Its floor-to-ceiling windows, views of the Ottawa River and hills, massive hanging lights, warm wood tones, and red upholstery inspire awe.
A wedding takes place in the sanctuary of First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa. (© Christopher Steven B)
This spring, First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa, Ontario, will celebrate its building’s fiftieth anniversary, and it is certainly a worship space worth celebrating.
The building is nestled on a wooded six-acre campus with meditation gardens, a pond, and walkways. Rising above this landscape is one of the building’s most notable features—its dramatic needlelike spire (right). But perhaps more impressive still is the interior. Congregant Elinor Mueller was married in the worship hall (above) in 1967, the year the building was completed. She described the sanctuary’s combination of striking elements—floor-to-ceiling windows, views of the Ottawa River and hills, massive hanging lights, warm wood tones, and red upholstery—as awe-inspiring. “As an architectural gem, it captured the vitality and optimism of our faith.”
In a book commemorating the congregation’s 100th anniversary, congregant and author Joycelyn Loeffelholz-Rea described the process of creating the current building. “The design and materials were required to embody unity, freedom, simplicity, openness, contemporaneity, humility, and religious humanism,” she wrote. “Western red cedar and copper above a strong base of concrete block was used extensively in the entire building to impart warmth and humility and create a subtle tie with the surroundings.”
Former minister of religious education the Rev. Elizabeth Benjamin said the wraparound windows behind the chancel led the congregation to always have at least part of their focus on the outdoors. “No matter what the service is about, one is always connected deeply to the natural world.”
This article appeared under the headline “First Unitarian Ottawa: Connected to the Natural World” in the Spring 2017 issue of UU World (16).
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Sonja L. Cohen is deputy managing editor of UU World and a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.