The United Church of Santa Fe (Santa Fe, New Mexico) is National Runner Up in Interfaith Power and Light “Cool Congregations” Annual Award for Leadership and Sustainability

United Church of Santa Fe
February 24, 2020

SANTA FE, NM  — The United Church of Santa Fe is one of six national Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) 2020 Cool Congregations Challenge runners up. The annual contest accepts applications from religious congregations around the United States who are working to address global warming by reducing their carbon footprint as they create models of sustainability within their communities.

The United Church of Santa Fe won the “Sacred Grounds Steward” runner-up award for their decades-long commitment to being a “Desert Faith” Church that seeks to learn the lessons of faith the arid Southwest offers. The Church’s original 1980 covenant includes the commitment to “live in harmony with all creation.” United's mission is to live with the desert (not just in it). As Senior Pastor Talitha Arnold affirms, in Santa Fe and throughout the West, we have to, in the words of author Wallace Stegner, “get over the color green.”

In 2009, with the leadership of Environmental Ethicist Larry Rasmussen, the church adopted its “Whole Earth Covenant” that commits both the congregation as a whole and individual members to addressing global environmental issues (like climate change) and regional concerns such as water use and drilling at Chaco Canyon. This past year, the church developed a Pastoral Resident staff position, focused on environmental and youth ministries.
United’s environmental ministry is integrated into every aspect of the church’s life, from worship and education to developing the church property and advocating for both local and global environmental concerns. The church’s Sanctuary includes a solar adobe wall and an “acequia” that helps cool the space without air conditioning. Twenty years ago, the church installed two cisterns for water conservation and added two more last year. The church erected solar panels six years ago that supply almost all the congregation’s electricity needs and also saves water.
Three years ago, the congregation undertook a major landscaping and conservation project for its 3 1/3 acres at the corner of St. Michael’s Drive and Arroyo Chamiso. The project includes contouring the land for water retention and planting native, xeric flowers and grasses, along with over 250 trees and shrubs. The new plantings, along with existing ones, sequester almost 9 tons of CO2 annually. In addition, the congregation developed an outdoor worship space; meditation trails for congregational and community use; the Hozhoni (Navajo for “Blessing”) Garden and the Los Ninos de Gozo (Children of Joy) garden, play and worship space. The four 8,000 cisterns harvest rainwater for drip irrigation to help establish new trees and also for the garden areas.
This year, the United Church developed a “Carbon Offset Program” whereby members and friends calculate their “carbon costs” for air and auto travel and donate that amount to the church for pass on to New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light and Trees New Mexico  Mexico organizations doing carbon sequestration.

Over the past decade, the United Church of Santa Fe's environmental ministry has also been recognized by Yale University's Institute of Sacred Music which has invited church leadership to share its “Desert Faith” work in the ISM's “Congregations” symposia.
In granting the Sacred Grounds Steward award to the United Church of Santa Fe, the President of Interfaith Power and Light, Rev. Susan Hendershot states, “we recognize communities who are casting a vision for the kind of world in which they want to live, and then carrying out that vision with practical actions that make a real difference in creating lasting solutions to climate change. The Cool Congregations Challenge shows that people of faith are united by concerns about climate change and are taking action – with or without support of government policies. The winners provide strong moral role models for their communities, and their activities have a ripple effect with people in their own homes.

For more information, please contact Rev. Talitha Arnold, Senior Minister, United Church of Santa Fe (505-988-3295, or Rev. Susan Hendershot, President of Interfaith Power and Light (510-444-4891,