By Mac McLean

The Bulletin

If you go

What: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon

When: Services are at 10:30 a.m. Sundays

Where: 61980 Skyline Ranch Road, Bend

Contact: www.uufco.org or 541-385-3908

Lewis and Sylvia McFarland enjoyed some coffee and snacks as they wandered around the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon’s main gathering hall during its post-service coffee and conversation hour on Feb. 15.

“We love this new building,” said Sylvia McFarland, who has come to the fellowship’s services since she and her husband moved to Bend last fall.

Keeping with principles that tout the importance of the democratic process and environmental stewardship, the fellowship’s members spent the past 3½ years designing and building their new meeting place just south of Summit High School at the corner of NW Skyliners and Skyline Ranch roads.

They’ve held services at this new, $7.9 million structure for the past four Sundays and are looking forward to hosting a “New Home Celebration” for their building this spring, once all of its finishing touches are complete.

“There is just something special about the spirit of this building,” fellowship spokeswoman Susie Hickman said as she guided a tour of the building this month.

“It’s a place where people can come and gather in community.”

Like most of the church’s members, Sylvia McFarland said the 18,000-square-foot structure was a welcome change from the “much tighter quarters” provided by the UUFCO’s previous meeting space, the Old Stone Church in downtown Bend.

She was also delighted by the fact it had a new wing of classrooms for the fellowship’s religious exploration program — its version of Sunday school — and that this program would give UUFCO’s 165-member congregation a chance to bring in new members and grow.

The principles

According to its website, the 800,000 members of the Unitarian Universalist Association — a religious organization formed when the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America merged in 1961 — follow a series of seven principles that guide their fellowship and their goal to create a space where people from all different types of religious backgrounds feel welcome.

These principles include:

• Believing in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and his ability to do good.

• Valuing justice, equity, compassion and the role they play in human relations.

• Being able to accept other people for who they are and encourage their spiritual growth.

• Valuing an individual’s ability to launch a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

• Using the democratic process to make decisions.

• Creating a community that values peace, liberty and justice for all.

• Respecting the interdependent web of existence and nature.

Hickman said these principles are featured heavily in the design and construction of the UUFCO’s new home.

Keeping with the fifth principle, she said the fellowship’s congregation drafted a 14-point statement of aspirations that stressed the qualities it wanted the church to have. The congregation then split into individual work groups, each of which took on a various aspect of the building’s design, that helped draft a 44-page report the fellowship’s design committee could follow when it worked with the designers.

“Every decision in this building was made by a committee,” she said, adding these documents along with reports generated by the fellowship’s sustainability and visioning workshops were posted to its website so everyone could follow the process as it was taking place.

Open and sustainable

Each of these reports stresses the fellowship’s desire to create a space that is warm, inviting and welcome while also being good stewards to the environment and using sustainable building methods, natural light and native vegetation wherever possible.

These themes also show up on Hickman’s tour of the building as she walks past unisex bathrooms reserved for families and transgender individuals, bathrooms in the religious exploration classrooms that have knee-high toilets and sinks so that small children can use them, and a digital touchscreen at the building’s entry way that provides people with information about the fellowship, its principles and its upcoming events.

Hickman said two large wooden panels in the building’s Founders Fireside Room can be pulled forward to create a space where people can hold private meetings and events or comfort crying babies without disturbing the rest of the fellowship during its services. Each office in the building’s administrative wing has a glass-paneled door to promote an open-door policy, she said, while the remaining workspace has an open floor plan.

Large exterior windows and glass doors fill the building with natural light while also creating an illusion that nothing separates the building’s interior from the sagebrush and pine trees that surround it on all sides as part of a 22-acre lot.

The building’s stonework was put in at an angle so it seems to follow the sun’s light over the course of a day, Hickman said, while its exterior landscape features what she calls a “sacred grove,” where fallen trees and snags were left outside the sanctuary’s back window to create a habitat she hopes will attract birds and other creatures.

Reading from a list in her tour guide’s packet, Hickman said the insulation used in the building’s walls was made from recycled denim, the exterior siding and interior walls are made out of western cedar, its floors are made of white oak and a nontoxic form of linoleum, and its interior and exterior stonework is made out of welded tuff — a type of volcanic rock — that was quarried from a spot less than half a mile away from the building.

“There’s just so much cool stuff about this place,” Hickman said. Because of these features, she added, the UUFCO’s new facility will receive the Earth Advantage Commercial program’s Platinum certification when its work is complete.

Room for growth

Hickman said the building’s design and commitment to sustainable building practices has generated a lot of interest in the fellowship and that’s resulted in a spike in attendance at its Sunday morning services. She said 195 people showed up at the fellowship’s Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 services, according to its records, which is impressive considering it has 165 active members on its books. A much smaller crowd attended the fellowship’s Feb. 15 service ,but that could be understood because it was Presidents Day weekend and people might have been out of town.

“We may need to start holding two services a day,” Hickman said, noting the fellowship’s sanctuary room can seat 215 people and that capacity could easily be exceeded if the congregation continues to grow.

John and Pam Horwich, who have been coming to UUFCO’s services since they moved to Bend at Christmastime, also noticed the spike in attendance that’s come since the fellowship’s building opened. They’ve also noticed a lot of these new attendees are younger than the fellowhip’s average member, who, Hickman said, was more likely to be in his 50s than 30s.

“We want to attract more young families,” said John Horwich, who thinks the building’s new religious exploration classrooms will give young couples who have children or are thinking about having children an incentive to stay. “(Classroom space) was certainly limited in the old church.”

Hickman said the ability to attract younger members — particularly those who have children or are thinking about having children — was definitely a top priority for the fellowship’s design committee and its overall membership when they looked at what features they wanted to include in the new building.

She said the building’s religious exploration wing has a large space where the fellowship’s members can look after infants and toddlers during its services.

There are also rooms designed to house children who are in kindergarten through the second grade, third- through fifth-graders, along with middle and high school students. All three classrooms are linked by a pathway that runs past a ping-pong table and outside to the site of an outdoor play area that should be finished in April and a series of walking trails Hickman said are part of the building’s next phase of development.

Hickman said these walking paths are also designed to bring in new and younger members because they’re designed to link the fellowship’s new building with the Phil’s Trail network of mountain biking trails. Keeping this goal in mind, the building features a shower church members and employees can use if they bike to services or simply need to get clean after a quick ride on the trail.

She said the fellowship’s long-term goals also include installing solar panels — the building is wired for these panels but none have been installed — and crafting a rock-lined labyrinth that will give people a chance to meditate and reflect as they trace its circular path.

“We really love this buidling,” said Kathy Day, a member of UUFCO’s board of trustees. “It’s a big step up.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, mmclean@bendbulletin.com

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