Congregations get green for greening their grounds

June 9, 2015
  |   1 Comment

Several local and national nonprofits are teaming up in Montgomery County to help congregations foster native plant and animal life, prevent runoff and get rebates for their work.

Allies for the Environment

Communities of faith can be strong allies for the environment. Concern for creation and the congregation’s role as a moral compass and local activity hub make these communities a natural fit for Earth stewardship.

Many congregations have large grounds, to boot. This convergence makes them ideal candidates for projects like rain gardens and conservation landscaping, spaces that use native plants and landscaping techniques to provide wildlife habitat and reduce stormwater runoff.

Now, several groups are joining forces to offer professional assistance and—perhaps most significantly—cash rebates to help religious communities create these sorts of landscapes.

An image of the rain garden United Church of Christ of Seneca Valley

A rain garden that was installed at the United Church of Christ of Seneca Valley in Germantown.


Sacred Grounds

Thanks to a new grant program funded by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and administered by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, watershed and wildlife experts teamed up to offer Sacred Grounds, a series of free workshops and resources aimed at helping congregations learn how to combine their faith based missions with environmental stewardship that will reduce storm water runoff.

“It’s not just about beauty, but a functioning landscape,” notes Naomi Edelson, director of state and federal wildlife partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and a congregant at Adat Shalom in Potomac. “These gardens are just as attractive or more attractive than a normal lawn, and they attract wildlife.”

The workshops bear the same name as NWF’s Sacred Grounds program, which the national organization started in 2012 as a pilot program in the Washington area, with the aim of supporting and recognizing communities of faith that build wildlife-friendly, native-plant-heavy habitat areas.

The program goes to a new level in Montgomery County, thanks to the involvement of RainScapes, a Montgomery County DEP initiative that offers professional guidance and financial rebates to private properties that want to mitigate stormwater runoff with rain gardens or conservation landscaping, among other projects. Eligible applicants can receive several thousand dollars in rebates.

Given that the county spends $2 million to repair one mile’s worth of damage to a stream caused by runoff, preventive efforts like rain gardens are a way to protect the County’s investment while enhancing the local environment.


A close up image of a collection of plants in the church's rain garden

Native plants not only help soak up and filter rainwater, they also serve as beautiful additions to a congregation’s property.

“Communities of faith cover a lot of ground, literally and figuratively,” said Ann English, the landscape architect who manages the RainScapes program. “Rain gardens treat a lot of water, so plenty of runoff can be absorbed on-site. They serve as a beacon to members and other communities. Congregations care about the Earth, and this is a clear and tangible way to lead by example.”

Though Montgomery County and the NWF collaboration with the Sacred Grounds approach is just underway, RainScapes has already borne fruit for multiple congregations in the county. Adat Shalom, which hosted the first Sacred Grounds workshop, recently planted a large conservation landscape next to its existing vegetable garden.

St. James’ Episcopal Church, a Potomac congregation, has installed RainScapes projects and reduced runoff through its parking lot, where frozen or excessive runoff posed hazards for older and mobility-challenged visitors. Each project received several thousand dollars in RainScapes Rewards Rebates through the RainScapes program.

Image of rain garden with three educational signs from Grace Episcopal Day School

Grace Episcopal Day School in Kensington uses signage to educate visitors about their rain garden.


Attend a workshop

Attending a free Sacred Grounds workshop is a terrific way to learn more or get started. The next one is scheduled for June 21.

“Find some fellow congregants who will work together to take this on,” Edelson said. “You could put together a green committee. People who have gardening backgrounds, or responsibilities for facilities.”

For more information on the NWF Sacred Grounds workshop, visit

For more information on the RainScapes program, including details on upcoming Sacred Grounds workshops in Montgomery County, visit

By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer. Read Scott’s other posts on the benefits of environmental peer pressurebirds and climate change, eco-friendly ice rinks, residential solar, and energy savings at Hollywood East Cafe.

One comment on "Congregations get green for greening their grounds"

  1. Amélie B. Harris~McGeehan says:

    I attend a Congregation in Cherry Hill, NJ. The property there, is an Arboretum of 17.5 acres. We are very interested in doing a variety of ‘Green’ actions, one of which is creating Rain Gardens. I’m looking to obtain information about the best way to go about this.
    Thank you.

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