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Sacred Grounds

How places of worship are gardening to benefit wildlife

  • Delaney McPherson
  • Garden for Wildlife
  • Apr 01, 2020

Marilyn DuFour works in the garden at the Monroe Street United Methodist Church in Toledo, Ohio.

MARILYN DUFOUR, AN ENVIRONMENTAL SPECIALIST for the city of Toledo, Ohio, first heard about the National Wildlife Federation’s Sacred Grounds™ program through a documentary about how native plants can benefit wildlife. Inspired, DuFour decided to bring the program to her hometown congregation, the Monroe Street United Methodist Church—a step that she says has “built community” while supporting the local wildlife.

For a place of worship to be designated as a Sacred Grounds site, it must complete a series of steps, which are outlined in the program’s online resources. The steps include creating a native-plant garden at the house of worship. In addition, participating congregations must somehow connect that habitat to their faith, such as by incorporating it into a worship service or prayer walk. 

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Marilyn DuFour tours the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo after a Sacred Grounds workshop.

Walking a spiritual path

In the Great Lakes region, Sacred Grounds sites may be chosen to receive a small grant and technical help from NWF’s program team and on-the-ground partners, who can help a faith community plan their garden and learn how to maintain it. “Our selection process is about ensuring we’re representing the diversity of the community,” says Habitat and Education Manager Manja Holland, who helps coordinate the program. “That means diversity of faith, racial diversity and socioeconomic diversity.”

To date, the program has designated 18 Sacred Grounds sites in five states, including a Native American Haseya site, a Muslim mosque, a Hindu temple, some Jewish synagogues and several Christian churches. Holland hopes to have 60 sites certified in the Great Lakes region by 2021. 

Involvement in Sacred Grounds also helps worship leaders engage their communities both spiritually and physically. The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, for example, created a prairie with milkweed that connects with a local trail system. And the People’s Missionary Baptist Church in Toledo acquired a nearby abandoned property and turned it into a “prayer park,” a safe and beautiful gathering place for anyone who needs it.

"This has been a wonderful opportunity to intersect in our faith journeys,” says DuFour, “and to nurture our call to care for creation regardless of our faith.” 


Delaney McPherson is National Wildlife magazine's editorial assistant.


More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

Learn more about Sacred Grounds »
Nature's Unexpected Bounties: Extraordinary NWF certified gardens »
NWF Blog: Learn How to Garden for Wildlife »

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