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Today, as we face major environmental justice challenges, we are called to reaffirm our Seventh Principle as Unitarian Universalists: “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA’s) Green Sanctuary Program, originally developed by the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE), seeks to help address these challenges by providing the framework for congregations to begin specific projects and activities that lead to recognition as a Green Sanctuary through candidacy and then accreditation, and to encourage all Unitarian Universalists to join our efforts, both symbolically and explicitly, in becoming stewards of the Earth.

More than a “green” or environmentally-sound building, a Green Sanctuary is a congregation that commits itself to transforming congregational life and receives recognition for living out its commitment to the Earth by creating sustainable lifestyles for its members as individuals and as a faith community.

One such congregation, Arlington Street Church (ASC) in Boston, MA, was accredited in 2006 after three years of dedication and commitment. Today, ASC is one of 88 accredited Green Sanctuaries, and currently the only in the Massachusetts Bay District of the UUA.

Marilyn Castriotta, former Co-Chair of the Green Sanctuary Committee at Arlington Street Church shares, “I am deeply committed to creating an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on this planet. Participating in Green Sanctuary is a wonderful opportunity to experience the application of this intertwining work of environmentalism, spirituality, and justice! Green Sanctuary serves as a model for cultivating small yet significant lifestyle choices and changes as individuals, as a faith community, and out in the world.”

At ASC, working toward Green Sanctuary accreditation served not only to reduce the congregation’s “carbon footprint,” but to increase its members’ individual accountability. They began by forming the Green Sanctuary committee as a sub-committee of the church’s established social justice committee because, though so often separated in public discourse, environmental issues are social justice issues.

In the area of operations, ASC’s Green Sanctuary Committee instituted the use of real dishes, rather than disposable paper and plastic products during their coffee hour, volunteering to take turns washing them. Soon, they installed a dishwasher to save water, implemented recycling and composting systems, and worked collaboratively with the church sexton to systemize the purchase of environmentally safe and sound cleaning products.

Leaders in the Green Sanctuary work at ASC worked to bring environmental issues into common awareness among the congregation’s members in various ways, including hosting a regular table at coffee hour where they shared information about environmental issues, offered battery recycling, sold fair trade coffee and chocolate for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), along with compact fluorescent energy efficient light-bulbs for members’ use at home. They also hosted pulpit editorials (during Sunday services) to raise awareness of issues like fair trade and invited guest speakers including representatives from the UUSC and Rev. Katherine Jesch (Director of Environmental Ministry for UUMFE).

To promote individual accountability, the Committee worked to get members actively involved, through events like a clean-up day in honor of Earth Day, and a field trip to a local organic farm. One church-year, they instituted a pledge program which asked every member of the congregation to pledge one simple action to support sustainable living—whether it was to recycle, to use energy efficient light-bulbs, or to eat organically. And in honor of Earth Day that year, every person’s commitment was displayed in the parish hall for all to see.

Work on the Green Sanctuary eventually made ASC a resource for other congregations working toward becoming Green, and more importantly put their church on the map in their outside community as they hosted publicly advertised events such as an alternative holiday gift fair (encouraging “low carbon gifting”) and a two-year film series on environmental issues.

All the while, the Committee made sure to include children in all its areas of work—making their field trips youth-friendly and accessible, hosting story hours featuring children’s literature on the environment, and screening one film for all ages: Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.

Marilyn observed that as the congregation moved closer to Green Sanctuary accreditation, its members became more aware, more invigorated, and more involved in practicing stewardship of the Earth at a time when our Earth is severely threatened.

We are deeply grateful for your generous gifts—that enable the UUA to provide your congregations with the framework and resources needed to move forward with this work. Many thanks also to Arlington Street Church and all current Green Sanctuaries and candidates for proving that institutional change is possible when collected individuals are committed to working together and living our UU faith in the world.

In honor of Earth Day 2009 on April 22nd, we invite you to learn more about the Green Sanctuary Program and how to get your congregation started.

You can also contact us to find out more about supporting Green Sanctuary and the UUA’s environmental justice work.

Thank you for your generosity.

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