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Presbyterians are seeing good results planting native species on their sacred grounds

A Presbyterians for Earth Care webinar put on by the National Wildlife Federation looks at how to get started

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Fons Heijnsbroek via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians and other people of faith are becoming more intentional about planting their church grounds with the thriving of God’s creatures in mind, and a webinar offered last week by Presbyterians for Earth Care explained how and where that’s happening.

Natalie Cohen, manager of community conservation in the National Wildlife Federation’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Center, and Danielle Wendt, a member of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps and an environmental storyteller, teamed up for an hour-long webinar they called “Presbyterians Planting for Wildlife: An Introduction to the National Wildlife Federation’s Sacred Grounds Program.” Watch a recording here.

According to Wendt, the NWF’s Sacred Grounds program “recognizes congregations, houses of worship and faith communities that create wildlife habitat and engage their communities around environmental stewardship.” Congregations can farm for wildlife, install pollinator gardens on their grounds, address stormwater issues and provide access to greenspace. It’s unique in that it both supports wildlife and meets the needs of the faith community, such as providing an outdoor prayer or worship space.

NWF has helped faith communities in three regions to date: the Great Lakes, the Mid-Atlantic and the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia region commonly known as DMV.

The benefits for faith communities include increasing wildlife habitat on their grounds, providing opportunities for worshipers to connect with nature, creating a safe and peaceful neighborhood greenspace for prayer and reflection, fulfilling faith’s call to stewardship and building resilient communities by helping to reduce flooding and pollution.

A classic example of native plants is the milkweed monarch butterflies rely on to complete their lifecycle, Cohen said, adding this tidbit about oak trees: They house 557 species of caterpillars. And this: Three-fourths of the produce on our dinner table is pollinated by bees.

Since gardening is defined as “planting with a purpose,” Cohen said faith communities can aim for 70% of their garden being given over to native species. Learn more here.

Danielle Wendt

Wendt explored the Sacred Grounds progress made by two PC(USA) congregations in Wilmington, Delaware, Westminster Presbyterian Church and Hanover Presbyterian Church.

Westminster’s vision was to create an outdoor space that would support a variety of church activities, including individual contemplation, spiritual and Earth-centered activities and possibly creation of an outdoor worship space. On its application, Westminster envisions “turning this area into a native plant garden would create an inviting space for individual prayer and church gatherings, transforming this forgotten piece of land into an asset and spiritual resource.

Hanover’s vision was to “create a space that is peaceful and easy to maintain and creates a positive impact on the community and neighborhood. Hanover Church has always been a neighborhood-centered church with an emphasis on creating hospitality and a spirit of including and working toward social justice.” It has partnered with organizations including Pacem in Terris and Jefferson Street Center.

Natalie Cohen

The work of other faith communities was also highlighted during the webinar, including the Islamic Community Center of Laurel in Maryland. “It was exciting to see kids trying to use tools too big for them” on planting day, Wendt said. “They were excited about having this garden. They are watching the garden and the kids grow together. It was organized chaos that day. At one point, Natalie said she was glad she was wearing sunglasses that day. She was so moved” that she didn’t want people to see her tears, Wendt said.

“It was a great day, and I was grateful I had my sunglasses,” Cohen said. “I was moved.”

For faith communities, joining the Sacred Grounds movement is a four-step process:

  • Create a wildlife habitat.
  • Install native plants and form a committed green team to care for them.
  • Encourage the congregation and the surrounding community throughout the project.
  • Make connections between faith practices and stewardship. Cohen said churches can make those connections from the pulpit or in Vacation Bible School or Sunday school, or through outdoor fellowship.

In just a few weeks, the NWF is publishing a Sacred Grounds resource guide that will be available here.

Trinity Presbyterian Church of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, an Earth Care Congregation, has published a 23-page guide called “Nature that Nurtures.” Download the guide here. Watch a brief video on Trinity’s Caring for Creation ministries here.

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