SPRING HILL — Thanks to a grant from the Coastal Rivers Basin Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church has been giving its campus a landscaping makeover.
The church will host two workshops to show other faith-based communities how they can help make their campuses, or individual yards at home, environmentally friendly.
The $4,560 community education grant, called the Florida-Friendly Landscaping for Faith-Based Communities in Spring Hill, enables the Rev. Shanda Mahurin to advance a project she has been working on since she came to St. Andrew's as its pastor five years ago: getting her congregation to "go green."
"By and large, the congregation certainly understands that we need to protect our environment," Mahurin said. "We need not to contribute to landfills and chemicals that get in our waterways and kill fish and pollute and get back into our water system and hurt us."
For Mahurin, going green is spiritual.
"I believe very strongly that the stewardship of God's creation ought to be something that the church leads in," she said. "It troubles me when those who are called to be witnesses for God in the world aren't taking care of creation or are not being good examples."
The first step Mahurin took was creating a group within her church called Friends of Creation United in Stewardship that would support environmental responsibility.
"We began to recycle everything," Mahurin said, "so everything on our campus from cardboard, glass, plastic, office paper, newspapers, ink cartridges — anything that can be recycled — is recycled. Then the next step was to not purchase things that are disposable when we can use our own dishes, especially not Styrofoam."
The church became smoke-free, and Mahurin began giving "stewardship of creation" tips and advice in the church's monthly newsletter.
But there were not enough funds available to accomplish all that she and the FOCUS group hoped to do.
Then Mahurin learned about the grants from Swiftmud. With the help of Frank Trama and other church members, Mahurin wrote the request for the grant that would make possible the transition to what Swiftmud calls a Florida-friendly yard.
"It's exciting to see it actually come to pass," Mahurin said. "I've wanted to reduce the use of water, the use of pesticides and make our campus — which is a beautiful Old Florida campus with Spanish moss and live oak trees — something that is beautiful and, theologically speaking, gives glory to God. Now because of the grant, we've been able to move a lot more quickly with it."
In the process, Mahurin is happy to support Swiftmud's desire to have people implement Florida-friendly landscaping and use less water.
Using $2,000 of its own money, the church purchased Florida-friendly plants and planted them in its entry area and between the church and parish hall.
"The exciting thing is that we've had two big workdays with the church parishioners," Mahurin said. "We have a largely aging congregation, but we had a great turnout. We've removed plants that were not Florida-friendly and put in Florida-friendly plants. It's been completely transformed."
With the grant money, the church has been able to purchase mulch and river rock, remove non-Florida-friendly trees and retrofit its irrigation system to save water.
It will also pay for two workshops, and followup surveys, that will educate other faith-based organizations about Florida-friendly landscaping.
"We're ordering the signage so when people come for the workshops or visit our campus, they can see the plants labeled and know that is a Florida-friendly plant," Mahurin said. "So it's a demonstration campus.
"This is Phase One for us," the pastor added. "We are trying to transform the entire 7-acre campus, and that's going to take a while."
St. Andrew's recently sent a letter to other religious groups to invite them to the workshops.
The workshops, offered from 6 to 8 p.m. May 4 and from 2 to 4 p.m. May 20, are identical, but the second one will offer an optional hour before it begins for clergy to talk about how stewardship of creation relates to faith and to share ideas about its importance.
On the grant, the church stated that it hopes to reach 700 people with the conservation information. Mahurin hopes at least 25 or 30 congregations will respond by sending people to the workshops.
"A sizable chunk of land in Hernando County will begin to be transformed. That will be a real witness to the rest of the community to get on board and will have a ripple effect," she said. "The hope beyond that is that people who attend these places of worship will do this in their own homes."