Unitarian Universalism and Environmentalism
Unitarian Universalism has a long history of leadership among faith communities committed to caring for our Earth and taking action on our commitments. The seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism is “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,” and as a denomination we have passed more than three dozen social witness statements related to the environment and environmental justice, dating back to the early 1960s.
UUs across North America and the world have played a prominent role in environmental and climate justice movements for decades, serving as organizers through GreenFaith, 350.org, Greenpeace, and other organizations; as leaders of Interfaith Power & Light chapters; as activists in direct action campaigns and demonstrations (for example, at the landmark 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, UUs made up the second-largest faith group present, after the Catholic contingent), and much more.
UU Ministry for Earth
The concept of UU Ministry for Earth began in 1989 with discussions about how to make UUism’s seventh principle more central to members, congregations, and the Association. The Seventh Principle Project was formed and the first edition of the Green Sanctuary Handbook was published in 1991, blending religious celebrations, education, administration, and community action. In 2002, the Seventh Principle Project incorporated and decided to make Green Sanctuary an accreditation program for congregations. In 2005, the organization changed its name to Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE).
Since then, UUMFE has been instrumental to the passage of several denominational social witness statements, including the landmark 2006 Statement of Conscience on the threat of climate change and the 2015 Action of Immediate Witness on acting for a livable climate. Every year, UUMFE has a strong presence at General Assembly, the annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). In 2008, UUMFE officially partnered with the national office of the UUA on the Green Sanctuary Program, increasing its reach. In 2014, UUMFE organized and hosted a conference for representatives of more than a dozen UU groups and organizations committed to environmental justice, which catalyzed the formation of Commit2Respond, a collaborative denominational campaign for climate justice.
Timeline of UUMFE History
- 1989 UUA General Assembly, New Haven, CT, introduces UUs to themes like “ecology theology” and “environmental justice.”
- 1991 The Seventh Principle Project publishes the first edition of the Green Sanctuary Handbook, blending religious celebrations, religious education, church administration, and community action into one program. Rev. Bob Murphy, Rachael Stark, and Brian and Roxanne Reddington-Wilde are the prophets responsible.
- 1993 Rev. Bob Murphy and Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley introduce a General Assembly resolution on Environmental Justice (adopted in 1994). Folk singer Jim Scott becomes the group’s musical ambassador.
- 1999 Rev. Fred Small issues inspirational call to action at UUA General Assembly, Salt Lake City, energizing a new audience of UUs with the idea of a national environmental program. Gisela Bahr introduces a Study Action Issue on Responsible Consumption as a Moral Responsibility (adopted as a Statement of Conscience in 2001). The Seventh Principle Project publishes the second, more comprehensive edition of the Green Sanctuary Handbook, edited by David Cockrell.
- 2001 The Seventh Principle Project incorporates, is established as affiliate organization of the UUA, and hires Rev. Katherine Jesch as quarter-time office manager and manager of the Green Sanctuary program.
- 2002 Rev. Katherine Jesch becomes Director of Environmental Ministry. The Seventh Principle Project certifies the first five UU congregations as Green Sanctuaries.
- 2003 UUA General Assembly, Boston, answers Seventh Principle Project’s call to “green” the Unitarian Universalist Annual Meeting.
- 2005 The Seventh Principle Project becomes Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth.
- 2006 UUMFE leads in the passage of the landmark Statement of Conscience on the Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change, marking the “coming of age” of environmental activism in the UU faith. Supports Carbonfund.org (founded by UUs) in forming, and facilitates a partnership with the UUA to start offering the option for General Assembly attendees to off-set the carbon emissions of attending. UUMFE partnered with the UUA Congregational Office of Advocacy and Witness and the Earth Day Network to provide activities for all of April, with emphasis on our first Earth Day Sunday Service packet.
- 2007 UUMFE and the UUA partnered with local evangelical, interfaith and community allies for the first GA Public Witness in Portland, OR. The gathering focused on Global Warming and Environmental Justice.
- 2008 Green Sanctuary Program administration transfers to UUA. UUA General Assembly, Ft. Lauderdale, selects Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice as new Study Action Issue. UUMFE recommends Van Jones as Ware Lecturer. He issues inspiring call for environmental justice. UUMFE hires Sabrina Louise as Office Manager.
- 2009 UUMFE and UU Office of Advocacy and Witness jointly hire Rowan Van Ness as Program Associate for Environmental Justice. UUMFE publishes “Environmental Justice Green Papers” online. UUMFE partnered with the UUA Washington Office of Advocacy and Witness and the UUSC to bring UU congregations a menu of actions and worship materials for Earth Day. More than 100 congregations participate in 350.org International Day of Climate Change. UUMFE holds a 20th anniversary celebration at which Rev. Bob Murphy shares an account of the history of the organization.
