May 1, 2012
Written by Ethan Rothstein, Staff Writer Delaware Coast Press
LEWES — One of the seven principles upon which the Unitarian Universalists Association was founded is “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
In the past few years, the Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware have taken that philosophy to heart. In the last year, the congregation was certified by the UUA as an official “green sanctuary” because of the work it has done to promote sustainability.
“The seventh principle is certainly an important one, and one that’s engaged members of our community,” said Joe Farrell, the green sanctuary program coordinator for UUSD. “It’s connected our behavior to some spiritual practice.”
The congregation had to complete a dozen projects to be accredited as a green sanctuary, the linchpin of which was building and maintaining a community garden. The garden has been operational for five years, and the members who maintain it grow tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, kale and green beans, donating the food to Casa San Francisco and its network of food banks in Sussex County.
“It’s a very big deal for us,” said Betty Kirk, coordinator of the community garden project. “It’s a certification that we’re making an effort internally and externally; we’re giving back to the community. We can (do things to conserve), but this is our primary outreach activity as part of our social justice.”
UUSD was also the first member of the Delaware Interfaith Power and Light, a member of the national, non-denominational organization that seeks to bring congregations from different backgrounds together to help reverse climate change.
John Sykes is the president of the DEIPL and a member of the social justice committee for UUSD. He now counts three other member churches in the state — the New Ark United Church of Christ in Newark, First Unitarian Church of Wilmington and the Unitarian Fellowship of Newark — with two others “in the pipeline.”
“We really want to work with anyone who’s interested on this mission,” Sykes said. “We want people to make the connection between ecology and their faith.”
Growing the DEIPL is the next step for UUSD’s mission to promote environmentalism, Farrell said, but it’s only one of more than a dozen programs the church does that qualify it as a green sanctuary.
“We really began this effort about three years ago,” Farrell said. “We were trying to engage the congregation in thinking about our seventh principle, building awareness of the complexity of environmental issues and encouraging lifestyle changes.”
With its continued efforts, UUSD will enlist more faith organizations in Delaware to join its mission. Sykes thinks it’s a crucial part of having faith and being religious.
“Faith speaks to the importance of stewardship of the Earth,” Sykes said. “That’s not a passive activity, that’s an active activity.”