First Parish in Needham Logo

23 Dedham Avenue
Needham, MA 02492

Congregation Certifications

Welcoming Congregation

Celebrating the Presence of LGBTQ+ People

First Parish is among the many Unitarian Universalist congregations that have voted to welcome and celebrate the presence and participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and transgender persons – just as we welcome persons of any race, age, ability, or economic circumstances. Following a rigorous application process, First Parish was designated a Welcoming Congregation by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in October 1996.

The Welcoming Congregation movement embodies several of the Unitarian Universalist principles, and awareness and support for LBGQT issues continues to permeate First Parish culture. Children and youth at First Parish are encouraged to participate in the Our Whole Lives human sexuality program, which incorporates LBGQT issues throughout the curriculum. Virtually every Sunday, a message welcoming LBGQT members and visitors is part of the opening words, and on many Sundays these issues figure prominently in the sermon. Additionally, LBGQT issues are occasionally featured in the Needham Lyceum and other programs.

The Welcoming Congregation Program is a completely volunteer program for Unitarian Universalist congregations that want to take intentional steps to become more welcoming and inclusive of people with marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities.

For more information on LGBTQ issues and the UUA in general, see the UUA’s webpage on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Justice.

To contact the First Parish Welcoming Congregation, please send an email to:

Green Sanctuary

Green Sanctuary Certification

Living Mindfully on this Earth
Green Sanctuary Action

At First Parish, we take great pride in having been recognized as a Green Sanctuary by the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The rigorous Green Sanctuary certification process requires a congregation to demonstrate a fundamental, bottom-line commitment to living in harmony with the Earth.

To qualify, a congregation must demonstrate green initiatives in many different areas including worship, social action, and religious education, and in ways that foster sustainable lifestyles for both individuals and the community.

The church’s environmental efforts have also been recognized with awards from Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light, the U.S. EPA, and the Green Needham Collaborative.

There are many aspects of our Green Sanctuary initiative, including:

  • The addition in 2013 of solar panels and new sanctuary windows that greatly reduce First Parish’s carbon footprint and add to the further greening of our green building.
  • Ongoing support, including the first two years of hosting, for the Needham Farmers Market.
  • Regular incorporation of green principles, as embodied in our green covenant, into our worship services and into the Religious Exploration program.
  • Active participation in and support for the Needham Community Farm.
  • Regular Roll and Stroll Sundays, where congregants walk or bike to services, often forming up “walking church buses.”
  • Comprehensive recycling and waste reduction policies.
  • Regular continuing education offerings on timely environmental topics.
  • Frequent collaboration with local environmental organizations, showing films such as Food, Inc. and taking part in advocacy activities such as the Updated Bottle Bill ballot initiative.

The Green Sanctuary Program is overseen by the Green Congregation Committee:

Our Green Building

Reducing Our Energy Footprint

n June of 2007, we vacated the physical home of First Parish to make way for an extensive rebuilding and renovation project. The old Parish Hall, built in 1888, was essentially razed, and a beautiful new, larger, and environmentally progressive building rose in its place. Despite being 25% percent larger and the addition of air conditioning, the new building reduced our utility costs 50 percent and our “carbon footprint” by 43 percent.

In 2010 First Parish in Needham became the first house of worship in Massachusetts to receive the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s prestigious Energy Star, the national symbol for protecting the environment through superior energy efficiency. Nationwide, First Parish was just the sixth house of worship to be so recognized.


Going Solar

In 2013, we took our next major green step when First Parish officially “plugged into the grid,” activating 38 newly installed solar panels on our roof. The photovoltaic panels now supply much of the building’s electricity and, when the building’s needs are low, pumps electricity back into the grid.

solar panels

The system is designed to produce about 15,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year — almost 50% of the electricity First Parish consumes — avoiding nearly 14,000 pounds of annual carbon dioxide emissions. This is in addition to the savings gained just by the renovation. The performance of our solar system can be monitored online — note especially the second tab which shows our energy savings in terms of pounds of CO2 not put into the atmosphere or miles not driven.

The addition of our new solar panels has raised our EnergyStar rating from 95th to 98th percentile.  As of March 2014, we are tied with two other churches for the highest EnergyStar rating for houses of worship in the entire US.  Overall 42 houses of worship have received a passing score of 75 (but we don’t know how many have applied.)  Interestingly, six of those 42, or 15%, are UU churches even though only 0.3% of the total number of houses of worship are UU.

Renovation Details

The new Parish Hall (below) is a sparkling air-conditioned space ideally suited for receptions and parties, artistic performances, art shows, and, of course, coffee hour. Sun-drenched by day, intimate at night, Parish Hall has excellent acoustics and a beautiful maple floor harvested from sustainable forests. An adjacent modern pantry facilitates the final preparation of food and beverages to be served in Parish Hall. The ground floor was completely rebuilt giving us well-equipped classrooms, a music room, and the beautiful Oakman Parlor. Similarly, the office wing was completely renovated and now houses modern offices, a copy and mail room, and the Wyeth Conference Room. Water use in the new building is down 40% from pre-renovation levels.


