Imagine this: Climate activists, fully grasping the enormity of the climate crisis, urge their church to take bold financial actions to help ameliorate it. Now add Board members committed to protecting their church legally and financially. What might happen? An adversarial situation, leading to hard feelings? Or a focus on right relations and working together for ethical use of financial resources, in accordance with UU principles? For the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis, Oregon (UUFC), in our climate justice work, there is sometimes a bit of the first before we achieve the latter. I’m always grateful and delighted when the conflict is respectful, right relations hold strong, and our projects turn out well. It’s never simple!
UUFC voted to support The Earth Charter and has achieved UUA Green Sanctuary certification. The congregation has installed two photovoltaic systems on its buildings and voted to divest from fossil fuels. Congregants have enthusiastically signed banners and T-shirts for our activists to take with them to represent us at major rallies and hearings.
Seeds for the Sol Project
During the third week of Climate Justice Month (the theme was “Building Local Relationships”) UUFC completed work on a “local relationship” project. At its April meeting, the Board of Trustees approved two policy changes to allow allocation of $38,000 to a local nonprofit, Seeds for the Sol, that is helping residents of Corvallis install solar arrays on their property.
First, the Board of Trustees approved an amendment to its investment policy, proposed by the Investment Committee, that enables the Committee to loan $20,000 in Seeds for the Sol. The money will be repaid with a small amount of interest, making it a good investment of funds that have been in savings or money market accounts since divestment from fossil fuels. You can read UUFC’s investment policy at this link. See the section on Community (Local) Investment:
In its second action, the Board approved an innovative “revolving” loan fund policy proposed by UUFC’s very active Climate Justice Committee that demonstrates a new approach to the power of lending. The policy enables UUFC members to donate money to UUFC for a zero interest loan fund for Seeds for the Sol. See UUFC’s new policy at this link: http://uucorvallis.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Policy-3.11-Loan-Funds-0416-adopted.pdf
$18,000 has already been donated and lent to Seeds for the Sol who will, in turn, lend these funds to Corvallis homeowners for installation of solar arrays. The loans will be repaid from the homeowners’ tax credits and then loaned again, until Seeds for the Sol no longer needs the funds, or until UUFC requires the funds for other uses. UUFC members will be
encouraged to donate to this loan fund, so that the money can be doing good work, supporting local efforts to install solar arrays, until UUFC wants to use it for a big project, such as a capital campaign to expand its facilities.
The takeaway lesson for the Climate Justice Committee is that, in innovative projects like this one, we need to work closely with the Board of Trustees early, as partners, rather viewing the Board as an obstacle to get over. It must have seemed to the Board members that we were presenting them with some strange kind of money laundering scheme! I recall hearing one board member say, “But the Fellowship is not in the loan business; we don’t have a policy for that.” It was hard for members of the Investment Committee and the Climate Justice Committee, who knew all about Seeds for the Sol, to accept that the important policy work had to be done first, to responsibly frame this project and establish a process that would support similar future projects.
UUFC’s Seeds for the Sol project would not have been successful without the infinite patience and hard work of Board President Kyle Jansson. Faithfully executing his responsibility for protecting UUFC financially and legally, he even consulted an attorney who specializes in nonprofit law in Oregon. Kyle summarized our effort with these words:
“The success that UUFC has achieved in its climate change work has not happened overnight. Over the years, it has included many information sessions, vigorous discussions, and ministry to members of the congregation, including the Climate Justice Committee. It has included reaching out to disaffected people to understand their perspectives. It has included using existing governance systems to create systems for the future. These processes are sometimes difficult, but have created results that are making an impact now.”
This fragile Earth and all of us are going to face some heartbreaking challenges, no doubt sooner than we think. So much of what we hold dear is at grave risk.
“But there is something we can rely on,” I’ve told our congregation, “and that is this place, with each other. Here we have the power to maintain love and integrity, to offer each other hope and support. All of us, working together, are the beloved community. Nothing—no issue or policy—is more important than that.
Chair of the Climate Justice Committee,
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis, Oregon (UUFC).