Forty congregants asked to give something up for 40 days.
A coalition of Unitarian Universalist groups thinks they will. They have laid plans for a campaign called 40/40/40 to begin Sunday, April 18 and run through Thursday, May 17. Earth Day is April 22.
The 40/40/40 campaign invites congregations to gather 40 friends and members (or 40 percent of average Sunday attendance) who will each commit to making a small or large change in their daily habits to benefit environmental justice. Such changes might include giving up bottled water or sodas, eating a step lower on the food chain, or supporting or starting a community garden.
The primary organizer of the event is the Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice core team, chaired by the Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh, cominister of the Winchester Unitarian Society in Winchester, Mass.
The Ethical Eating team is responsible for guiding congregations through four years of study on ethical eating, a congregational study/action issue adopted by delegates at the 2008 General Assembly. All of the 40/40/40 proposed actions that people are invited to take on deal with food, although individuals can create their own commitments.
“Our hope,” said Millspaugh, “is that people use 40/40/40 as an opportunity to try out an idea they may have had in the back of their minds. Most of us know a couple of things we could do differently in service of our UU values, but we’ve never quite gotten around to doing them. This is an opportunity to give them a try and see what it’s like.”
“We also hope 40/40/40 will help people understand that making these changes in our lives can be fun,” he said. “It can be a joyful experience to discover our capacity for change. And doing this in relationship, in community, makes change more sustainable and adds a new layer of meaning.”
Millspaugh plans to use the 40 days to visit animal farms “to listen to farmers’ and workers’ perspectives on how their industry has changed. I hope to learn more about how these different approaches to farming affect the lives of my neighbors, world hunger and malnutrition, climate change, labor issues, fair trade, and the animals themselves.”
Tracy Van Quaethem, chair of the Green Sanctuary committee at All Souls UU Church in Kansas City, Mo., plans to use the 40 days to start an heirloom seed cooperative and to work with the committee to make an assessment of all chemical cleaning agents used at church, with an eye to replacing them with safer ones. The UUA Green Sanctuary program gives congregations and individuals guidelines for minimizing their impact on the environment.
The Rev. Dr. Michael Tino, minister of the UU Fellowship of Northern Westchester in Mount Kisco, N.Y., will use the 40 days to create and plant a vegetable garden and to build a compost bin in his backyard. He said, “Though I only have a small patch of land, I want to put it to use in a way that helps me live my values in the world—and that also makes me healthier and deepens my connection to the Earth.”
Millspaugh believes that congregations publicizing the 40/40/40 campaign in their communities will raise Unitarian Universalism’s visibility as well as their own. “This action demonstrates one of the core messages of Unitarian Universalism,” he said, “that we care for the earth and respect our neighbors, even those halfway across the globe. Lots of UUs find it challenging to express this faith to those unacquainted with it. Rather than trying to find the perfect words, why not show its power and relevance through our actions?”
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.
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