Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
John Baggenstos of Holy Redeemer tells visitors about the parish garden and rainwater capture system.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
John Baggenstos of Holy Redeemer tells visitors about the parish garden and rainwater capture system.
For the people at Holy Redeemer Parish in North Portland, environmental efforts are a way to deepen communion with the Almighty. Saving God's creation just seems like what a good steward would do.  

But it doesn't hurt to conserve money along the way. Just digging up pavement and installing bioswales has meant $4,000 per year in storm water charges that can go to ministry instead.

All that water that Holy Redeemer now keeps on its grounds once rushed off the pavement, washing roadway pollutants into the Columbia River Slough and damaging fish.

Holy Redeemer's bioswales, 10,000-gallon rainwater capture tanks and 7,000-square-foot community garden were part of a tour during a recent workshop for churches interested in learning to care for watersheds and wildlife — and maybe save some scratch.

"This is just the beginning of building a network among congregations to care for their lands," says Jenny Holmes, director of the Interfaith Network for Earth Concerns, which organizes the sessions. "We need to know that decisions we make in our own back yards affect the whole habitat."

Representatives from Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish congregations have attended the seminars. The learned about halting runoff, nixing chemical use and removing invasive plants that block out native species and make life hard for fauna.
Other churches in the Portland area have carried out projects for a healthier planet. The people of Smith Memorial Presbyterian in Fairview restored a riverbank and built a trail to the Columbia Slough.  

Children at Archbishop Howard School at St. Rose in Northeast Portland have planted wildlife habitat in front of their building and led a parish-wide cleanup session. The school also held a contest seeking videos that promote sustainable living. The parish found it takes persistence to do the right thing. When leaders tried to convert some parking to greenspace, the idea was blocked by city planners.

"It's not self-evident to most congregations that this is part of spiritual life," says the Rev. Linda Stewart-Kalen, pastor of Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church in Southeast Portland. Her congregation created a greenspace for the neighborhood.

She suggests that leaders help parishioners approach the projects from lots of different angles.

"Listen to the people," Rev. Stewart-Kalen says.

Local organizations are at the ready to give churches a hand with undertakings, especially those that help rivers.

"If churches need workers for a project, we can mobilize volunteers," says Amy Loholz of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council. "We want to help you get your project off the ground." Loholz says her organization provides about 5,500 volunteer hours per year.

Another Portland organization is ready to help churches get rid of pavement using volunteer power. Depave helped Holy Redeemer remove thousands of square feet that are now garden space and bioswales. Churches can make requests for help at the organization's website.

"We love working with churches," says Depave founder Ted Labbe. "Churches are the most fun. There's already a community of people just there and ready to go. And a lot of churches have more parking than they need."

Maureen Hosty, an Oregon State University 4-H worker, says that getting youngsters at parishes going on environmental projects is the way to get parents involved, too. Hosty is a member of St. Rose in Northeast Portland.

Nikki West of the Portland Audubon Society says churches can receive backyard habitat certification for eradicating invasive species, using native plants, managing stormwater on site and showing good wildlife stewardship. The idea is to create corridors for birds and other wildlife. Churches, with their considerable holdings, can make a major difference, West says.