UUMFE had a full and fulfilling September living our mission: spiritual care for climate justice! Read below for some highlights!

Here is a 3 minute recap video of our time in New York.

Community is the antidote to climate despair. We need vibrancy, connection and imagination as a faith movement to meet this aching moment of climate crisis. Throughout September, from New York City to Washington, DC, we joined with partners for our deepest values!

We Imagine, We Create: 

A Report from the 2023 New York City Unitarian Universalist Environmental Festival 

On September 23, 2023, we led an Environmental Festival and Jazz Vespers Worship Service to wrap up New York City Climate Week. The worship and festival were possible with funding generously provided by the New York State Convention of Universalists. The event was designed through “New York Unitarian Universalist Collaborates,” a working partnership among Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York, Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth, and New York Unitarian Universalist Justice, the Empire’s State Unitarian Universalist legislative ministry! 

Our partner, Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York hosted in their beautiful building. Even though it poured rain, people walking along Central Park West came inside to find live jazz music, arts and crafts, rituals and the love of Unitarian Universalism. One woman hadn’t been in a church in many years, and she found herself weeping as she honored Earth and acknowledged some sorrows that had built up over time.

Ministers and musicians from around the area led jazz vespers worship.

(L-R:   Clergy members participating in the Saturday service included Rev. Kelly Dignan, Co-Director, Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth, Rev. Jonipher Kwong, Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York, Rev. Leonisa Ardizzone, Vassar College, Rev. Andrée Cornelia Mol, Central Unitarian Congregation,  Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich, Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York City, Rev. Nori Rost, New York Society for Ethical Culture, Karishma Gottfried, Union Theological Seminary, Rev. Daniel Lawlor, Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth & Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Hudson Valley, and Rev. Petra Thombs, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau. Not shown: Robert Buonaspina, Director of Music (Fourth Universalist Society)).  

Occurring at the close of New York City Climate Week, the festival and worship brought a message of hope, lament and imagination from a Unitarian Universalist perspective. The community gathered included musicians, worship leaders, spiritual chaplains, childcare givers, Union Theological Seminary students, service groups including New York UU Justice, Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth, The Environmental Justice Team at Fourth UniversalistMy Dog is My Home, and the amazing Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, students from New York University, and kind folks from across the City.  New York’s GreenFaith chapter was with us in spirit! Our partners, New York UU Justice offered people the opportunity to advocate for climate justice legislation, My Dog is My Home created space to advocate for pet friendly affordable housing, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committ offered chances to learn about international climate justice advocacy in the Pacific Islands, and The Environmental Justice Team at Fourth Universalist inspired folks to get involved locally- and make buttons! The gathered partners offered conversation, respite, care, and work meaningful and joyful – from postcard advocacy to Love Letters to Earth!   

Our collective goals were to create a festival during New York City Climate Week, organize a worship service involving multiple Unitarian Universalist congregational partners, and engage new individuals with Unitarian Universalism, particularly creating a space for grief and hope during the climate crisis. 

That Saturday, from 1-4pm, the partnership hosted an “Environmental Festival,” with grounding ritual activities, live jazz music, arts and crafts, childcare, coffee and snacks, and tables hosted by various area environmental and Unitarian Universalist groups. During the festival, the community participated in The Climate Ribbon Project, originally designed by Rae Abileah. Attendees- ministers, lay leaders, students, musicians – were invited to write on ribbons “What do you love and hope to never lose to climate chaos?” The responses became part of an unfolding, beautiful design displaying the center of Fourth Universalist that afternoon. Rituals available that day included the use and distribution of essential oils for care and calm, writing Love Letters to Earth on Wildflower seed paper, and a special meditation ritual called Soothe Your Sorrows, where attendees wrote their worries, fears, grief related to climate issues on dissolvable paper, and then let the water soothe the sorrow as it releases and dissolves. Engage Your Senses asked us to connect heart to heart with the web of life – reflecting, which sense do you use most to connect to Nature? We are deeply grateful for the kindness, the pastoral moments and creativity witnessed and co-created at the event. Special music performances were offered by both the wonderful duo of Kiena Williams and Adam Podd of First Unitarian Brooklyn, and Thomas Kelley of Fourth Universalist. 

In the late afternoon, from 4-5pm, the Collaborative hosted an Environmental Justice Jazz Vespers service, including UU clergy serving congregations in Westchester County, Long Island and New York City, and an aspirant from Union Theological Seminary.  Our excellent Co-Director, Rev Kelly Dignan, successfully engaged seven ministers in a robust, beautiful worship service- with focus on gathering, lamenting the losses of the climate crisis, celebrating what’s possible and imagining a world of repair and abundance. One attendee from Ossining, NY said it was “among the most moving Unitarian Universalist service I’ve ever attended.” 

