As a youngster, did you ever learn the children’s hand gesture rhyme, “Here is the church, and here is the steeple. Open it up, and here’s all the people.”?
Or how many times have you heard the old saw, “The church is not a building, it’s the people!”?
As we start a new church year, most likely the greatest task we will face together as a congregation, though certainly not the only one, is planning and design of a new church building. While a building may not be the only thing that defines us as a church, it does reflect our values and makes a statement of who we are to the broader community.
Of course, it must meet the functional requirements of our congregation with spaces for worship, contemplation, social gatherings, religious education, meetings, and administrative needs. While our last facility grew and evolved over time to meet these demands, we will have to assess these before breaking ground.
For UU’s, our buildings can express aesthetic and spiritual ideals liberated from the strictures on sacred spaces of other faith communities. Often, our facilities have been on the cutting edge of architectural design. In addition to the newly named UNESCO World Heritage Site, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, his Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, Wisconsin and Louis Khan’s First Unitarian Church in Rochester, New York, are national architectural treasures.
There is a widely-held belief that our new facility will comply with the Seventh UU Principle – respect for the interconnected web of life. Ideally, it will have a low or net-zero carbon footprint and employ sustainable materials where feasible. Many have stressed the importance of integration with the natural environment at the site, such as windows in the Sanctuary to connect with nature.
As a meeting place for progressive groups, it will become a resource for social justice in our community. Larger spaces such as the Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall can host forums and other gatherings. If we build in fine acoustics, it can serve as a venue for musical performances. Who knows, we might become a regular stop on the famous “Unitarian Coffeehouse Circuit.”
There are literally hundreds of considerations as we enter the design process and the Sacred Space Team is currently evaluating architectural firms that will lead us through the decision-making process to the completion of a beautiful new home. There will be trade-offs along the way, of course, but we do have a healthy budget to accommodate the needs of a congregation of our size.
Finally, none of us will get everything we want in a new building, so we must all be willing to bend a little. If we do so, however, members fifty years from now will look back and proclaim how well the UUCBV and its parklike grounds has served the congregation and the community.