers multiple events for those concerned about the environment to rise their voices and be heard on a larger scale by joining with others nationally and internationally to draw attention to issues that are important to us!

Green Sanctuary congregations, Unitarian Universalist congregations, and other faith communities are called to witness as well as take action to slow down, if not reverse, the trend of climate change.  We know that there are things that we can do as individuals, as congregations, and as a faith community. Take the opportunity on these dates to organize and raise our collective voice to show the world that we care about the environment, the Earth, ourselves,  as well as each other.

Each event has lots of ideas and tools for organizing – use them!  And share with us what you plan to do to make a difference.

September 14th – 15th
The Climate Reality Project
24 Presenters. 24 Time Zones. 13 Languages. 1 Message. 24 Hours of Reality is a worldwide event to broadcast the reality of the climate crisis. It will consist of a new multimedia presentation created by Al Gore and delivered once per hour for 24 hours, in every time zone around the globe. Each hour people living with the reality of climate change will connect the dots between recent extreme weather events — including floods, droughts and storms — and the manmade pollution that is changing our climate. We will offer a round-the-clock, round-the-globe snapshot of the climate crisis in real time. The deniers may have millions of dollars to spend, but we have a powerful advantage. We have reality.  The Climate Reality Project is founded by Al Gore.

September 24th
Moving Planet: A day to move beyond fossil fuels.
Moving Planet will be a day to put our demands for climate action into motion – marching, biking, skating – calling for the world to go beyond fossil fuels.  This event is sponsored by  If you participated in Day in 2010 you’ll want to make sure that you do something on this day (the past two years it has been in October…note: this year 2011 it is in September).

October 1st-15th
EcoChallenge: Change begins with you.
The EcoChallenge is an opportunity to change your life for good. For two weeks every October, we challenge you to change one habit for Earth. You choose your challenge, we connect you with other EcoChallengers, and collectively we prove that small actions create real change.  This is sponsored by our friends at the Northwest Earth Institute who have provided discussion courses that are popular amoung UU congregations including but not limited to: Choices for Sustainable Living, Menu for the Future, and Voluntary Simplicity.

October 16th
World Food Day, a worldwide event designed to increase awareness, understanding and informed, year-round action to alleviate hunger.

October 24th
Food Day, a national event committed to:

  1. Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods.
  2. Support sustainable farms and limit subsidies to be agribusiness
  3. Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
  4. Protect the environment and animals by reforming factory farms
  5. Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids.

 November 3rd-4th
Interfaith Action to Protect Creation.
This interfaith day seeks to “awaken our nation’s leaders to the urgent need for immediate and effective action to address climate change.  As a people of faith our common teachings proclaim us to be caretakers of the land which we have been charged to respect and care for, this blessing of earth, and we are also compelled by our faith to be a voice with members of our human family who are most vulnerable, who suffer the most from impacts of climate change.”

First Universalist Church of Denver – A Green Sanctuary!

Making great use of this endeavor as an opportunity for community building both between church members and between the church and other community organizations, First Universalist Church of Denver got busy! They utilized the project to unite the efforts of various ministries in the church.  To quote from their application, “The Green Sanctuary Program has been a catalyst for uniting and involving more of our members in a common goal….the Earth, our Home is an issue that…can bond our members together.”  A perfect example of their inter-committee collaboration is their What A Wednesday (WAW) dinner featuring seasonally available local and organic vegetables sponsored by their Green First and Hospitality Committees.

Tree planting excursion

Not only did they unite their membership around a common goal, they collaborated with other local groups as well.  First Universalist Church of Denver became a CSA pick-up site for Grant Family Farms, a family-owned organic farm 70 miles from the church.  Grant Family Farms participated in church-sponsored eco-fairs where another organization, Agriburbia, demonstrated how to transform grass lawns into edible gardens.  Partnering with Trout Unlimited for river restoration and Groundwork Denver for energy efficiency, they provided information at their weekly coffee hour. Over 100 members flocked to their annual Rex Morgan Social Justice Awards to hear keynote speaker Peter Sawtell, Director of Eco-Justice Ministries deliver his motivating eco-theology speech.

They took the Green Sanctuaries Program to the streets, too.  Several members, trained through Groundwork Denver to perform energy audits, volunteered their services in low income neighborhood and participated in a door-to-door environmental canvass, swapping out incandescent bulbs for CFL’s and sign people up for recycling, free trees, and free weatherizing services.  Collaborations were also established with Feed Denver, an organization committed to empowering people to feed and sustain themselves via urban agriculture, a partnership that holds promise for further development.

First Universalist Church of Denver took the ball and ran for a touchdown, giving their membership a sense of common purpose and a boost of energy.  The process of achieving certification is ideally a process of building community; it is inspiring to see the potential realized so beautifully by our fellow UU’s.

The Window Dressers – Rockland, ME

Diane Schetky, Chair Green Sanctuary Committee, First Universalist in Rockland, ME, wrote to the Green Sanctuary Program to share “A Happy Story.”

“Last fall our church underwent needed energy saving improvements in response to an earlier audit. We caulked leaky windows, installed window inserts (made by members of the church),  two fans in the sanctuary and an energy saving blind for large window at the rear of the sanctuary. We repositioned thermostats and upgraded to an energy efficient industrial strength dishwasher.

