Leadership at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon calls its new building as a gathering place for all people.

The impressive structure on Skyline Ranch Road is not only striking and eye-catching — it is the first church in the country recognized by Portland-based Earth Advantage to meet platinum level commercial environmental standards.

“What that means is our church met or exceeded the design, construction and operational requirements in five areas — energy, water, health, materials and land,” said church Communications Chair Susan Hickman. “This 17,870-square-foot building is completely green. It sits on a special piece of land, which we honor by showing the interdependence of all life.”

The $8 million building took three years of planning, with an 18-month build-out, and while it was officially dedicated last year, many of the architectural and design awards have been awarded during the past year, including one for overall quality of design in the International Awards Program for Religious Art & Architecture and a design award from American Institute of Architects. The church also received a second green building award from WoodWorks Wood Design.

The accolades don’t surprise Leslie Koc, chairwoman of the church’s new home steering committee.

“We took every suggestion from every member in our congregation to get here, and the one thing everyone agreed on is they wanted this ‘new home’ to incorporate as much as we could of our (church) principles,” Koc said. “We wanted our new home to have the ideals of inclusiveness, exploration and community. Our architects did a great job with this building by showing the volcanic landscape of our area from the outside to the inside, and if you look at the angled facets of the windows, they mimic fresh cuts into old weathered wood.”

The builders Kirby Nagelhout Construction tried to preserve as much of the natural landscape as possible. The trees that were cut down were used or saved for church furniture pieces. Natural rock was harvested here and on the future housing community site, The Tree Farm, less than a mile up the road. As one of the church’s principles, respect for the land was taken so seriously that planners wanted to make sure to minimize the impact on the natural landscape, saving as many existing trees and fauna as possible, which ended up influencing the footprint of the building and driveway.

“We also situated the church to take advantage of the sun exposure, so we used large overhangs for protection of the heat in the summer while still allowing for winter warming. In the summer, the sun is higher in the sky, so south-facing overhangs shield most of the building from direct sunlight,” explained Koc, pointing through the large rectangular windows lining the wall. “We also used clerestory windows for all-natural lighting and ventilation. You’ll see clerestories all through the building in different spaces. These high windows reduce the need for electrical lighting during the daylight hours.”

Taking advantage of the energy reduction, the architects also used mass thermal walls to retain heat in the winter coming through the large south facing windows.

“We’d like to be completely net-zero in the future, so on top of our roof, we’ve reserved space for future photo-voltaic cell panels,” said Koc, explaining that there’s so much that went into the planning that’s not usually noticed by the public. “From the radiant floor heating to using 70 percent sustainably harvested, formaldehyde-free wood-based materials. We even used recycled blue jeans for the insulation so there wouldn’t be any toxic chemicals, and of course we used low-VOC paints and carpeting.”

Another thing visitors will not see in the sanctuary are crucifixes. This was intentional, as the church’s members welcome all religions and denominations.

“We respect all religions, so whether you call God, God, or Goddess, or Muhammad, or Allah, everyone is welcome to worship together,” said Hickman. “We welcome and respect everyone who enters through our doors.”

The sanctuary would probably be called the great room of God’s house, and that’s because its 21-foot high, hand-carved solid wood folding doors can be opened up into the church’s central foyer, creating an even larger open space, which the church calls the gathering hall.

Both Hickman and Koc are hard-pressed to name their favorite part of the new church, but certainly they agree these impressive hand-carved red cedar doors leading from the central foyer into the sanctuary is one them.

“These doors weigh more than 3,000 pounds,” said Hickman, running her hand along the carvings. “The seven colored windows here represent our seven Unitarian principles; the worth and dignity of every person, justice, equity and compassion, acceptance of one another, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, the democratic process, peace, liberty and justice for all and respect for the interdependent web of all existence.”

All of the church’s rooms are named after famous Unitarians. For example, the central foyer is called the Pete Seeger Hall; the church’s commercial kitchen space is called the Fanny Farmer kitchen; the preschool area is called the Beatrix Potter room and the grade school children meet in the Susan B. Anthony room.

Strolling outside the building, one notices how well the entire building blends in with the Central Oregon landscape. Sitting on 22 acres, the congregation requested xeriscaping, using native plantings, to reduce the need for irrigation. By using wise stormwater management, the church catches the building’s rain and snow water runoff into collection basins known also as swales that can be used to help nourish native habitat.

Hickman points out the hand-cut stone exterior wall of the church, which is cut in a pattern of rolling waves.

“The wall was crafted to reflect the lava flow that created our landscape here,” Hickman explained. “The natural flow of this wall is so beautiful. All the craftsmen took such pride in their skill and artistry. It’s really quite amazing.”

Quite literally piecing it all together outside is a large labyrinth, made by the entire congregation, where each church member was asked to bring their favorite stones to create the round walking maze, which is used for meditation and reflection.

Eventually, the church would like to also construct additional nature trails to connect with the Bend Park & Recreation District trail to the south that continues to Phil’s Trail complex and the Three Sisters Wilderness. Already the church has on-site bike parking and a small bicycling and walking path to promote sustainable alternative transportation.

“We are reaching out to the community. We don’t want to just welcome people here, we want to include them,” Koc said. “We are renting out our church spaces, too — like the sanctuary and gathering hall and the Fanny Farmer commercial kitchen — to the public.”

Since moving into what they call God’s and the people’s new home, the congregation has more than doubled in size.

“If you build it, they will come,” Hickman quipped.

— Reporter: halpen1@aol.com

(Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The original version misidentified the church as being limited to theists. The church is inclusive of all beliefs. The Bulletin regrets the error.)