Stage 1 Reflection: On Team Building and Congregational Education

Part of Green Sanctuary

Joanna Macy, the eco-philosopher and author, reminds us, “The truth is that all aspects of the current crisis reflect the same mistake, setting ourselves apart and using others—other people, other species, and other resources—for our own gain. To heal any aspect of our separateness helps the others to heal as well. Just find what you love to work on and take joy in that.”

Building Motivation for Change

  • Recognize that this is hard: The Green Sanctuary program invites us to reexamine some of the basic premises and actions of our lives. If you’ve ever tried to change a longtime habit, you know how challenging that can be. Now imagine asking your entire congregation to change many habits, collectively and individually. That’s a tall order, but not an impossible one—as accredited congregations can tell you. An openness and desire to change is central to engagement in the Green Sanctuary program. The entire community needs to develop an understanding of the need for change and be willing to do whatever is required.
  • Clarify the connection to our Seventh Principle: For many of us, the motivation to change comes when we recognize that our old ways are morally or ethically unacceptable. Throughout the Green Sanctuary program, encourage discussion of how issues and projects relate to personal moral values and the seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism.
  • Connect with existing UU efforts:
  • Tap local expertise and passion: As you plan and carry out your Green Sanctuary program, look for opportunities to engage people on a personal level. If there are environmental activists in your congregation, find out what causes they are passionate about and why. Ask them to share a presentation or newsletter article, including concrete examples of how human and nonhuman species are affected.
  • Make it personal: We are unlikely to change our habits unless we feel a strong, personal motivation to do so. Although facts and figures about environmental issues have their place, they are not always successful in stirring us to action. It’s when we see environmental damage for ourselves, or hear the stories of affected communities that we more deeply understand the concerns. Incorporate direct experience whenever possible. For example, if a local creek bed has become a dumping ground for trash, arrange a visit. Have someone take photos to share with the rest of the congregation. Find ideas for bringing direct experience of environmental issues to your congregation here.
  • Use a variety of educational resources: Direct experience can move us to action when intellectualizing fails. When direct experience is impractical, look for other ways to make the issues real. Reading and discussing an article about the cruelty of animal feedlots may motivate some to seek alternative meat sources, or give up meat altogether. Seeing a documentary about the impact of global warming on Native villages in Alaska might be the impetus to step up activism for greenhouse gas regulation. Find films and books on environmental issues here.
  • Gather and share information: No matter how motivated we are to solve a problem, determining the best course of action can be confusing. Educational programs about environmental issues can have a major impact, encouraging people to act on their new understanding and awareness. Forums and presentations by experts, book discussion groups, and collaborative research can help your congregation understand the problems and develop possible solutions. Articles, books, films, and websites translate scientific findings into clear, plain language. Find resources on environmental issues here.
  • Create a vision: To increase motivation, create a vision for your Green Sanctuary efforts. Help your congregation vividly imagine the results of the work you’re doing together. How will it feel when you’ve earned your accreditation? What will it be like to live as a Green Sanctuary? Try creating a “vision board” using pictures and words to portray the future you imagine. You might do this for the Green Sanctuary process as a whole, for each planned project, or both. Having a tangible reminder of your shared vision is especially helpful at the halfway point, when the initial enthusiasm has worn off and the end is not yet in sight. Get motivated with these testimonials from Green Sanctuary congregations!
  • Emphasize the Positive: Like everyone else, Unitarian Universalists are reluctant to sacrifice, and the environmental movement can demand that we give up some of the things we enjoy most. Reframing lifestyle changes in terms of what is gained can increase motivation. Changes in congregational activities and structures may seem insurmountable if you start with, “How much will it cost to make the change?” As you plan and promote Green Sanctuary activities, try to frame the discussion in a more positive way, for example: “How can we live our faith in a way that’s best for the Earth as well as our community?” The answer to this second question rests at the heart of the journey to becoming a Green Sanctuary.

Operating as a Team

  • Perseverance is necessary: In some congregations, enthusiasm about Green Sanctuary is high from the very beginning. In others, people may need more convincing. Don’t be too discouraged if the congregation seems skeptical or indifferent at first. If your team recognizes the challenge, acknowledges that you may meet resistance along the way, and consciously works to build motivation, your congregation will be more likely to successfully complete the program. Usually, enthusiasm and commitment build as people learn more about the program and see how environmental concerns relate to their faith.
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect: After gathering information, we are still challenged to find the right response. Environmental issues are complex; despite our wishes, there is no universal answer for the challenges we face. In almost every case, a response in one direction will result in some unintended impact in another direction. Scientists are still investigating many issues, and people may disagree about the correct course of action.
  • Take the plunge: As you go through the process, it’s tempting to postpone actions as you debate the issues. But allowing ourselves to become paralyzed with uncertainty will not save the planet! In fact, delaying action can drain enthusiasm and cause the entire process to lose momentum. Remember: although “you can’t do everything, you can do something.”
  • Be flexible: Once you have chosen a course of action, be committed, but flexible. If new information suggests a different course of action, or if a project seems ineffective, be willing to adjust your plans. The Green Sanctuary Review Team understands congregational life: they know things change, and mainly want to know how you handled and what you learned from those changes.
  • Set realistic goals and celebrate successes, especially if they can be expressed visually. Keep in mind that changes need to be relatively low in cost and high in convenience for most people to be willing to go along with them. A campaign encouraging people to become vegetarians overnight is likely to be unsuccessful. Inviting people to choose a vegetarian menu at one additional meal per week—if they can—is more feasible.

Even then, it would be unrealistic to expect total participation. The choices we make depend on personal values, experiences, family situations, health, and economic circumstances, among other factors. Show appreciation for those who adopt lifestyle changes, but be careful not to pressure, chastise, or embarrass those who do not.

  • Respect differences. Find opportunities for openness and collaboration. In the midst of your Green Sanctuary work, take time for discussion and reflection. It is easy for passionate people to get too far ahead of the congregation, creating resentment. Be generous with each other. Don’t expect complete agreement. Different individuals and groups—within and outside of your congregation—may view the natural world in different ways and use unfamiliar language to talk about it. For example, some individuals honor “the Creator” or “the Goddess,” while others are uneasy with these terms. Respect cultural and religious diversity while searching for common ground.
  • Support one another—in your team, in your congregation. Make sure you celebrate! Making individual lifestyle changes without the support of others can be nearly impossible. Most of us find change easier when we have the support of family, friends, community, and spiritual practice.

As leaders of this effort, you are encouraged to engage a sounding board outside the congregation. This could be the Green Sanctuary Manager, an accredited congregation, or your coach (if you have one).

Part of the Green Sanctuary process involves integrating environmental themes into your worship services, celebrations, lifespan religious education, and social justice programming. As you work on the other action plan projects, these programs become a source of support by fostering a sense of community and spirituality.

Support also comes through the strength of acting together. In the Green Sanctuary program, individual actions accumulate to create a larger impact than each person could by acting alone. Together you can see the difference, and together you can reinforce one another’s commitments.

Throughout the process, look for ways to support each other. For example, if shifting away from a materialistic lifestyle seems daunting to many in your congregation, you may want to initiate “simplicity circles”: small groups that provide reinforcement and affirmation for adopting a lifestyle that is healthier for the planet.