Featured Stories, Lutherans in Minnesota

The stewardship of water

What began as an order from the city quickly turned into a teaching moment as well as a theological celebration. “It started when the city of Minneapolis told us we needed to redirect the water from our roof into a sanitary sewer,” said the Rev. Jay Carlson, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA) in south Minneapolis.

In the two years since then Holy Trinity members have sought the most faithful way to respond. While they could have simply paid to have a pipe constructed to carry the water from the roof to an adjacent storm sewer, they decided to construct a rain garden. “This is a natural result of Holy Trinity’s commitment to caring for creation,” Carlson said.

A rain garden fits with Holy Trinity’s dedication to creation because these “gardens” absorb runoff water that would otherwise contribute to soil erosion and water pollution.

Congregation and community members plant indigenous plants around River of Life Lutheran Church’s new rain garden. Photo provided by Lee Ann Pomrenke

A rain garden absorbs runoff water that would otherwise contribute to soil erosion and water pollution.

Rain gardens catch this water in three ways. First, when cement is necessary, a more permeable variety is used. This creates a greater opportunity for rainwater to find its way into the soil. Second, native flora that have deep roots are planted. These deeper roots become a more permanent part of the ecology and catch water. Finally, a different, more porous soil is used.

After the members of Holy Trinity decided to build a rain garden, they investigated how to fund the project, which would be named “Discovery Courtyard.” The congregation received two grants. One grant was from Mississippi Watershed Management Organization for $50,000 and the other was from Thrivent, for $15,000. The remaining funds, approximately $40,000, were raised by Holy Trinity.

A contractor was hired to develop a plan. The members of Holy Trinity had two desires for the garden — that it would be attractive and that it would help teach about water issues. With heavy pedestrian traffic through the courtyard, the congregation wanted to ensure that the garden would be attractive and a place for people to find renewal. “The courtyard is a usable public area,” Carlson said. The garden is near a library and senior apartments.

“We also wanted [the courtyard] to have an educational component,” Carlson added. To this end, the aesthetic presentation seemed important. Rather than simply having the water run from the roof to the garden through buried pipes, it will visibly cascade to the garden. “We hope people will see this and want to know what it is about,” Carlson said.

Rain from heaven, river of life

Holy Trinity is not the only Lutheran church in Minneapolis involved in developing a rain garden. “We had two concerns,” explained the Rev. Lee Ann Pomrenke, pastor of River of Life Lutheran Church in north Minneapolis. “We have had significant water damage in the fellowship hall, where people come for Loaves and Fishes,” she said. “And we wanted to filter the water coming from our large roof.”

River of Life similarly received financial support from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, though a smaller “mini-grant.”

The courtyard at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church was redesigned in order to build the new rain garden. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

Rather than simply having the water run from the roof to the garden through buried pipes, it will visibly cascade to the garden.

“The rain garden became a parable for us to tell our story in the neighborhood,” said Pomrenke. “River of Life is a consolidation of two congregations, and our rain garden has two main gutters that can be seen as stone paths.” But there is a third gutter, she explained, one that is underground and not visible. “The Holy Spirit is not visible, but is definitely feeding our stream.”

Native plants, like blue-flag irises, give the rain garden more of a stream-like look. A planned educational sign will soon further explain the details of the rain garden.

“This project will help the environment and will keep the building from eroding away,” Pomrenke told Metro Lutheran. “And it is a good way to connect with our neighbors.” More than 30 people from the neighborhood participated in the National Night Out tour of the rain garden in August.

A new creation

Members of Holy Trinity hope the appearance of the garden will draw passers-by’s attention by creating a type of bridge over the water. Pedestrians will be able to view the ecological processes taking place in the garden. There will also be signs posted explaining the garden in Discovery Courtyard, the series of three rain gardens that make up this project on Holy Trinity’s property.

The process was not always an easy one for members of Holy Trinity. Once the preliminary work was completed, the trials began. First, it took some time for permission to be granted from two different neighboring properties to build the garden. The delay did not deter the enthusiasm though, and construction began.

Groundbreaking was celebrated with a special service Memorial Day weekend, which highlighted water imagery, such as the new creation in baptism. After the service a celebration included live music and a few speeches.

Because the scale of the courtyard was so large, the proposal received greater scrutiny from the city, delaying construction further. While the process has had its struggles, the members of Holy Trinity have kept their resolve. “This is just another example of our commitment to stewardship,” Carlson said.

Bob Hulteen contributed to this article.

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