For the past nine months, vegetables, fruit and solar panels have accompanied praise at the .
These additions are rooted in desires to go green, make aesthetic improvements and further embrace the concept of Unitarian Universalism.
The church dedicated a permaculture garden in October. Intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient, the garden features stone seating walls that provide a gathering space for congregation members who are welcome to enjoy a variety of berries, mint leaves and more.
The $70,000 project was paid through individual contributions.
Tom Gibson, a church member and volunteer who manages the garden, birthed the idea after taking a permaculture design course with Peter Bane in 2010 at the . When he considers the former weed patches that filled the area behind the church that is now home to the garden, Gibson is glad he had the confidence to present the concept to his congregation.
"We had this ugly, ugly entrance, and we wanted to have a place that was welcoming," Gibson said. "One of the principles of permaculture is that you create spaces, not only for soil, bacteria and fungus, and not only for plants that like each other, but spaces where humans can gather."
The church hopes plenty of humans will gather in the garden at 6:30 p.m. Friday for a free tour, lecture and book-signing event for Bane, who recently released The Permaculture Handbook.
The garden includes sage, onions, thyme, asparagus, rhubarbs, and tea leaves. Church Administrator Doug Aubin admits he wasn't so sure about the garden idea at first.
"I kept thinking, 'oh my God, what is he doing?,'" Aubin said of Gibson. "But he got the volunteers, got the money and did a great job."
The massive solar array and canopy behind the garden was completed July 3, said Kimberly Dyer of Bold Alternatives, the Cleveland firm that designed and installed it. Solar Action LLC will own and operate the array.
The solar array is a 91.2 kilowatts and the canopy provides shade for 38 cars and features an electric car charging station, according to Bold Alternatives. The total solar production will eventually offset almost 80 percent of the power consumed by the church.
The 19-foot structure features 380 solar modules capable of providing energy for 10 homes.
Aubin said the church thought of installing a smaller ray on the roof, but not the massive project Solar Action is now operating in its backyard. A Plain Dealer report stated that it cost the company $500,000. After 10 or 15 years, the company will either donate or sell the array to the church.
Aubin said the panels should yield a 20 percent reduction in utility costs over the next decade.
"A building this big, you've got to find ways to reduce your utilities or you're not going to make it," Aubin said. "We've had quite a few churches calling us, asking who installed it and trying to get the background on it.
"There's a church in Illinois that's real hot after it."