The Inspiring Story of Plymouth Congregational Church’s Green Transformation

The Plymouth Congregational Green Team has been around long enough to experience many of the challenges and transitions a green team faces. The church is now receptive to earth care but it hasn’t always been that way.

“For a long time we were a little quiet group working on the sidelines,” said Sara Taliferno, Current Green Team Chair, who has been with the group for two years. The green team had been working for years even before Sara’s arrival.

Members of the Plymouth Green Team have attended SSC’s Green Team Training, an Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, and SSC’s newly offered Advanced Green Team Training. These SSC trainings have kept their efforts going. Annie Stevens, Plymouth Green Team Member who has attended these trainings, reflected on their impact saying, “It makes me proud to work with folks who have the fortitude to speak up in a non-combative way that encourages cooperation and participation”.

This April the Green Team made a big impact with their congregation and the church is witnessing a transformation. What has been the difference? How did years of effort become in one season a huge success? Read more about their approach and success.


When a congregation or its leaders are not 100% receptive to greening the congregation or educating its members on Earth care, how do green teams make strides forward? Are there ways to plant seeds now that will make an impact later?

Sara says their approach has been to initiate projects that “build good will in the church”. An example of this is their annual Spring Cleaning event organized with their Facilities Manager, Jim Cooley, to prepare their grounds and building for the spring season. This led to conversations about energy conservation and inspired Cooley to get creative. He realized Plymouth rarely uses their gas oven in the warmer months and decided to turn off the pilot light during these months to conserve natural gas. This change alone saved them $20 per month on their gas bill.

Another example of planting seeds is through telling success stories and making connections. A few years ago when the summer was mild, the church decided not to use air conditioning. The Plymouth green team uses this story to help their congregation make the connection between saving money, conserving energy, and helping the Earth. They raised awareness that the church had already been doing “green” things.

Lastly, building relationships within the congregation has helped them plant seeds. Their associate pastor, Josh Longbottom, has become a recent advocate for their work. With a background in social justice issues and a personal lifestyle that includes a reverence for nature and composting his household waste, Sara said how building a relationship with Longbottom and other church leadership by intentionally getting to know how they understand earth care has been important to their momentum. This included not only pastors but also staff. With staff support, they have been able to get more buy-in and more easily propose new events and ideas.

Although each of these examples has been small in making an impact, they were important steps for the Plymouth Green Team to getting where they are today. Planting seeds can be an important step to getting buy-in later.


Planting seeds can be a slow process. Once you’ve planted seeds, how does a green team go about making a bigger impact?

In an effort to emphasize earth care in their mission, the national United Church of Christ (UCC) proposed a month-long pledge of action and awareness to their congregations. The Plymouth green team initiated UCC’s “Mission 4/1 Earth”, a national project that challenges its congregations to collectively work towards three goals: 1) To collect one million hours of green actions 2) To plant 100,000 trees and 3) To write 100,000 advocacy letters. Plymouth responded boldly and picked up momentum.

What Plymouth Congregational Green Team did to meet the goals of UCC’s Mission 4/1 Earth:

1)    Collect one million hours of green actions

To work toward this, they created their own goal to log one hour per church member. They also put up a tree within their sanctuary to visually show the green actions by putting up tree leaves. Each leaf signifies 5 green hours and shows which action was taken. Their examples of earth care actions include washing clothes in cold hour, sorting recycling items, taking a bike ride instead of driving, etc.

Sara spoke of how influential this has been in getting the whole congregation involved, “Some members are realizing that things they already do count as a green actions”. 

2)    Plant 100,00 trees

With local ecology in mind, the Plymouth Green Team worked with the Grassland Heritage Foundation to identify prairie plants that are native to the area and are more drought-tolerant than trees. Many children in the congregation tithed to purchase trees through the Arbor Day Foundation that will be planted globally where they are most needed.

3)   Write 100,000 advocacy letters

They have a table at their congregation devoted to letter writing and petition signing.

The Other Activities They Did:

1)    Became Visible to their Community by walking in Lawrence’s Annual Earth Day Parade

2)    Provided Opportunities for Education by offering Lenten Classes

3)    Led Interfaith Dialogue by holding an Interfaith Forum on Leadership and the Environment, which was wildly successful. The Green Team brought in community leaders from different faith backgrounds to discuss the environment.

4)    Organized Time with Creation with a prairie volunteer day and a river float trip that served as a culmination of their “4/1 Earth” efforts and included chances for education and prayer.


By showing that their denomination valued earth care and committing to a congregation-wide effort, the Plymouth Green Team had the support from leadership and an idea big enough to impact all of its members. They took the national project seriously enough by committing to each goal, making it personal to their church and local to their community, and by reinforcing it throughout the month.

Since these efforts began, a company who installs solar panels and helps finance the cost has approached them. There is expressed interest within Plymouth’s leadership to investigate the possibility of solar.

After attending SSC’s Advanced Green Team training in March, they brought back new ideas on how to move forward after their “4/1 Earth” initiative. They hope to initiate a reusable water bottle program to educate the congregation on water issues. After attending and comparing a national UCC event and SSC’s training, Sara was very impressed with SSC and the practical wisdom she gained from the training.

Find out more about UCC’s National Earth Care efforts, click here:

About SSC

SSC features many of these topics and provides helpful tips to congregations, green teams, and individuals at our green team workshops and our advanced green team training. Getting buy-in with congregations is one of our most popular topics. Find more resources and have us host an event for your congregation: