One congregation here in Utah is already providing a model for what we may see as more and diverse people of faith organizing to protect the environment. The First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, located at 569 South and 1300 East, has already embraced the need for action, according to the Church’s minister of over 26 years, Reverend Tom Goldsmith.
With respect for the ‘interdependent web’ of life written into the Unitarian Universalist principles, it is perhaps no surprise that a congregation of this faith has already moved from principle into action; according to Goldsmith, “We should have focused [on climate change] decades ago, but we really have our backs up against the wall to embrace climate change as the biggest spiritual issue we are facing: Life as we know it in great peril, and we need to wake up to this fact and embrace the needed changes that must take place if we’re going to have a world for our children and future generations.”
The First Church is working on multiple fronts: They have 11 food-producing beds in their community garden (funded in part in past years by a Slow Food Utah micro-grant). In May they voted unanimously to divest the Church’s endowment of any assets currently related to the fossil fuel industry. Rev. Goldsmith attributes some of the renewed commitment to parishioner Tim DeChristopher’s activism and commitment to the cause. Goldsmith affirms that DeChristopher, and the congregation’s experience supporting him through his ordeal, “has catapulted the whole congregation into a state of alert—we embrace the environmental issues as a complete congregation with the utmost intensity and seriousness.”
Joan Gregory, co-coordinator with the Church’s Environmental Ministry also notes DeChristopher’s action as a “tipping point for the whole congregation.” Members are not shy when it comes to activism. Most recently the First Unitarian Church lists among the organizers for Peaceful Uprising’s Utah Tar Sands Action Camp, occurring next month— an event specifically organized after legal efforts to stop the project failed. (tinyurl.com/ peacefuluprisingactioncamp)
And when it comes to the day-to-day aspects of environmental protection, the Church’s commitment is out front—literally—for all to see. “We put 30,000 watts of solar onto the church. Renewable energy is so much part of the solution, and we’re working to show how the changes we make right now can make a big difference.” Last summer, the 124 panels were added to the roof with the help of an anonymous donation, as well as with a grant from the Rocky Mountain Blue Sky Program.
The project was done by Sunlight Solar Systems. Cammy Staker, owner of the local company, notes that several members of the congregation have since contacted the company, looking to convert their own homes, or looking for a green way to power electric cars. The Church’s “Environmental Minister’s 2012-2013 Annual Report” claims that so far over 50 solar panel installations are as a direct result of the First Unitarian Church’s Community Solar Project.
The Environmental Ministry is now in the process of looking at peaks and valleys in electrical use to better understand how to fine-tune their efforts. “Is First Unitarian Church 100% walking our talk? No—I wish I could say we were—I wish we could all say we were! But we’re all trying, and I think that’s essential,” concludes Gregory.
Wasatch Commons goes solar
Wasatch Commons, the cohousing community west of downtown, has recently installed solar panels. The panels will produce enough energy to power all of their common electrical needs, as well as two electric cars.
Their new solar array is made up of 49 panels, each seven feet square, generating 11,760 watts total. They’re expecting 21,400 kilowatts of energy per year, equating to a savings of $2,000 per year and a reduction of 44,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. The project is the culmination of five years work and planning, and is made possible through a Rocky Mountain Power solar rebate program.
Wasatch Commons offers tours every fourth Wednesay at 5 pm and on second Saturdays at 1 pm