Prairie Restoration at Redeemer UCC in Sussex

“A wonderful reminder of our call to be in right relationship with God, with each other, and with creation”

by Lisa Lokken, Vice Moderator, Redeemer UCC

Redeemer UCC in Sussex is blessed to house a four-acre prairie containing over 50 varieties of native plants and grasses. The prairie provides a beautiful natural setting to be enjoyed in all seasons. It is a wonderful reminder of our call to be in right relationship with God, with each other, and with creation.

The property was not always as it is now.  Initially the church sat at the front of ten acres of flat land. The church was destroyed by fire in 2004, and while devastating, it provided an opportunity to reimagine the land and our connection to it. Our architects worked closely with Redeemer to design not just the building but the whole space. Some key design points include the deliberate “church to area connection”:

  • The property was intentionally created to have high and low spots.
  • The driveway was intentionally designed to be winding in order to connect oneself to the divine when approaching the church.
  • Bioswales, rather than a retention pond, were used to retain water on the property.
  • Parking pockets were used to break up spans of asphalt.
  • Intentional positive outdoor space was created, honoring creation with natural prairie, and the ability to add sanctuary garden space over time.  The sanctuary garden is now a reality, and in the future perhaps a labyrinth will be built.
  • Situating the building comfortably within the property and having it connect to the property.
  • Strategic use of light and heights within the building.

As you might imagine the prairie is used in ministry often. It provides a natural food source and shelter to many insects, birds, and small mammals. In the summer months an early outdoor worship service is held in the Sanctuary Garden. An annual Prairie Fest is held in July to welcome the community to come to the prairie in its full bloom. The prairie also is a healing resource, supporting physical, mental, and spiritual health for all who visit.  A walking path is set up for contemplative reflection during Holy Week and Advent.

Speaking of Advent, I have a personal testimonial of a time last year when the prairie was a personal ministry to me. The prairie walk was lit with small blue and white lights along its path to help guide visitors along the trail. The evening of the Blue Christmas service was very near to the solstice, and I came to walk through the path before the service. I had lost my husband unexpectedly earlier in the year, and having some quiet time to reflect was in order. Snow had recently fallen. It was dusk with a beautiful pink and orange sky as I headed up the “deserted” trail where “no one” had walked since it snowed. As I made my way along I realized that I had not been the first one there. Periodically I saw small animal tracks, likely rabbits and squirrels. I also saw many tiny tracks near to plant stalks.  The birds had been feasting on what the earth had provided in the way of seeds from the plants. Even though the prairie seemed dormant, it was still providing life for living beings. I felt very close to the divine in those moments, and had a sense of awe as to why it is so important for the earth to take some rest.

Yes, in all seasons, the prairie offers a wonderful connection to creation, to our sense of life continually changing and renewing, and to the divine.  I feel blessed that Redeemer nurtures this prairie and that it is offered to the community as a renewal and renewing gift.

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