In 1989, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) created the Seventh Principle Project as an affiliated environmental organization. By 1991, they published the Green Sanctuary Handbook with the intent of integrating environmental consciousness and faith-based community, imagining a congregational life reflective of the seventh Principle of Unitarian Universalism, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
In 1999, Fred Small—an early promoter of the Green Sanctuary concept—proposed a comprehensive Green Sanctuary program as his Harvard Divinity School thesis. Modeled after the very effective Welcoming Congregation process, Green Sanctuary invited congregations to engage in a series of actions to address environmental issues, resulting in congregational recognition or “accreditation”.
After a presentation at the 1999 General Assembly, a group of enthusiastic activists took on the challenge of translating Fred Small’s proposal into a functional program. Seventh Principle Project member David Cockrell convened a task force to add new material to the manual, and craft a step-by-step congregational process. Green Sanctuary’s second edition was ready for distribution in the fall of 2000. Mr. Cockrell called for a number of “Founders” congregations to pilot the program, resulting in five congregations completing the program in 2002, followed by three more in 2003.
The pilot illustrated Green Sanctuary’s potential, but it required more flexibility to be truly accessible to congregations of varying sizes, capabilities, geographic locations, and organizational cultures.
Green Sanctuary’s third edition (2003) invited congregations to create their own activities and projects, encompassing all aspects of congregational life. By 2005, when the Seventh Principle Project became the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE), there were thirty-one accredited Green Sanctuary congregations.
Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations began to devote more attention to environmental issues around 2006, culminating in a two-year period of study and action on the issue of global warming. Delegates to the 2006 General Assembly campaigned for and voted overwhelmingly to adopt a Statement of Conscience on the Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change—arguably the clearest and strongest statement by a religious institution to date. This was a grassroots effort, closely tied to many congregations’ Green Sanctuary work.
At that same General Assembly, a record nineteen Green Sanctuary congregations were recognized, bringing the grand total to fifty. For the first time, certificates were presented in a public ceremony on the plenary stage, dramatically increasing the program’s visibility.
UUMFE published the manual’s fourth edition in the fall of 2007, while over 125 Unitarian Universalist congregations were formally enrolled in the Green Sanctuary program. The new version provided detailed information about managing the process, creating a comprehensive action plan, and renewing accreditation status.
By 2008, the Green Sanctuary program had become so successful that UUMFE staff had difficulty keeping up with demand. In July of that year, the UUMFE handed responsibility for the Green Sanctuary program to the UUA’s Stewardship and Development Office.
Supported by the resources of the larger organization, Green Sanctuary continues to thrive. In the summer of 2009, there were 98 accredited Green Sanctuary congregations and 116 in candidacy—representing over 20 percent of UUA congregations.
In 2012, Green Sanctuary underwent a series of reviews to assess the evolution of congregational environmental justice work, and the potential for coordination with UUA staff and related environmental justice organizations. At the same time, UUMFE launched an investigation of "The Theology and Ethics of Environmental Justice" with Meadville Lombard Theological School and Starr King School for the Ministry, sponsored by funding from the UU Funding Program. By now, there were 194 accredited Green Sanctuaries and three re-accredited.
The possibility for greater collaboration between UUA leadership and UU organizations focused on environmental and social justice occurred in 2013, when Green Sanctuary became part of the Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group. In the same year, a Green Sanctuary Manual revision incorporated environmental justice, experimenting with ways to encourage and support congregations in an intersectional approach to addressing environmental issues.
The 2009 Green Sanctuary manual was adapted from the UUMFE publication Green Sanctuary: Congregations Working Together To Restore Earth and Renew Spirit, Fourth Edition (October 2007) by Rev. Katherine Jesch, Director of Environmental Ministry. The Green Sanctuary Program was originally nurtured and managed by the UUMFE, and we are grateful for their shepherding of the program.
2013 edits were made in consultation with Pamela Sparr under the management of Rev. Karen Brammer, and the administrative support of Brent Jurgess. Input for the resulting web-based manual came from the Green Sanctuary Review Team, UU Ministry for Earth and the Theology and Ethics of Environmental Justice Task Force (supported by the Unitarian Universalist Funding Panel), UUA Multicultural Ministry staff member Jessica Halperin, past Executive Director of UU Legislative Ministries in CA, Lindi Gifford, and many others. With deep thanks.
Thanks to Rev. Robert F. Murphy for his contributions on the history of the Green Sanctuary Program and the Environmental Justice Movement.
Thanks to past and present Green Sanctuary Review Team members: Happy Bradford, Gene Burr, Cathy Cramer, Dotti Doyle, Bill Fischer, Stan Grant, Rev. Katherine Jesch, Peg MacMorris, Dave Segel, and Frank Silovsky for their commitment to the Green Sanctuary Program and their consistently helpful guidance, Michael Akillian and Suzi Novak.
Thanks to the many UU congregations whose stories, photos, and examples appeared throughout the previous paper manuals. And a special thanks to the congregations whose sample applications appeared in the indexes.
Thanks to Jesse Holm, UUA Congregational Stewardship Services Administrator, for her thoughtful review and comments.
Thanks to Robin Nelson, UUA Congregational Stewardship Services Program Manager, for her research on UU congregational participation in the Green Sanctuary Program, and her assistance with the publication of this guide.
A special thanks to Kathy Carter, Professional Freelance Editing, for her thoughtful and diligent reorganization, rewriting, and editing of this newest version of the Green Sanctuary Manual (2017).