Faith Communities Environmental Network

A Multi-Faith Initiative on the Cape and Islands Established 2017

Working together to connect Faith & Ecology and to protect our Earth Home 

As diverse faith communities move into a new ecological era, learning to connect faith with deeds protecting the Earth, it is evident that no master plan exists, telling all how best to navigate through this unfamiliar ground.

But there are useful guides available from the experience of faith groups that have already ventured into this task.  Stories of their experience, showing the variety of pathways traveled, is a rich resource for faith communities still in the early stages of starting out.

Gathered here are reports from the Unitarian Church of Barnstable (UCB) and the Federated Church of Orleans (FCO) – the two Cape-based congregations that were the first faith communities to join the 5Cs.

As other faith communities in this region join us, we anticipate that learnings from their experiences will supplement what is now being shared here. We encourage them to join the Faith Communities Environmental Network (FCEN) and widen the circle of our collective influence.

Two Journeys, Two Stories

Step by Step: Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

The Story of the Unitarian Church of Barnstable

The Greening of the Federated Church of Orleans

Key Environmental Steps Taken by the Federated Church of Orleans

Foundational Green Sanctuary Commitments
     The Unitarian Church of Barnstable  bases all its “green” efforts on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 7th Principle:  “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”  Additionally, an essential part of the UCB Green Sanctuary Committee’s planning has been to bring important criteria to bear on decisions about specific actions being considered.  The criteria can be stated as five questions: Does the proposed project foster sustainable living?  What implications does it have for our religious education program and for intergenerational efforts?  How does it foster environmental justice (at least one project a year should meet this criterion)?  How and when can we bring it into our worship and community?

In addition to the awareness-raising content of Sunday worship, UCB sponsors an important weekday occasion serving this purpose –The Education/Spiritual Circles.  This is a series of periodic gatherings for small-group discussion, intended to educate participants regarding environmental issues as well as to speak to participants’ spiritual needs.  Key examples:

2015 – 10 days of Climate Contemplations, on-line initially, followed by an evening discussion group.

2016 – A book discussion group focused on Joanna Macy and Chris Johnson, Active Hope.

     2017 – A seven-session series on the Northwest Earth Institute’s Choices for Sustainable Living, featuring chapters on food, transportation, visions of spirituality, etc. [nwei.org].  Earlier, UCB did NWEI’s courses on Voluntary Simplicity and Menu for the Future.

  • – A repeat of NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living.
Taking Action-Energy Reduction
Reducing energy-use dependence on fossil fuels in both the church building and members’ homes has been a major focus of the Green Sanctuary Committee’s agenda. This effort began in earnest in 2015 and reached a climactic point early in 2018 with the installation of solar panels on the church roof.  A complicating issue was the fact that the church building is a registered “historic building,” placed in the middle of Barnstable’s “historic district,’ on the Old King’s Highway (Rte 6-A).  Because panels would need to be placed on a part of the roof plainly visible from Rte 6-A, initially there seemed to be little likelihood that Town officials would give the necessary approval.

Another delaying factor was the estimated cost of installing solar.  But the church’s six-person working group for the project secured bids from three different companies – and one of the bids turned out to be acceptable.  That company (Solar Rising) proved itself to be helpful also in educating congregation members (“Solar 101”), as well as in winning Town approval for the project.  Shortly after the panels were installed, the accomplishment was appropriately celebrated on a Sunday morning.

UCB members leading the project have reflected on their experience and offered these suggestions to other faith communities considering a similar undertaking: “Start early, assemble a working group, solicit a range of bids, get buy-in from the congregation every step of the way, and keep in close contact with the vendor.  With solar incentives now unfortunately declining, those groups who push ahead are able to support an industry with a great record of creating jobs and decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.”

In 2017 UCB’s Green Sanctuary Committee developed a process (“Step by Step-Carbon Footprint Reduction Program”) for finding out how much energy is being saved in the church building through use of solar panels and other energy-reducing measures.  The same process is also available for use by individual members for measuring their household carbon footprint.  This innovative process is described as part of the UCB story in “Two Journeys, Two Stories” and a similar process is explained in another part of the 5Cs Web site.

