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Bioswale is latest big project for little church

United Church of Christ's Green Team help install environmental project at the back of the church
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO / BARBARA KELLEY, 
Members of the Lake Oswego United Church of Christ Green Team come together following their work on a bioswale project for the church.

As congregation sizes go, Lake Oswego United Church of Christ doesn't rank with the mega churches.

In fact, its 50 or so members would not even fill up a mega church Sunday School class.

But when it comes to big accomplishments, United Church of Christ is a little church that really comes through.

The latest proof of that is the church's new bioswale project, in which Phase I was completed in November.

'We've always done big things,' said project director Monica Honegger. 'A lot of our members are very environmental.'

It certainly helps to have Barbara Kelley, one of Oregon's outstanding environmental crusaders, on the church roll. But all of the UCC members volunteered on this extraordinary effort.

The result is a bioswale at the back of the church, with hundreds of native plants, that now directs water runoff in an environmentally safe manner.

'The rain now goes to a rain garden, and what doesn't goes into the ground in a pattern that won't cause erosion during a rainstorm,' Honegger said.

Everything seemed to 'click' to help bring the project about.

'Sharon Davis said we ought to do a bioswale,' said Honegger. 'Barbara (Kelley) is interested in all environmental causes. The water was going into our heating system, and the church would be like a sauna with its windows steamed up.

'It all fit together. The timing was really good, and we were very energized. We had the correct players involved.'

The little church even received outstanding support from the city of Lake Oswego, which Honegger said was surprised UCC was even making the effort, since it was not required by law.

Honegger says she is not sure exactly how she became the leader of the whole deal, but some spiritual force was likely at work. Water had long been going down Knaus Road to Nettle Creek, where Honegger had played as a child, and causing an environmental mess.

'That's why I was more interested in having a bioswale than the others,' Honegger said. 'For me, cleaning up little Nettle Creek was an opportunity to give back.'

While some things worked out extremely well, the weather did not. So often when volunteers and equipment were ready to roll, Honegger said, 'all of a sudden it would rain and we couldn't get the equipment to work. We spent a lot of time waiting, and that was frustrating.'

But Noah overcame a lot of rain, and so did UCC. On Nov. 23, the church members planted a huge number of native plants in the bioswale and rain garden. Phase I was complete.

UCC members are now in the process of obtaining another grant from the Small Grant Corporation so they can finish the task.

'We're gearing up for Phase II,' Honegger said. 'Now we'll get to the real pollution part and fix the oil problem. The permit process can be overwhelming, but we have experience and the city of Lake Oswego has been very patient.'

The church already has made two videos of its environmental projects, and under the direction of Chuck Erkenbeck it will be producing one about the bioswale project.

'We want to help other churches do the same thing,' Honegger said. 'Churches have been slow to get on the environmental bandwagon.'

When will the UCC bioswale project be completed?

Honegger laughs and says, 'I hope we're finished in my lifetime.'

But there's no doubt they will finish it. Because the Lord helps those who help themselves.

Lake Oswego United Church of Christ is located at 1111 S.W. Country Club Road. Its Web site is www.loucc.org .