Answers to top questions about “Our Place in the Web of Life,” an introduction to environmental justice for Unitarian Universalist congregations.

How much does it cost?

When you download the curriculum you will be asked to make a donation, which will enable UUMFE to offer coaching and other congregational support. The suggested donation is $100 for a large congregation and $50 for a smaller congregation. Please give generously in order to help UUMFE continue to update and expand this program, which was funded initially by individual donors and a grant from the UU Fund for Social Responsibility.

How long are the sessions, and what is the optimum schedule?

The curriculum is constructed as a 5-session, 2-hour course. It’s important to find a balance between keeping up momentum (through more frequent sessions) and allowing participants enough time to do the homework and make space for this in their often busy lives. Meeting twice a month, or every other week, works well. Meeting once a month is also possible if necessary. You may need more than a week between Sessions 2 and 3 to allow for research. You might also explore having a “lumpy” schedule if you are able to book some site visits or off-site conversations with other groups about particular issues. Finally, because Session 5 is the big wrap-up where it is recommended to include a meal, it may need some special scheduling as well. If you want to format it as a 1-hour class, then you may be able to offer it more frequently—just plan ahead more for certain homework assignments to give people sufficient advance warning and time to complete them.

What age can the youngest participant be?

This curriculum is designed to be intergenerational, and it is most effective when there are participants from three or four generations. It is difficult to make a blanket statement about the youngest age for participants, because it depends on a particular young person’s maturity level. It is best to gauge their willingness to participate in a conversation for up to two hours, to do a bit of reading between sessions, to help with a research assignment, and to think critically about some of their personal choices and values. In terms of the gravity/complexity of the material, we think it is appropriate for high school-age youth and many middle school-age youth as well.

Is there a minimum or maximum class size?

The processes used in the curriculum are meant to encourage a lively conversation. It is our experience that it is difficult to truly engage everyone in a group that is larger than 15-20 people. However, if you are able to interest more people than that in the course, do not discourage them – rejoice! You can break up into multiple groups to promote stronger participation and bring the whole group back together for pieces where individual conversation is not needed.

My congregation has been working on some environmental justice projects, but would like to understand the concept better and learn about what other UUs are doing. How can this curriculum help with that?

The curriculum is designed to help participants understand the connections between various environmental justice issues in your community and some of the systemic drivers of the problems, which hopefully will enable you to address the root causes in a more sustained and systematic way in collaboration with others, rather than through one-off projects or events which may or may not address root causes. We also hope it will enable you to better understand, articulate, and address the justice dimensions of what you may already be doing.

UUMFE’s “Green Papers” are a great resource for better understanding the many facets of environmental justice and the evolution of environmental justice as a movement. We recommend you read “Understanding Our Roots”; “How Shall We Name Our Work?”; and “Identifying Issues, Becoming Partners.” These can provide helpful background before beginning Session 3 of the curriculum.

How does this curriculum encourage coalition-building?

First, an important part of the curriculum is participants researching what is going on in your community on some key areas (water, land, energy, toxics, etc.) and examining the impact your congregation has in these areas. Engaging in this research by talking with and/or meeting and touring with other groups to see things through their eyes will enable participants to build or strengthen relationships with other groups.

Second, your congregation might consider inviting members of other groups/congregations to engage in this study with you as a way of building stronger relationships. In fact, the minister of one of the smaller congregations that field tested the pilot module wants to offer it a second time to invite neighboring congregations and local groups to do the study with them.

How does this curriculum relate to the Green Sanctuary Program?

This curriculum makes an ideal centerpiece of the Green Sanctuary Program. It is recommended as part of the Green Sanctuary Program to engage with “Our Place in the Web of Life” early in the process, involving the entire Green Sanctuary team and congregational leadership if possible, to help your congregation understand how environmental injustice functions in your community. The curriculum and the learnings it imparts can help inform the required projects a congregation decides to engage with through the Green Sanctuary Program, and ensure that the projects are grounded and accountable to front-lines communities.

How does this curriculum compare to “Awakening the Dreamer”?

First, it is geared specifically for Unitarian Universalists; “Awakening the Dreamer” is not. “Awakening the Dreamer” presents a lot of information about the state of the planet, how we got to this place and what can be done about it personally and collectively. It touches on inequities but looks broadly and generally at the issues. The intent of “Our Place in the Web of Life” is to help congregations identify specific environmental injustice in their own communities, with a focus on racism and economic privilege, in order to help congregations develop insight and strategies in order to collaborate with communities of color and other front-line communities to effectively address priority concerns.

How does this program relate to the issues raised in the Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience and study guide?

UUMFE’s environmental justice curriculum focuses on six issue areas, of which food and land are two. Participants research your congregation’s place in the web of life in terms of the “upstream” and “downstream” impact of your use/consumption of these resources on people and ecosystems. This mapping process also enables you to see the interconnections of your impact in all the issue areas, along with climate change, which is an overarching lens.

The Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience study guide is not an actual curriculum per se. It provides some suggested questions for discussion, some short readings that offer an excellent general overview about where our food comes from and broad issues of justice and inequity within the food system, and ideas for practical actions. Some of the readings would be helpful compliments to the “food” section of Our Place in the Web of Life, or a Part 2 to this curriculum. They definitely do not cover the same ground.

How does this curriculum address climate change?

Climate change is not broken out as a singular issue in this curriculum. Instead, it emerges as a thread weaving throughout the analysis. We felt that as an introductory approach to environmental justice, the curriculum would be more effective if congregations studied their use of some key resources like energy, water, air, land, etc., and see how that connects them with people and ecosystems “upstream” and “downstream” in the web of life. We expect that climate change will enter the discussion as the group assesses the impact of congregational energy choices as well as local air quality, if not also in the water and food sections.

Is there an instructor’s manual?

Yes! It is built into the curriculum. Each session includes:

  • Recommended advance preparation
  • A step-by-step script and facilitation instructions for each session, including suggested opening and closing meditations
  • Downloadable music and videos
  • Homework assignments and homework research tips

An appendix provides additional facilitation tips. There is also a “how to” video demonstration for facilitators on how to introduce the simple drawing/mapping process used to depict and analyze the information gathered about your congregation’s place in the web of life.

Who should facilitate this curriculum?

You do not need to be an environmentalist, seasoned activist, teacher, or theologian to be a great facilitator for this course. If you do have someone in your congregation who is, you might consider inviting them to join you as a co-facilitator. But the role of the facilitator is not that of “expert” who imparts knowledge. Rather, the primary skills needed are: to be a good listener; to be able to emotionally read what is going on in a group; and to effectively create a safe and welcoming space for inclusive, genuine, possibly challenging conversations to occur. We strongly encourage at least two people to serve as co-facilitators and possibly even more to share this responsibility, ideally of a diversity of generations, ethnicities, class backgrounds, or other identities.

Is it helpful to keep the same facilitator for all sessions?

We recommend a facilitation team of two or three people who are there for all sessions. In this scenario, it’s ideal to switch facilitators for different sections within a particular session as well as between sessions. This will allow you to have someone watching time and group process and/or someone acting as a “scribe” to take newsprint notes while a second or third person is taking the lead in facilitating a particular session. This makes facilitation much more fun, enjoyable, and effective!

Where are the additional resources for Session 3 mentioned in the curriculum?

UUMFE has redesigned our website since the second edition of the curriculum was published, so these resources are now located here.

Who can I contact with questions now or during the curriculum?

Email us at office@uuministryforearth. We’ll be happy to follow up with you and support you in the work! This is what your donations help to finance.