The team at Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth extends a huge thank you to all who gathered, grieved and imagined what could be. A special thank you extends to the organizing team, including Ember Kelley, Director of Religious Education at Fourth Universalist Society, and Rev. Ashley DeTar Birt, of New York Unitarian Universalist Justice. Without the support of the New York State Convention of Universalists, the power of the collaborating team, and the passion of so many congregational and community leaders, the event would not have been possible. 

Afterwards, attendees said the worship helped them release some climate grief and anxiety, literally feel the energy of Earth, deeply connect with the pulse of life, and imagine a future of hope and joy. See more photos here 

Fall Conference in Washington DC

We remain in awe of the power of compassion to connect! Our team headed to Washington DC to co-lead a three day conference – Farming for Our Future: Systemic Changes for the Climate Crisis

Rev. Kelly and Rev. Daniel – UUMFE Co-Directors

UUs for a Just Economic Community (UUJEC) convened this conference. UUs for Social Justice (UUSJ) organized all the speakers and advocacy training. We had the kind financial support of Side With Love and the UU Funding Program to make the conference possible.

UUA President, Rev. Sofía Betancourt, offered a video message: “Joining together to insist the farm bill reflect concrete climate-smart provisions that throw no one away in the process is a beautiful expression of our faith.” Watch the message on YouTube

Rev. Daniel Lawlor, our co-director, interviewed Pablo DeJesus about the farm bill here. 

UUSJ reported on speakers and the details of the advocacy and how to keep the advocacy alive. 

We provided project management and organization of the conference, and most importantly, we offered the spiritual grounding and care for the important work. The guiding questions we brought forth throughout were: What brought us here? Why are we here as people of faith? How will we stay connected to our hearts, as well as our minds, as we advocate? 

Six UU ministers served the conference in the role of Movement Chaplain: 

Rev. Daniel Lawlor and Rev. Kelly Dignan, co-directors of UUMFE

Rev. Karyn Bergmann Marsh, Community Minister, Towson Unitarian Universalist Church

Rev. Eleanor Piez, Community Minister, Mount Vernon Unitarian Church

Rev. Karen Lee Scrivo, Community Minister, Paint Branch UU Church

Rev. Anastassia Zinke, Minister, UU Church of Annapolis

We helped the conference attendees answer the guiding questions through rituals like the Climate Ribbon Ritual, love notes to Earth, and by building an Earth Mandala.

Rev. Karyn led us in singing throughout the days. To ground ourselves for learning and change-making, we breathed in and out. “When I breathe in, I breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I breathe out love” (#1009 in Singing the Journey). 

Through song, we all committed to lead in love.

“We shall be known by the company we keep

By the ones who circle round to tend these fires

We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap

The seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth

It is time now, it is time now that we thrive

It is time we lead ourselves into the well

It is time now, and what a time to be alive

In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love

In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love” 

-“We Shall be Known” by by Karisha Longaker of MaMuse

“Lead with Love” was the theme of the worship service on Wednesday night. You can see the Order of Service here. 

Special thanks to the movement chaplains mentioned before and the following talented worship leaders:

Keith Arnold, Interim Music Director; Rev. Rob Keithan, Minister of Social Justice and The Chamber Choir – all at All Souls Church, Unitarian D.C. 

Joshua Long, UU Musician, Interfaith Power and Light of D.C., Md., No.Va.

Rev. Carol Thomas Cissel, Minister of Social Justice and Community Development at UU Church of Arlington 

The last day of the conference was advocacy on the Hill. 

Ministers accompanied groups to visit senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle. UUs advocates said things like: 

I felt like for the first time, I advocated as a person of faith, not just someone representing a nonprofit. 

I wasn’t sure being on the Hill would make a difference, but after all the education and spiritual grounding we did throughout the week, I went into the advocacy day ready and empowered. 

Having ministers in our advocacy meetings made the experience clear that we were people of faith.

Do you want to engage with the Farm Bill and keep the work moving forward? 

Review the issue Handout.

Send an Online Letter

Distribute the Action Poster so others can do the same.

We keep hearing that spiritual care is essential for the long haul work for climate justice; that it helps to prepare before, metabolize afterward and stay empowered throughout. Would you like to have ministers/movement chaplains support your advocacy work? Email me:

Grateful to be in this work with Unitarian Universalists! 

Rev. Kelly