Clean Up and Green Up Your Church for Winter

[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]

A maple tree in autumn.

Change is good.

If you live in a region of the country where the seasons change, you’re probably switching out your shorts and swimsuits for sweatshirts and socks (and maybe even long johns!) right about now, and you’re also probably involved in preparing your church facilities for a similar transition into cooler weather.

There’s a lot your church community can do to protect against the needless waste of natural and monetary resources inside the church building as winter approaches. You can find some suggested measures of protection in our winterizing Toolshed from last fall’s Flourish magazine, and in previous Cultivating Community articles on reducing energy use and waste.

But such conservation (or “keeping,” from Genesis 2:15) is only one part of creation stewardship. Stewardship is also about cultivating (“tending”). In the documentary Rivers and Tides, Andy Goldsworthy, an artist whose pieces are made from natural media (stones, leaves, twigs, etc.) and sometimes only last for a few hours before nature’s forces alter or destroy them, explains that “the real work is the change.” Similarly, the change of seasons is the work of God’s created world, and an opportunity for us, its caretakers, to work in harmony with those changes to cultivate health and flourishing within the natural world

So gather with your church family this fall to tend to the natural space your worship inhabits each Sunday. No matter how small your church’s plot of land, joining together to tend it in the crisp fall air will mean health for your bodies, faithfulness for your souls, beauty and sustainability for the land, and provision for God’s other creatures. Read on to see what we mean and how you can do it:

Gathering
Bring as many people together as possible to work as a church family carrying out God’s first command to tend and keep the

Many hands makes the work of cultivation go quickly! (image courtesy Scot Martin)

earth.

  • Choose a day, ideally a Saturday before the weather in your area gets too cold, and establish it as your church’s outdoor work day. But consider your wording—folks are less inclined to attend a “work” day on their day off from work! Plus, you won’t be slaving away so much as rejoicing in God’s creation by taking care of it. The day is more one of autumnal celebration.
  • Get the word out ahead of time in your church’s announcements and request that folks sign up so that the organizers can anticipate a certain number. When explaining the purpose of the work day, explain the stewardship component of it so that it’s clear you’re not just cleaning up the church yard, but you’re taking part in nurturing God’s earth, as well.
  • On the work day itself, provide refreshments and allow folks plenty of time to relax and fellowship, as well as work. Provide babysitting or activities for younger kids to do, such as raking, planting bulbs, or making pine cone peanut butter bird feeders to hang around the property.

Groundskeeping
The following are some ways that ordinary autumn clean up activities can contribute to creation’s flourishing:

  • With a lot of helping hands, you can rake fallen leaves instead of using a leaf-blower that releases unhealthy particulate matter into the air. Instead of bagging the leaves in plastic and paying to have them collected at the curb, mulch the church’s landscaping with leaves you rake up, or build a compost bin to house them as they—when mixed with other organic scraps—decompose into rich earth that can flourish your gardens in the spring. Visit our guide to composting for more information.
  • Clear dying annuals and deadhead or prune landscaped perennials to prevent rotting and disease from infesting your landscaping. Plant bulbs now so that your church yard bursts into color with warmer weather. Plant bulbs deep into the ground to keep rodents from digging them up. (Daffodils, which are poisonous, will deter squirrels and other rascals from unearthing your bulbs!)
  • If your church has set up rain barrels to collect water for irrigation purposes, empty, dry, and store these in a sheltered area if you anticipate below-freezing temperatures throughout the winter.

Giving

Cultivate places where God's creatures can find rest and nourishment in winter.

Although all of the cleaning up you do in the church yard is an act of giving because it prepares the earth to rest well and renew for fresh growth, here are some more explicit ways you can give to the creation you tend:

  • Install bird feeders around the church property so that species that are in the area for the winter can find provisions to sustain them. Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s bird feeder site to learn which bird feeders are appropriate for which species. Also include bird baths near the feeders so that the birds have a source of water to drink and bathe in. But be sure there is ample interest in your church community in providing for these birds! Setting out the feeders and filling them only once does not provide birds with a consistent source of nourishment.
  • Install bird houses on the property in anticipation of spring. See our guide to building several different kinds of bird houses, and install the appropriate type according to what species frequent your area.
  • Although you will prune plants to prevent disease, reserve some seed heads to create beauty and interest in the winter garden, and to provide an additional winter source of food for birds. If you have roses in your church yard, don’t prune the season’s last flowers, but let them fade so that next year’s blooms will be even more prolific.

Related Posts at Flourish
Building Energy Efficiency into Church
Transforming a Church Yard, One Blade of Grass at a Time

Further Reading
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Organic Gardening

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