Dick Cadwgan & Frank Mundo, The Window Dressers

The sanctuary became a comfortable 10 degrees warmer during our hard winter as a result of the window treatment and fans. This along with our generous and hardworking window insert makers (AKA the Window Dressers) inspired members of the church to order window inserts for their homes. A total of 210 custom window inserts were made and sold for the cost of materials, alone.

We were astonished to learn that as a result of the energy improvements in the church, that our fuel consumption was down 25 % over last year for the first quarter of this year and we had saved almost $665. The fuel company wanted to know how we’d done it and commented that almost all of their customers’ fuel consumption had gone up over this winter.

The Window Dressers have taken their project to a new level. We are reaching out to churches in the community trying help them replicate out window insert project with a goal of making 1,000 inserts next fall in time for winter. Some of the inserts will be made available to low income families in the community. The inserts are fairly easy to construct with the proper equipment. They consist of wooden frames cut to order covered on both sides with a clear polyolephin shrink film. The barrier stops drafts related to poor-fiting sashes and jambs. Dead air between the film layers acts as an insulator. A compressible foam edge gasket allow for a snug fit into a window frame from the inside and pull tabls allow for easy removal.”

First Universalist in Rockland, ME was accredited as a Green Sanctuary on November 4, 2009.  Check out the full list of accredited Green Sanctuaries at the UUA website.

We’ve Got the Whole Earth (song adaptation)

Ken Hutton, the Green Sanctuary Chair at Unitarian-Universalist Church of Canandaigua (UUCC), recently share that for their Earthday Celebration they sang songs such as “Happy Earthday…dear Gaia”  and “How Old are you now?” along with the following adaptation of the popular song “We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands.”

“We’ve Got the Whole Earth”

We’ve got the whole Earth in our hands  (4x)

We’ve got the flora and the fauna in our hands (3x)
We’ve got the whole Earth in our hands.

We’ve got the sacred blue water in our hands (3x)
We’ve got the whole Earth in our hands.

We’ve got the birds and the bees in our hands (3x)
We’ve got the whole Earth in our hands.

We are a Green Sanctuary, it’s in our hands  (3x)
We’ve got the whole Earth in our hands.

After their celebration, they ate Earthday cake with a picture of our Earth on it.   Congregants filled out Earthday gift cards for what they would give to the Earth for next year and most importantly they had fun!

UUCC was accredited as a Green Sanctuary on March 3, 2010.  Check out the full list of accredited Green Sanctuaries at the UUA website.

Sample Resolution to start Green Sanctuary

The Unitarian-Universalist Church of Akron in Akron, OH started out their Green Sanctuary Program on a positive note by working with their Board of Trustees to pass the following resolution (adopted on Febrauary 21, 2007):

“RESOLVED that the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Akron endorse the plan of the Green Team Committee to prepare for candidacy in the Green Sanctuary Program sponsored by the [Unitarian Universalist Association].

We understand that the Green Team will conduct an environmental audit of the church, will design a program and action plan including twelve activities to be completed by the congregation as a whole, will work closely with other committees in the church, and will bring Green Sanctuary candidacy to a vote to the congregation before applying for formal candidacy from the [Unitarian Universalist Association].

We understand that this effort will involve the entire congregation and its leadership; we understand that final accreditation will take as much as two years to complete.

We go on record as endorsing its ultimate success for our church.”

Once they introduced the idea to the congregation they created a Green Team Bulletin board that depicted the “Road to Green Green Sanctuary.”

Since then, they have updated the board featuring global warming and will continue to “make use of this important space as we implement our action plan and work towards accreditation.”

It is SO Easy Being Green!

Reviewing the certification applications from Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country is truly an uplifting and inspirational way to spend time! As a busy graduate student, DRE and intern with the Green Sanctuaries program—with tons of reading to do, believe me when I say these applications are worth reading!

Here are some of the highlights off the top of my head:

First Unitarian Church of Cleveland in Shaker Heights, Ohio has installed a 72-plot community garden.  They farm 10 plots for donation to the local food bank.  Of the remaining 62 plots, about half are farmed by non-churched members so they’re doing great outreach to the community at the same time that they’re working for a greener planet.

Comal County Unitarian Universalist Society in New Braunfels, Texas has found new life through participating in the Green Sanctuaries program.  The majority of their small, 73-member congregation is rallied around environmental issues and they are working to integrate sustainable living themes into every other element of their church life together.  Not only that, but they are receiving a tremendous amount of positive press in the local newspaper as the result of their programs.

I’m excited about the things I’m seeing, and want to encourage other churches to join in so that you can receive the benefits of participating in this cutting edge program.

What are some potential benefits of pursuing Green Sanctuary certification?

  • This project can potentially involve the following church committees: The worship committee, the religious education committee, the social justice and/or social action committee, the buildings and grounds committee, the membership committee, the hospitality committee
  • There is a sense of common purpose that results when many different committees are working on a common theme.
  • Members on more than one committee can create ways that their contributions serve each committee simultaneously, since the theme of each committee will be resonant around the issue of Green Sanctuaries.
  • Members involved in community-wide sustainability issues will have the opportunity to benefit the church while doing activities they are already excited about.
  • plenty of opportunity for good press coverage in the local newspaper which may boost the number of enthusiastic new members.

What other potential benefits can you think of?  How can participating in the Green Sanctuaries program help your congregation promote all seven of our principles simultaneously?