The Flourishing Church: Transforming a Church Yard, One Blade of Grass at a Time

by Scot F. Martin


Flourish magazine, Spring 2010

 
“Anti-Christ Turf Monster!” That’s what we’ve dubbed our seven-plus acres of turf grass on the property of Trinity Covenant Church in Livonia, a suburb of Detroit.  (Full disclosure: “We” is actually me, but no one’s objected.)

Trinity Church’s vision is “To teach and model the integration of faith and life under the Lordship of Christ,” and the community has been concerned with a whole Gospel message since the 80s. But it was in 2006 that our creation stewardship component inchoately formed after a visit and talk by Dr. Orin Gelderloos, a biologist from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. During his talk he challenged us (and other churches) to become stations of creation stewardship.

Shortly after that, a few members met on Sunday mornings to study and discuss Cal DeWitt’s brief but enlightening Earth-Wise. Our next logical step, with the urging of our pastor, Michael Van Horn, was to do something: something that would mesh with our vision that called for an end to dualistic thinking about the spiritual and material worlds.

Thus was born the Blue-Green Ministry. Blue for water and fidelity, green for (duh!) the land, but also hope. Using Gerard Manley Hopkins’ line that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God,” and Colossians 1:20 as touchstones, we set out to change our little part of Southeastern Michigan.

We’ve had an energy audit, added some recycling bins, experimented with different kinds of table settings for our potluck meals (eliminating Styrofoam, for one), and installed two rain barrels.

We have an open courtyard area that seemed to pond after storm events, so with plant donations from a local watershed stewardship group—Friends of the Rouge—we created two rain gardens under our downspouts. Not only have they helped with the moisture problem (though it isn’t a perfect solution) the gardens have softened the hard square of the courtyard and added a small, but pleasing, addition of color and texture to an area visible from the narthex. Our most ambitious project, however, has to be our native landscape project.

Possessing more than seven acres of turf grass has, as you might surmise, has a cost attached to it: namely, lawn care. We spend over $5,000 a year tending that biological desert, and to what end? No one really knows. So on an overcast day in October 2008, we broke ground on the beginning of a native landscape. With help again from Friends of the Rouge (they obtained a grant to purchase the plants) we planted black-eyed Susans, penstemon, June grass, lupine, and other Michigan prairie natives in the spring of 2009.  While still small, about 25 feet in diameter, the landscape has attracted butterflies and bumblebees, the black and gold flash of goldfinches, iridescent blue-black mud daubers, and other species we’ve just been too busy to notice. We’ve increased biodiversity in an area that previously supported only a handful of species, we’ve helped with water quality, and we’ve increased the aesthetic appeal of our grounds, not to mention that we are on our way to saving on lawn care costs. The one lesson we can pass on to any church that would like to attempt such a venture is to weed early and often. Ragweed, dandelions, and other pests love colonizing disturbed areas.

In addition to the native landscape and the rain garden, we’ve been experimenting with a community garden. Our goal is to slowly remake our landscape from one of suburban conformity to one that is God-glorifying and provides food for many different kinds of creatures, including humans. We want to truly steward all of the church, not just the offices, classrooms, and sanctuary.

Perhaps someday, our “Anti-Christ Turf Monster” will meet its just destruction. And perhaps when Jesus returns he will find native species and land that is loved as he begins his reign on a renewed earth.


scot-martin-headshotScot F. Martin teaches (attempts to anyway) high school English, has been published in Wayne Literary Review and Absinthe, and is 21 volunteer hours away from being a “certified” Master Naturalist. He lives in Michigan with his wife and two children.

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