- 2010 Three districts hold environmental conferences in conjunction with UUMFE. More than 150 congregations register their Earth Day activities. The Earth Day materials and actions focused on the theme ‘Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice.’ Ninety congregations participate in the 350.org 10/10/10 Global Work Parties. UUMFE convenes UU partners to form Climate Justice Collaborative.
- 2011 UUMFE publishes ‘Sacred Waters’ materials for Earth Day and partnered with Barbara Ford to offer a new experiential workshop ‘ Staying Present for a Troubled World ‘ which is based on the work of Joanna Macy.
- 2012 UUMFE publishes “Our Place in the Web of Life” curriculum, authored by Pamela Sparr and Dr. Mark A. Hicks. Organizes the new network UU Young Adults for Climate Justice and hires the first coordinator, Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom.
- 2013 UUMFE begins a multi-year focus for Earth Day materials about sustainable communities and organizes environmental justice tours of Louisville as an introduction to General Assembly. Contracts with the producers of “Bidder 70” documentary film about UU activist Tim DeChristopher for a license to allow UU congregations to show the film at a significantly reduced fee.
- 2014 UUMFE and partners organize and host a UU environmental justice conference in Detroit for 29 UU leaders. Some 13 UU-related groups, both UU seminaries, and UUA headquarters staff and district staff and consultants related to justice ministries send representatives. Becomes a sponsoring organization for the multi-year denominational climate justice campaign Commit2Respond. Participates in the campaign to pass a UUA Business Resolution on Fossil Fuel Divestment. Hires Aly Tharp as the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice (UUYACJ) Network Coordinator. UUYACJ begins its 100 Worship Services for Climate Justice campaign, and hosts an Interfaith service on the eve of the Peoples Climate March in New York City.
- 2015 UUMFE supports the inaugural Climate Justice Month as part of the Commit2Respond campaign. Organizes an environmental justice tour of Portland, Oregon, as part of General Assembly. Supports the passage of a UUA General Assembly Action of Immediate Witness to Act on Climate. UUYACJ partners with the UU College of Social Justice on the GROW Climate Justice training for young adults.
- 2016 Aly Tharp becomes UUMFE Program Coordinator and Commit2Respond Program Manager. UUMFE partners with the UUA Green Sanctuary Program on the Environmental Justice Practitioner’s Network, and with the UUA United Nations Office to support the UU Climate Action Network. UUMFE leadership participates in “Another Gulf Is Possible!” Just Transition summit and week of action in New Orleans, LA. UUMFE partners with the UUA United Nations Office to help send nine UUA representatives to the UNFCCC COP22 in Morocco.
- 2017 UUMFE and UUYACJ mobilize for the second Peoples Climate March in Washington, D.C., in partnership with Doris Marlin, All Souls Church Unitarian, the UU College of Social Justice, and the Interfaith march contingent. UUMFE coordinates the Commit2Respond climate justice track of workshops, “The Seas Are Rising and So Are We!”, at General Assembly in New Orleans. UUYACJ organizes a community arts project bringing environmental justice themes into General Assembly worships, workshops, and common spaces. UUYACJ leadership makes a consensus decision to adopt the Sociocracy governance model. Aly Tharp becomes UUMFE Program Director. UUMFE and UUYACJ co-sponsor the Justice for #EachGeneration campaign calling for more than one thousands sermons supporting the youth suing the US government for the right to a liveable climate.
- 2018 UUMFE endorse the #NoKXL Promise to Protect. UUMFE supports UUs at COP24.
- 2019 UUMFE continues the EJPN program, and rises in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en peoples fighting the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
- 2020 UUMFE and partners co-host a webinar series with the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. UUMFE and UUYACJ welcome two interns. UUMFE and UUYACJ support the Intergenerational Spring Seminar, hosted by the UU office at the United Nations. UUYACJ convenes a discussion group for Movement Generation’s Just Transition course. In November, UUMFE and partners organize the Harvest the Power Justice Convergence & Teach-In.
- 2021 UUMFE endorses the Climate President Action Plan and joins the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition. Paula Cole Jones and Rashid Shaikh co-convene a new BIPOC Caucus on Climate Justice.
Starting in 2002, UUMFE published a print/PDF newsletter two or three times a year. In mid-2017, this became a short monthly E-News email. All of UUMFE’s newsletters are freely available online.
UUMFE’s most recent bylaws were adopted in 2021 and are publicly available.
UUMFE published a report for most fiscal years between 2000 and 2011, then after a hiatus switched to a calendar year report in 2016.