The Green Sanctuary Program of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) invite you and your congregation to dedicate a few moments, a worship service, a month, or a year to reflect on the disasters in the Gulf of Mexico. Many congregationshave an annual tradition of a water ceremony/communion at the beginning of each year. Consider connecting the themes of water with the Gulf of Mexico and our connections to the disasters and hope that can be found there.
August 29th, 2020 marked the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina caused severe destruction along the Gulf coast from central Florida to Texas. The most severe loss of life occurred in New Orleans, Louisiana, which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed. Eventually 80% of the city and large tracts of neighboring parishes became flooded, and the floodwaters lingered for weeks. Hurricane Katrina is considered the costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.
As the news of the horrible aftermath from Hurricane Katrina filtered in, the UUA and the independent Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) mobilized to find a way to help the victims of the devastation. The UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund (GCRF) raised more than $3.7 million dollars. Congregations and individuals stepped up to face the disaster and injustice in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Ministers and staff people worked with Gulf Coast congregations to continue their ministry amidst recovery efforts. Unitarian Universalists traveled to the Gulf Coast to support area residents in rebuilding and recovering their homes and their lives. Today, thousands of displaced residents in Mississippi and Louisiana are still living in trailers and struggling to reclaim their lives. Specifically three UU congregations continue to struggle with the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina.
The April 20th, 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion marked the beginning of what has been come to be known as the BP Oil Disaster. It is the largest marine off-shore oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. Months after the initial explosion, the leak was capped.
Communities that were still struggling to recover from the effect of Hurricane Katrina now face extensive damage to three of the largest sectors of the economy including fishing, tourism, and oil industries. Oil has destroyed marine and wildlife habitats and the health consequences from both the oil and dispersants are yet unknown. People who leased out fishing boats for the season continue to owe rent though they’re unable to make money when fishing areas are closed and contaminated. Non-profit and religious service organizations which provide extra assistance for basic needs are being depleted. The mental health impacts of a disaster of this scale are great. The most vulnerable peoples are hit the hardest by rippling impacts of this kind of disaster.
All of us have been deeply affected emotionally and spiritually from this disaster, especially knowing our extensive addiction to oil, and the slow pace and inadequate scope of clean up.
At the 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis, delegates passed the Gulf Coast Environmental and Economic Justice Action of Immediate Witness. This AIW specifically calls for UUs to:
- witness to the suffering of all residents and workers who make their homes along the coast,
- educate ourselves and our communities about how we are involved in these events due to our demand for oil,
- actively commit ourselves to reducing energy consumption from fossil fuels,
- dedicate ourselves to restorative justice practices as we strive to hold the oil industry and our government accountable for failed operations,
- promote stable green jobs for displaced oil workers,
- dedicate ourselves to help restore wetlands, habitats, beaches, communities and local economies that have been hurt along the coast,
- urge President Obama and Congress to work with stakeholders to:
- develop a response strategy that meets the needs of the people and the environment,
- hold the responsible parties accountable,
- ensure that help reaches those in need,
- commit to a long-term recovery,
- take steps to prevent future disasters,
- respond to yet-unknown needs.
Join the Green Sanctuary Program and the UUMFE in reflecting on the calamities in the Gulf of Mexico. Take action in response to the injustices of the environmental and man-made catastrophes. Sample sermons, vigils, chalice lightings, and more are available on the Ecological Disasters page of WorshipWeb including rights to play or access to sheet music to have your choir sing emma’s revolution/Pat Humphries + Sandy O song, “Bound for Freedom,” which includes a verse about the Gulf Coast.
Actions and Links
UU Ministry for Earth joins its voice to the many Unitarian Universalists, environmental groups, aid organizations and others who are horrified and concerned about the disaster unfolding in the Gulf from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We encourage our members and congregations to commit to actions that will provide assistance to those who are and will be injured by the spill and to efforts to lessen the environmental consequences of the disaster.
We also encourage engaging in advocacy to demand policies that provide stronger protections and that hold the polluters accountable. In partnership with other UU organizations, we encourage you to follow the information from the Washington Office for Advocacy (WOA) and UU Service Committee (UUSC). Join UUSC telling BP to take full responsibility for the oil drilling disaster and not to exploit local workers. UUSC has compiled talking points and a link to send a statement to BP CEO Tony Hayward. To support legislation that reduces oil dependency and prohibits expansion of dangerous practices such as off-shore drilling and mountaintop mining, Green For All has provided talking points and a link to send a message to President Obama and our senators.
Look for updated accurate informtion on the disaster at the official site of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command, which includes the fourteen government agencies involved. ESRI, the GPS software company, provides an interesting web-based tool for tracking the spill. NASA’s Earth Observatory website includes satellite images of the progress of the oil slick.
The following list of suggested actions is adapted from the Washington Office for Advocacy’s Inspired Faith, Effective Action blog entry, contributed by Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger, minister of the First UU Church of New Orleans. Here are some concrete ideas for things that can be done, right now, right away, to have a positive effect on the spill clean-up.
- If you are financially able, you can contribute to help the people who are hurt most. The Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund has been set up by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, www.gnof.org, to collect money to benefit local communities (Additionally, Oxfam America is collecting donations.)
- If you are able and willing to, you can volunteer to help,being sensitive to the fact that volunteers should not replace paid jobs for people on the Gulf Coast. In-person volunteers can register with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, or through the Sierra Club. Recovery from this, as from Katrina, will be a marathon, not a sprint. We will need a lot of help for quite some time to come.
- If you live or visit near the Louisiana-Mississippi coast, and need to report damaged wild life or shoreline: for oiled wildlife call 866-557-1401; for damaged coastal areas call 800-440-0858.
- Write and call your elected officials at the federal level. Demand clear procedures for emergencies in the Gulf. Demand accountability for when inevitable accidents happen. Demand immediate federal aid for the coast line, the wild life, and the human communities affected by such disasters.
- Finally, we can all pray/meditate/send good thoughts when gathered in our faith communities. We can support and comfort each other in our rage and grief over this new disaster. We can use the work of our hands and the power of our minds to make this better and prevent its recurrence.
- If you know of sermons or congregational statements or actions regarding the oil spill, please send them to UU Ministry for Earth (mailto:office@uuministryforearth) and we will post them.
In addition to the oil spill off the Gulf Coast, twenty-nine coal miners lost their lives in an explosion in a West Virginian mine. We encourage our members and congregations to continue to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, to reduce the risk of such future disasters and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by reducing consumption.