Individual action, Congregational action and legislative action
      The Unitarian Church of Barnstable’s Green Sanctuary Committee attempts to spread its action projects among three areas – individual action, congregational action, and legislative action.

Green Tips is a key project intended for individuals’ action.  These are written and edited by a volunteer, and a single Green Tip is sent to congregation members through weekly email announcements, which is then repeated in the Sunday morning Order of Service (or Bulletin).  The author tries to connect the topic of each message with the season of the year and/or with a current Green Sanctuary project.

Examples: Nov. 29 – Do your Holiday shopping at the Holiday Fair on Saturday, or at Carol Norman’s FairTrade Shop on any Sunday.  Make your gifts give twice.

Dec. 13 – Before the year is out, be sure to clean or replace air filters as recommended.  Cleaning a dirty furnace or air conditioner filter can save 5% of the energy used and reduce your Carbon Footprint 175 pounds a year.

Two dozen other UCB Green Tips are available at greentipsterucb@gmail.com.

Fair Trade Coffee, Tea and Chocolate are offered at each Sunday felloship period following worship for consumption, as well as for purchase to carry home (a project of UCB’s Social Justice Committee).  These organic products are grown in a number of developing nations, normally by small farmers who use Earth-friendly methods of cultivation, processing and distribution.  A variety of small US-based companies sell them to faith communities and other consumers.  The Massachusetts-based company used by both UCB and FCO is Equal Exchange (shop.equalexchange.coop – 774-776-7366).

At Sunday Fellowship Hour, Fair Trade coffee and tea are served with real china cups and plates, rather than non-disposable and non-compostable ones.  An Energy Star-rated dishwasher is available in the kitchen for clean-up.  The Green Sanctuary Committee carefully evaluates the best ways to compost and recycle in the church kitchen; it also teaches all helpers how to effectively follow these procedures.

The Cobb Hill Movie Series has been a joint project for many years by the UCB Green Sanctuary Committee and the Social Outreach Committee.  Movies are offered to the public on Friday nights; they are chosen with an eye to their environmental and/or social content.  The Series has made many community members and visitors aware of the church and its outreach.  The list of movies shown includes “Shellshocked: Saving Oysters to Save Ourselves,”  “Containment” (about storage of spent nuclear fuel), “The Messenger” (about environmental threats to birds), and “Merchants of Doubt” (about corporations’ unethical efforts to influence public opinion and legislators on such issues as climate change).

Educational/Spiritual Circles is a series of periodic occasions for small group discussion, intended to educate participants regarding environmental issues as well as to speak to our spiritual needs.  Key examples:

2015 – 10 days of Climate Contemplations, on-line initially, followed by an evening discussion group.

2016 – A book discussion group focused on Joanna Macy and Chris Johnson, Active Hope.

2017 – A seven-week series on the Northwest Earth Institute’s Choices for Sustainable Living, including chapters on food, transportation, visions of sustainability, etc.  [nwei.org]. Earlier, UCB did NWEI’s courses on Voluntary Simplicity and Menu for the Future.

2018 – A repeat of NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living.

Investment policy is the arena of action for the UCB’s Prudential Committee and Finance Committee.  They work to ensure that the congregation’s monetary resources are invested primarily in Socially Responsible Funds, and that any changes in our investment policy have been voted upon by congregation members at annual meetings.

Legislative action matters have included development of an environmental questionnaire, which was sent to last year’s local candidates.  While we are careful not to endorse specific candidates, we are intentional about educating our congregants and the larger community concerning legislative issues and elections that connect with Unitarian Universalist faith traditions and bear on environmental themes.  Individual Green Sanctuary members have been actively involved in writing letters and participating in a variety of demonstrations and forums.

Further information about any of the UCB practices is available from Susan Starkey (starkey.susan@gmail.com) or Sheila B. Place (sbplace582@gmail.com).

