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Aldersgate Methodist Church is one-of-a-kind when it comes to reducing its carbon footprint, church leaders say, and they hope others will follow suit.

The church at 84th and South streets became one of the only churches in the state recognized as a sustainable nature site on Friday, following a year-long landscaping initiative.

Through this recognition, Aldersgate joined over one hundred other Landscape Steward sites around the state officially recognized by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum at its annual awards ceremony at First Plymouth Church.

The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum is a non-profit organization partnered with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln committed to creating sustainable landscapes around the state.

Other steward sites include the Nebraska State Capitol and the Prairie Song Arboretum in Lincoln.

Steven Schafer, the chair of the board of trustees at the church, said Friday's recognition is all thanks to phase one of a major renovation the church underwent in the spring and summer, that converted 1.9 acres of green space into a sustainable rain garden and tree haven. 

"We decided that while we're doing this project, why not have the bigger vision of doing something that benefits the neighborhood and the environment," Schafer said.

Renovations started back in March, when damaged pine trees were removed. Then throughout the remaining spring and summer, church members planted 51 trees, 84 shrubs and created a 1,000 square foot rain garden.

The rain garden absorbs rain and funnels it to storm sewers while also enriching plants, Schafer said.

Many of the plants are native to Nebraska as well, Schafer added, requiring less maintenance and cutting back on further waste.

Aldersgate pastor Joseph Rafique said being environmentally friendly has been a longtime goal of the church.

Last year, the church replaced old lighting fixtures with a higher-efficiency system in order to cut back on energy waste.

"Being environmentally friendly is a step up," Rafique said. "The wish is that other churches would pick up where we left off and ask, 'if they can do it, why not we?''

Schafer said there are not many churches that have undergone these kinds of renovations to benefit the environment.

He thinks that will change, however.

"I think the long-term trend is changing," Schafer said. "Churches don't want to spend a lot of money on turf grass and other things. If you put native, sustainable plants in the ground it will ultimately look nicer."

On Dec. 9, Aldersgate will host a tree-care workshop at their new green-space, 8320 South St., with Lincoln Parks and Recreation. The event is free and open to the public.

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