ROCKLAND, Maine — The First Universalist Church will celebrate the congregation’s certification as a Green Sanctuary at its worship service at 10 a.m. Sunday.
“It’s been wonderful to see so many people in the congregation get involved,” Diane Schetky, chairwoman of the church’s Green Sanctuary Committee, said Friday.
The church, located at 345 Broadway, is the fifth Unitarian Universalist church in Maine to earn the designation.
The Rockland congregation began the process of earning the Green Sanctuary certification outlined by its denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, in 2002. The program stems from the UU’s seventh principle, in which members affirm “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
The Green Sanctuary Program provides a path for congregational study and reflection and a call to individual and collective actions in response to environmental challenges, according to information on the denomination’s Web site.
The goals of the program are to:
ä Build awareness of the significance and complexity of environmental issues.
ä Encourage personal lifestyle changes.
ä Engage in community action on environmental issues.
ä Strengthen the connection between spiritual practice and Earth consciousness.
ä Work to heal environmental injustices.
To achieve these goals, the program sets forth a comprehensive series of actions that integrate an Earth-oriented spirituality into congregational worship and communal gatherings, according to the Green Sanctuary Manual.
Members of local congregations are encouraged to learn how their lifestyle choices affect the environment, and to explore what alternative choices are available. Every member of the congregation is encouraged to participate in activities that will make a difference locally and globally.
“A lot of work went into [earning this certification],” said Schetky, of Rockport. “Gradually, we have been gaining more awareness about the perilous state our Mother Earth is in.”
The congregation started the process seven years ago by taking “baby steps,” she said, and introduced the idea of using toilet paper made from recycled paper and replacing conventional light bulbs with LED bulbs.
“It just mushroomed,” Schetky said of the program’s success with church members.
While the Green Sanctuary Program encourages individual actions to reduce human beings’ impact on the planet, it is primarily a program of congregational action, according to information on the denomination’s Web site. It is about working together to strengthen members’ ability to create environmental change.
The program is based on a framework of four focus areas: worship and celebration, religious education, sustainable living, and environmental justice.
“It’s quite rigorous to satisfy all the requirements,” Schetky said.
The Rockland church met the requirements of the Green Sanctuary Program by sponsoring Earth Day celebrations including a Cosmic Mass in 2008, lessons about the environment in its religious education programs, and working with groups such as the Maine Council of Churches, the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Midcoast Peace and Justice Group to sponsor programs on global climate change.
One of the most successful components of the congregation’s work toward the certification has been activism in promoting the purchase of local food.
“Our ministry of local foods continues to grow and to inspire other communities of faith to follow suit in supporting a conservation ethic and lowering our carbon footprint,” Lucie Bauer, 69, of Rockport said last year for a story about the Maine Council of Churches’ push to pair churches with farmers in their area. “But the greatest gift is in forming relationships with the people who grow and harvest our food. In that, we are building the historical resilience of our communities.”
First Universalist was the first church in the state to develop a partnership with a local grower, Hatchet Cove Farm in Warren. The church purchased 15 shares the first year; that grew to 45 in 2007 and to 80 in 2008. The church also bought shares in the Port Clyde-based Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative’s Community Supported Fishery in 2008. They began with 100 pounds of shrimp a week, which more than doubled over the season and later included groundfish, Bauer said.
Shares in the farm last year cost $290 each and allowed shareholders to get fresh foods from the farm for 18 weeks from mid-June to mid-October, Bauer said. That averaged $16 a week. Shares in 2009 cost $300 each, according to information on the farm’s Web site.
Shares in the fishery co-op were $210 a share. Each shareholder received 10 pounds of shrimp a week during the 14-week season. Half-shares also were available.
Last summer, Schetky said Friday, the farm was struck with a potato and tomato blight.
“We shareholders shared not only the bounty but we shared the risk,” she said. “I think it made us appreciate all the risks of farming. I don’t think we think about that when we buy produce from Florida or California.”
Congregants will be asked Sunday what the next step should be in their mission as a Green Sanctuary church — eating lower on the food chain by reducing the amount of beef they consume or monitoring their carbon footprint and working to reduce it.
Other UU churches in Maine that have earned the Green Sanctuary certification are located in Sanford, Belfast, Saco and Portland. The UU church in Bangor is working toward certification.
For information on the program, visit www.uua.org/leaders/environment/greensanctuary/index.shtml.