Foundational Creation-Care Commitments
A key learning for the Federated Church of Orleans Care for Creation Team has been (as stated earlier, in A Historic Church on a New Journey) that “with a long history separating Christian faith and practice from appreciation of the natural world, most Christians today need help in seeing that biblical faith leads to comprehensive and sustained action on behalf of God’s creation.”

That “long history” has been largely driven by four, still-influential forces:  a) The thought of Plato and his successors affirms that the truly important world is an unseen realm of spirit and ideas, not the material, visible world with which people normally are engaged.  b) The thought of Descartes adds that it is peoples’ unique capacity for reason that gives them moral worth, far above the other animals, who are without moral worth.  c) A five-centuries-old spiritual and theological trend (especially in Western Christianity) so elevates the work of Jesus Christ/the Son of God, that the continuing activity of God the Creator and God the Holy Spirit is overlooked. d)  A two-century-old passion, driven by a variety of forces now globalized, seeks to build up human wealth and comfort, largely by plundering the Earth’s bounty without regard for limits.

Recognizing the continuing power of these forces in Christians’ lives, FCO’s Care for Creation Team has mounted a kind of “Back to the Bible- Forward with the Bible” effort to help members discover and embrace the alternative worldview rooted in the Old and New Testaments.  Key biblical themes pursued have been the beauty and goodness of God’s creation; the role God gives humans to care for creation; God’s continuing love for the whole creation; and God’s loving purpose in leading creation toward a future “new heaven and new earth.”

Sunday worship has been a major arena for this effort.  Occasionally at FCO this has been done through an entire sermon focused on an OT or NT text.  More often it is done through brief references to relevant creation-care themes in sermons dealing with other topics generated by the lectionary’s appointed biblical texts.

Some online sources provide useful reflection on biblical texts affirming creation-care themes. A good resource: https://lutheransrestoringcreation.org.  Also, the Mass. Conference of the UCC’s Web site has helpful sample sermons and related resources: macucc.org/preachingonclimate.  And, in his 2018 book, Climate Church, Climate World, longtime UCC environmental leader Jim Antal offers fellow preachers helpful pointers for sermons on this theme (see especially pp. 121-138 and 177-184).

Other parts of the FCO Sunday liturgy provide important biblical-ecological linkages. This happens through words incorporated into a variety of prayers – invocations, collects, pastoral prayers, prayers of dedication, and benedictions.  A helpful online ecumenical source of model liturgies is https://seasonofcreation.com/worship-resources/liturgies.

An important change in FCO Sunday worship occurred in January 2018, following a vote by the congregation to accept a slightly amended Covenant Statement.  The main amendment, proposed by the Care for Creation Team, added nine words, so that a key sentence is now: “We covenant to support The Federated Church of Orleans and to seek the flourishing of God’s whole creation.”  This statement appears weekly in the Sunday bulletin, and it is affirmed in unison on special occasions, notably when babies are baptized, youth are confirmed, and new members join the congregation.

Another significant ingredient of Sunday worship that occasionally has a creation-care theme is the hymns we sing. The number of hymns where this theme is central in the UCC hymnal used at FCO (Chalice Hymnal, 1995) is small; it includes some well-known ones (they are also standards in other denominational hymnals) – such as “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “Morning Has Broken,” “For the Beauty of the Earth,” “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “This is My Father’s World,” and “How Great Thou Art.”  Additionally, aspects of creation are briefly mentioned in a number of other hymns, which are focused on other important spiritual themes.

            From time to time FCO has also had weekday gatherings when different dimensions of the faith-ecology connection have been considered.  The Care for Creation Team had a major role in helping plan the Lenten observances in both 2017 and 2018.  Each year, the five Wednesdays preceding Good Friday and Easter have been a time for a two-hour period of worship, supper and reflection. The 2017 program included presentations making considerable use of Richard Bauckham’s The Bible and Ecology, and the 2018 program included presentations by specialists in Celtic Christianity and Jewish creation-spirituality.

Taking Action-Energy Reduction
In 2016, after several church leaders had experienced the cost-saving advantage of solar panels on their home rooftops, they encouraged the FCO Trustees to consider this possibility for the church building.  Shortly before the Trustee-led solar project was implemented, the recently established Care for Creation Team conferred with the Trustees about the environmental dimensions of such carbon reduction efforts.  In the wake of that conversation, it was decided the church would ask Cape Light Compact to do an energy assessment of the entire church building, looking especially at energy- and cost-saving possibilities for FCO.  Here is a summary of the process that then unfolded.

First, contact was made with Cape Light Compact [1-800-797-6699, capelightcompact.org] to arrange a free energy assessment of the building.  Church/faith community buildings are normally considered a part of CLC’s category of “small businesses.”  The principal energy-saving changes for us that resulted eventually from the assessment was installation of LED lighting and solar panels.

Second, when the assessment was completed, Trustee leaders were told that – thanks to generous subsidies in effect at that time [they have regrettably been lowered in recent months] – the net cost to the church of converting to LED fixtures and lights, as well as installing solar panels, would be approximately $3,000.  That is the amount we would pay to buy labor and materials with a value of approximately $20,000.  Also, Trustees were told that these changes would result in an estimated annual energy-cost saving of approximately $5,000.  The decision was easy: FCO would do it!

Third, when it was decided that the church building’s old roof was not a suitable place for solar panels, it was quickly agreed to look at the church’s large rear parking area as a potential site.  At first a spot in the parking area covered with flowering heather plants was considered, but several problems with that possibility were quickly noted – including the fact that the plants are a food source for neighborhood bees. An alternative was found and the panels were installed at ground level in a part of the parking area that caused no problems for people or other creatures!

Fourth, when the solar and LED installations were completed, two members of the Care for Creation Team took the lead in organizing a lunch program after Sunday worship for church members interested in learning about the possibility of a solar installation for their homes. An articulate leader of a solar company whose services had been used by several members explained the process to attendees; his company also paid for the lunch and agreed to give the church a part of any revenue generated by solar installations resulting from the luncheon conversations.

Further information about any of the FCO practices is available from Cheri Tyree cheri.tyree@gmail.com or Paul Minus pminus@aol.com.

Connecting With Allies Near and Far

Members of Faith Communities Environmental Network (as of 1/27/19)

Unitarian Church of Barnstable www.barnstableuu.org

Federated Church of Orleans www.fedchurchorleans.org

First Parish Unitarian Church of Brewster fpbuu.org

Am HaYam, Orleans  ahycc.org/index.php

Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, Provincetown www.uumh.org

St. David’s Episcopal Church of South Yarmouth www.stdavidscapecod.org

St. John’s Episcopal Church of Sandwich www.sjchurchsandwich.org

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom wilpf.org

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth uuffm.org

Church Women United www.churchwomenunited.net

The United Methodist Church of Osterville ostervillechurch.umcchurches.org

South Congregation Church, Centerville southcongregationalchurch-centerville.org

West Parish Barnstable www.westparish.org

Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Chatham www.holyredeemerchatham.org

Yarmouth Quaker Meeting neym.org/meetings/yarmouth

Pilgrim Congregational Church, Harwich Port www.pcchp.org

St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, Chatham www.stchristopherschatham.org

St. Barnabas, Falmouth www.stbarnabasfalmouth.org

Temple of Understanding templeofunderstanding.org

Online & Book Sources
Yale Climate Connections   yaleclimateconnections.org

Environmental Work Group    ewg.org

 Unitarian Universalist Green Sanctuary   uua.org/environment/sanctuary

UCC Mass. Conference Green Congregations   macucc.org/greencongregations

National UCC Environmental Ministries    ucc.org/advocateforjustice/environmentalministries

Jeff Goodell, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World  (2017)

John Grim & Mary Evelyn Tucker, Ecology & Religion   (2014)

Richard Bauckham,  The Bible & Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (2010)

Elizabeth Johnson, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love  (2014)

Pope Francis, Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality: On Care for our Common Home (2015)

Larry Rasmussen, Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key (2013)

Jim Antal, Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change (2018)