"Standing on the Side of Love" First Universalist Church

First Universalist Church has stood hand in hand with MNIPL at the forefront of climate justice work since the early 2000s. A generous grant from the First Universalist Church Foundation catalyzed the work of the Just Community Solar Coalition to build the Shiloh Temple Community Solar Garden. United by the mantra, “standing on the side of love,” the First Universalist community was shaken and saddened by the events of September 11th, 2001. Members channeled their grief into a deep commitment to their community’s work to create a truly just and sustainable world, to live out what it means to stand on the side of love. 14 years of faith, momentum, and action later, one story from Joy Throm, a former board member of MNIPL and member of First Universalist Church, illustrates how much conversations have grown in this beautiful, interfaith climate movement.

"Many years ago, First Universalist members were selling posters on recycling and reducing waste as a part of an Earth Day event. One of the Catholic churches in the area ordered a few recycling posters, so a woman came to pick them up the next day. When she read over the poster, she saw the word climate change within the text and hesitated. As she left, she told me, “I hope our church will be able to use these. We’re not allowed to use the words climate change, let alone acknowledge or discuss it.”

The First Universalist community has served as an example and a beacon of hope for what is possible when faith communities take seriously their call to act on climate change. Through a commitment to environmental justice work, worship and celebration, religious education, and sustainable living, their faith community received recognition as a Green Sanctuary in September 2011 for their service and dedication to the Earth. Their Faithful Action Environmental Justice Group currently organizes all of the community’s environmental justice work. Back in 2002-03, the group, then called EcoMinds, crafted a values statement with many other Unitarian Universalist congregations. The process of creating the Statement of Conscience on Climate Change knit a core group of activists at First Universalist together and sparked their journey.

Connecting Climate Change with Racial Justice Work

At the center of their work, First Universalist upholds a commitment to illuminate the ways climate and racial justice are interconnected, rather than separate problems. They do this through education, discussion, and advocacy.  As a part of the Minnesota Universalist Unitarian Social Justice Alliance (MUUSJA), First Universalist aims to promote social justice and sustainability within a broader network of UU congregations across the state and locally. In the spring of 2015, First Universalist hosted the Dinner of the Sugar Maple Moon with MNIPL and Winona LaDuke. The evening was filled with meaningful conversation and a beautifully prepared, traditional Dakota and Ojibwe meal by The Sioux Chef. Their social justice lens also informs their goals for their community solar garden project, in which First Universalist is trying to provide equal access to solar energy.

Energy Efficiency

Within the next year, First Universalist hopes to install their own community solar garden to reduce the amount of energy they receive from fossil fuels. One of the many major steps they’ve taken to be more energy efficient is participate in two energy audits of the building. As a result, all previously incandescent light bulbs are now compact fluorescent lights (CFL’s) and will soon be replaced by LED lights. Water conservation was also addressed with the help of Clean Water Action by installing low-flow faucets and a new low-flow dishwasher sprayer in the kitchen. To save energy on a larger scale, many of the building’s windows were replaced. Thermostats in every room are now set to limit the maximum heating and cooling options to avoid large spikes in energy use. Members also participate in a bold recycling and composting program; however, education is key in making sure these efforts are fruitful.

Education and Outreach

The Faithful Action Environmental Justice Group concentrates a large majority of their efforts on providing resources and education people need to take action, from learning what can be composted, to how they can lower their individual carbon footprint. Earth Day provides such an opportunity to engage people. For 12 years, First Universalist Church has been celebrating Earth Day with exhibits, posters, and education. The Faithful Action Environmental Justice Group has developed a series of posters to illustrate concrete action steps people can take to lower their carbon footprint.Interfaith Power & Light and Unitarian Universalist Earth Ministry help to distribute these posters nationally, while First Universalist members sell the posters in the Twin Cities.

First Universalist is also telling their stories through a weekly newsletter, The Liberal. Faithful Action Environmental Justice Group member Stan Satinger contributed a few thoughts to the newsletter after members participated in the Tar Sands Resistance March in June 2015. The march was a powerful day of action, turning out over 5,000 people to stand up against the tar sands pipelines being built in our communities across Minnesota. First Universalist was a part of the faith block, organized by MNIPL, with 400 people of faith marching together to represent 25 faith communities across MN.

First Universalist has also hosted a series of Climate Conversations, a program offered by MNIPL to convene conversations that connect, inspire, and engage faith communities in meaningful action on climate change. Two Climate Conversations in June drew in people who wanted to explore their role in the climate justice movement and expanded the reach of the Faithful Action Environmental Justice Group. By providing a space for conversations around climate change to take place, those who felt battered by the struggle to address these issue reignited their passion for the work.

Connect with First Universalist Church on their website to learn more about what they're doing!