In the early 1990’s, White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church purchased a 1950s era Methodist church in Mahtomedi, MN. After making due with Cramped Wednesday night dinners in a the “Social Hall,” Sunday corridor “people-jams,” and worship seating awkwardly rotated 90° in the elongated nave (allowing the congregation to approximate their preferred worship in- the-round), members pleaded to expand. They asked for seven things. 

1. Worship in a new space with views to the wooded lot,

2. Social events moved to the existing Sanctuary.

3. All mature oak trees on site to either be preserved or harvested for use inside.

4. Places “to be” instead of just places “to go”.

5. Reuse of the existing building, which to them, was a “little church in the woods”.

6. A parking lot that saved existing trees.

7. A building that responded, physically and emotionally, to the building’s natural surroundings.

The Master Plan called for doubling the size of the original facility. We altered connections in the Plan, in order to meet their goals for gathering and worship. We used the Meeting Hall (Sanctuary) and Gallery to connect individuals in the community to each other and the natural setting of the church.

Large openings link the building to the surrounding natural woods and wetland, while the existing building, building geometry, and the administrative wing control views and solar exposure to the west. Inside the Meeting Hall and Gallery, space and seating is broken down and arranged to capitalize on different views, such that worshippers and building users can link themselves to a landscape within an intimate group, while remaining part of the whole.

We were integral to the implementation of (as of then) the largest permeable parking lot in Minnesota as well as determining how the congregation could take advantage of tax breaks not available to the church, as a non profit, for the 10 kW photovoltaic array on the Meeting Hall roof.