Elements that contribute to the remarkable energy efficiency of the new building include:

  • High-efficiency argon-filled windows
  • An improved ventilation system that allows for heat recovery
  • High-efficiency air conditioning, with eco-friendly refrigerants
  • Separate temperature control for all spaces
  • Extensive passive heating in Parish Hall, along with “free-cooling” using CO2 sensors
  • High efficiency light fixtures throughout and motion-controlled switches in many rooms
  • Energy Star appliances
  • High R-rated insulation
  • Low-flow toilets, with separate settings for liquid and solid waste and automatic low-flush flush urinals
  • Retention of storm water onsite, reducing load on the public sewer system

First Parish’s commitment to the environment is also shown in its use of materials, such as maple flooring harvested from sustainable forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and paints, carpets, furniture and other materials chosen for their environmental friendliness. Our maintenance of the buildings and grounds includes the use of organic fertilizers and green cleaning products and supplies. The building is also pre-wired and piped for a five-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on the roof to generate electricity. Adding the solar panels remains an important goal for the congregation.

The realization of our dream for a truly green building reflects a deep commitment on the part of First Parish to the seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism — respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. That commitment is further embodied in the Green Sanctuary initiative, a parish-wide effort to live mindfully on this precious planet.

Green Covenant

Setting ourselves to the task of Greening our Congregation, together we promise these things:

Most simply, we will each do our small part to care for the earth around us.

We will start with one step forward toward the thriving world that we envision.

Then we will step again, and again, settingforth together in this community.

Deep problems call for religious answers. Recognizing the depth and urgency of the environmental crisis, we must answer the earth’s call to our spirits.

We will bring the concerns of the earth to live deep in our hearts and in the heart of this congregation.

Realizing that we have been too concerned with consuming things now, we must turn our attention to the future.

We will take up the needs of the generations to come: clean water to drink, sweet air to breathe.

Acknowledging the earth most basically as our home, we must set about the task of restoration.

In this our congregational home, we will find small and large ways to remember the environment in our worshiping, our learning, our celebrating, and our justice-making.

Aware of the urgency and complexity of our environmental crisis, we end by promising simply this:

As people of faith, we pledge ourselves to work toward a planet transformed by our care.

                                                                           ~ Molly Housh Gordon

Children's Green Covenant

The following Children’s Covenant to Green Sanctuary, written by former Director of Religious Education, Irene Praeger, has also been used in our regular services, as welll as in Children’s Worship.

Children’s Covenant to Green Sanctuary

With the goal of making our congregation green, we the children of First Parish promise:

We will do whatever we can to care for the earth around us.

We will start by taking one step forward toward healing our earth.

Today we will join hands to care for our beautiful building and grounds and all the creatures who share this space with us.

We know that we have paid more attention to what we want rather than what we need.

We promise to pay more attention to those things that we really need, so that we can give ourselves and the children who come after us clean water to drink and sweet air to breathe.

Big problems call for UU kids to take action.

We must act now using open minds, loving hearts and hands that serve.

Knowing that the earth is our home, we pledge to do our part to respect the circle of life.

In our church home we will always look for ways both small and large to honor and celebrate the wonder and beauty of our natural world.

                                                             ~ Irene Praeger, DRE, CRE

Level-2 Sanctuary Supporting Congregation

Level-2 Sanctuary Supporting Congregation / Immigrant Ministry

In December 2017, First Parish in Needham voted unanimously to become a Level 2 Sanctuary Congregation, also known as a sanctuary supporting congregation. We joined a national sanctuary movement to protect immigrants from deportation.

For close to two years, we partnered with a Level 1 sanctuary congregation, which was housing an immigrant family. During this time, we volunteered as on-site security and did a variety of tasks for the family, ranging from social support to grocery shopping to transportation.

Currently, we partner with local organizations to continue our mission of supporting our immigrant neighbors and immigration justice.

“As Unitarian Universalists, our first principle is the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” said Cathy Livingston, a member of our 2017 task force that planned our becoming a sanctuary congregation. “Joining the sanctuary movement is a wonderful opportunity to live our faith through action. Although it may seem on the surface that this is a way for us to help others, we truly feel that it is a mutually beneficial opportunity that will allow us to grow as a church, as individuals, and spiritually.”

If you would like more information or to get involved, please contact Reverend Catie Scudera at

8th Principle Congregation

8th Principle of UU Congregation

In May 2022, First Parish voted to endorse and adopt the 8th Principle of Unitarian Universalism, in support of a nationwide anti-racism/anti-oppression movement and in hopes for the 8th Principle to be incorporated into the national Article II Commission’s recommendations in 2023 and 2024.

Through our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee and other justice and educational programs at our congregation, we strive to live into this commitment.

The Eighth Principle reads that we:

covenant to affirm and promote journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.