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Looking Back on the Early Days with Rev. Dr. Butterfield

Rev. Dr. Clare Butterfield, Founding Executive Director of Faith in Place
Rev. Dr. Clare Butterfield, Founding Executive Director

Rev. Dr. Butterfield is our beloved founder who served as Faith in Place’s Executive Director until 2013. She will be the keynote speaker at our upcoming Green Team Summit on September 14th. Looking forward to our Summit, we sat down with Rev. Dr. Butterfield to hear her first-hand account about our early days.

Faith in Place started small but with a powerful vision of what the environmental movement should be — a movement of environmentalism rooted in social equity.

Rev. Dr. Butterfield describes the early days as ones mainly fueled by hard work and hope that sustainability could be an integral part of life for faith communities.

When thinking back to how Faith in Place got started, Rev. Dr. Butterfield shared that it all came from a conversation at the Center for Neighborhood Technology with a recent retiree named Steve Perkins. Steve was interested in seeing if the faith community might get involved in issues around urban sustainability. He recruited Rev. Dr. Butterfield and another student to start building the movement and see if the faith community would engage. Eventually, Steve developed this idea into the Inter-religious Sustainability Project and posted a half-time position to get the effort off the ground. As Rev. Dr. Butterfield had just finished finished seminary, she was intrigued and took the job.

Attendees at one of the early Sustainability Circles
One of the early Sustainability Circles

So Rev. Dr. Butterfield was hired part time and had “two nickels and six months” to organize six sustainability circles around Chicago. Sustainability was not a trending topic in the early 2000’s and certainly not on the forefront of the mind of the Houses of Worship she engaged with.

She explained that, “there wasn’t an understanding of how to apply religious values to earth care.”

Luckily, Rev. Dr. Butterfield as able to connect with people in each of the congregations that served as linchpins for getting the community engaged. She built traction and sixty congregations came on board, becoming environmental justice advocates in their own right.

We are immeasurably grateful for the roots Rev. Dr. Butterfield crafted from determined effort over the early years of Faith in Place. As we grow and expand our programs and vision today, we look back on our humble beginnings with a sense of gratitude. To hear Rev. Dr. Butterfield share more about how she founded our visionary environmental justice work, please join us for our Green Team Summit on September 14th at the Field Museum.


Rev. Dr. Butterfield founded Faith in Place in 1999 and served as its Executive Director until 2013. She is currently the Executive Director of the Christopher Family Foundation. She has also served as the Program Director at the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation and as a Unitarian Universalist community minister. She has a DMin from Chicago Theological Seminary (2008) with a focus on faith and the environment, an MDiv from Meadville Lombard Theological School (2000), a JD from University of Illinois College of Law (1983), and a BA in history from the University of Illinois (1980).

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