How we greened our church Part II: Making the case

Image of a volunteer moving plants with a wheel barrow.
June 13, 2013
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Anyone who has worked on green issues—or in a group of any kind, for that matter—knows that a good idea is only half the battle. If the right people aren’t on the proverbial bus, you quickly find yourself going nowhere fast.

When our Earth Stewardship team first conceived the idea for the rain garden, we were excited. But not everyone shared that excitement. No one was hostile to the concept, but with so many projects already on the front burner and a finite budget stretched thin, making the case for a rain garden was not an easy sell.

But we did it, and the garden recently celebrated its first birthday. How did we secure the support we needed among the congregation and its leaders to make the dream a reality?

 

Graphic of a people building a rain garden next to a church.

Make the case to your parish by describing all the benefits that can come from a restoration project: media attention, awareness of community issues, team building and more.

 

Form a Committee

We were lucky in that we had an existing, formal committee dedicated to environmental issues. If your community of faith doesn’t have such a committee, starting one is a key first step.

Even if the group begins as an unofficial body with only two or three people and a budget of zero, having a presence in the church is a critical starting place. Put out a recycling bin during coffee hour and put a note on the side stating that the bin is there thanks to your group. Take 30 minutes to pull weeds on your grounds—without using herbicides. There are plenty o

ways a green-minded group can help a community of faith, and without needing lots of resources or making a nuisance of oneself. Set up a presence and let the parish know you’re there to help, not make life harder.

 

Raise Funds

After this presence is established, the second step is money. While money is sometimes not the most exciting of topics, there simply must be a plan to pay for any project that carries a price tag. Otherwise, the project will never get past the treasurer’s desk. Our rain garden and landscaping project, from soup to nuts, cost about $15,000. Thanks to a rebate from the Montgomery County Rainscapes Program and a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, we installed our garden at no cost to the church. Even if you don’t have the cash in hand for a project, be sure you have a solid and achievable plan before you formally present your idea to others.

 

Image of St. James Episcopal Church rain garden after planting.

Rain gardens are a great teaching tool to introduce children to stewardship and environmental science.

 

Be Patient!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be patient. If it takes five committee meetings before your leaders even take a vote, so be it. Take the time to meet with multiple vendors and solicit multiple bids. If someone raises a concern, listen to that concern and engage that person or group to help you find a solution. Make sure direct stakeholders—in our case, our facilities volunteers—are involved from day one. Support doesn’t materialize with a snap of the fingers, unfortunately. It’s a person-by-person process, often moving one conversation at a time. Save yourself some frustration and embrace that reality at the outset!

This is certainly an oversimplification, but hopefully it provides some insight into the process. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Doing one’s homework and getting one’s ducks in a row on the front end can save a mountain of headaches—or even total failure—down the road.

 

By Scott Harris

This post is the second of three guest blogs by Scott Harris. Scott is a vestry member and the chair of the Earth Stewardship Commission at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Potomac.



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