Community adapts to climate emergency with fundraiser and tree giveaway

The Tree Giveaway event poster. Photo courtesy of First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa’s Instagram page.

By Alvin Tsang

Church work can mean partnering with impacted communities to address climate change.

The Unitarian GoGos, the GoGo Grannies of Aylmer and Ecology Ottawa joined together for a three-day plant sale at the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa on the weekend of May 13-15. Proceeds went to the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Grandmothers to Grandmothers.

The highlight of the event? A pay-by-donation concert and tree giveaways by the church.

This was the third spring in a row that the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa held the tree giveaway, and this year’s was the largest one to date.

The church has about 300 congregants and 10 active members on its environment committee. Mike Fletcher, chair of the environment committee, revealed that over 150 trees had been given away at this year’s event.

“Two and a half years ago, the congregation decided that climate change would be our congregational focus, so we embarked on that,” Fletcher said. 

A nation-wide unitarian program called the Green Sanctuary Program certifies places of worship as green places of worship, and the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa entered into that certification process.

“The accreditation has three main aspects,” Fletcher explained. “First, we’ve set out to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions in line with what the United Nations says. Second, we adapt ourselves, our congregants, and help the wider community to adapt and make the most of reducing harmful effects to the climate.”

The third aspect involves undertaking social justice projects related to the climate crisis.

“The adaptation aspect is why we do the tree giveaway in the springtime. The tree giveaway is in cooperation with Ecology Ottawa, and that’s our big thing on adaptation,” Fletcher said.

The church’s environment committee had been around for many years, long before Canada’s declared national climate emergency in 2019.

“We were the second church, actually of any organization in any form, to divert from fossil fuels in Canada,” Fletcher said.

Mike Fletcher and his daughter. Photo submitted by Mike Fletcher.

The congregants of the church, across all ages, participate in many climate activities. They participate in letter writing, do advocacy work, encourage people to sign petitions, talk to politicians, attend public meetings, and more.

“We’re also committed to a speaker series. It’s called ‘Earth Speaks.’ We have lots of environmental speakers come in or join over Zoom, and we promote it so that people can join in and watch,” Fletcher said.

This summer, the church will make facility changes and install its first heat pump.

“We’ve started doing an energy audit at the church so we can reduce the church building’s emissions in half by 2030 and get to zero before 2050. That project has started, and part of the building will run off of natural gas shortly and be heated by the new coming heat pump,” Fletcher said.

The work of the church ties into unitarian principles, especially the seventh unit principle, which is respect for the web of existence of which all humans are a part of. 

“That’s often cited as the inspiration and direction for us to do our work,” Fletcher said.

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