The Archangel Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church in Traverse City has put their earth care values into practice through the concept and design of a new church “campus”—indoor and outdoor space through which to foster worship and serve community.
The theology of earth care is of great significance in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Patriarch Bartholemew, also called the “Green Patriarch” and known for his strong environmental ethic, is the current Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch and spiritual leader of the entire faith tradition. The new campus is intended to reveal and be testament to earth care values held by both church leadership and congregants.
Even before the purchase of a new property on East Bay for the church’s campus, sustainability was placed at the center of concept development. Fr. Ciprian describes his congregation as fairly small (about 70 families) yet very eager to delve into ways of serving God’s creation. It felt only right to the congregation that designs for a new campus place sustainability measures at the forefront.
Construction of the campus has not yet begun, but most elements, including the architectural designs, are complete. The buildings, following traditional Greek Orthodox byzantine architecture, were also conceived to reveal Christian beliefs of relationship—of people with God (“vertical” relationship, also represented in building design) and of people with creation (“horizontal” relationship, also represented in building design). For representation of the vertical element, materials that are heavier and more solid will be used at the base to show connection to earth; farther up, materials become lighter, ending with a glass dome to display what Fr. Ciprian termed “heavenly reality.”
The highly visible roadside property boasts beautiful views of East Bay, and techniques of “immersive design” have been applied so as not to detract from natural surroundings. Glass and use of natural sunlight will be widely incorporated. For example, the Community Hall will have a sunroof and solar panels to immerse the building into the environment without being too structurally invasive. In addition to sun roofing, insulated concrete will be used for high insulation in foundations and walls. Archangel Gabriel has been debating the merits of becoming LEED certified; they have been reaching out to similar-minded people throughout the design process for vision, and are currently working to hire a local company for consulting on LEED certification.
After the property was acquired three years ago, Fr. Ciprian mentioned that the church simply could not wait for campus construction to begin spreading their message of earth care. Congregants wanted to start impacting the community, and be a visible presence as early as possible. Thus, a community garden was born onsite.
The garden includes an area for meditation, reflection and worship—and yet, the whole of it will be incorporated into the campus design once construction begins. The garden is maintained by congregants but utilized by various community members, organizations (produce is taken to Goodwill for distribution) and schools.
In the garden’s first year, Archangel Gabriel partnered with a local elementary school. Due to the standard school year, gardening can be challenging for students since summer vacation falls during the most productive season of the garden. To help mitigate this challenge, students grew seedlings in class, then planted them in the community garden before summer vacation—students revisited the garden both during the summer and after school had resumed to literally witness the fruits (or vegetables!) of their labors. Fr. Ciprian stated how important he felt it was for children to be active participants in gardening and see the “seed to fruit” development.
The whole campus (sanctuary, church, office and community hall) is estimated to cost $2.4 million. A campaign has already raised a significant portion of funds, but there is still a ways to go before the hopeful groundbreaking date of spring 2016. Despite the difficulties Archangel Gabriel recognizes of a small community with limited resources, it remains strong and encouraged in its mission to actively spread a message of earth care—the future campus will further bring a cohesive reality to their message.