Go Tell It on the Mountain

June 2017 Newsletter
Skyland Community Church

10:30 Sunday Service

Rev. Stephen Glauz-Todrank
Church phone: 408-353-1310

Unraveling the Skyland Labyrinth

Bob Theis and Site Committee

Some 14 months after Berkeley landscape architect Bob Theis first visited Skyland Church to help us with plans for using the newly acquired Wicht property - and delivered far more than he had promised by making suggestions for development of the whole property surrounding the existing church buildings - he returned for a second session with members to clarify how that process might proceed.

He met on May 13 in Whitaker Hall with an audience of ten - mostly members of the Site Planning Committee that had been formed after his first visit. These were Marcia Rollins, Paula Leary, Deana Arnold, Jan Swayne, Brian Wood, Joan Law, and Gerry Alonzo.  The others were Larry Lopp, who has followed the process carefully and who sat in on many of the committee meetings, plus Stephen Glauz-Todrank, an ex-officio member of all Skyland committees, and Cliff Barney of the newsletter.

Theis sat on a stool in front of a wall to which two large maps of the church property, created and printed by Larry, had been taped.  The others sat in a semicircle behind three tables, notebooks at the ready.

His specialty, Theis began, as he had a year ago, was dealing with "spaces between buildings." What, he wanted to know, were our members' desires for these spaces, around Skyland's buildings.

Church members had already expressed their views at a post-church meeting last summer, and these desires had been summarized, printed, and circulated; but Theis asked if we would go beyond them and give him some ideas directly.

These came quickly; there were many suggestions for making Skyland more inviting to the public, with pathways, benches, and even picnic tables. With all of this, everyone wanted more parking, but not at the cost of a welcoming environment.

The earlier suggestion for a meditative labyrinth someplace on the property, probably on the Wicht land, was revived. Because of its prospective size, the labyrinth drew little support; but its discussion led to a suggestion for a pathway that provided a way of linking the entire project of landscaping Skyland. 

A labyrinth is a meditative path, a kind of mini-pilgrimage that leads one by a determined route to a central goal. But a simple pathway can also serve a meditative purpose, Jan pointed out. That proved to be a breakthrough idea. 

A pathway through an inviting environment had been one of the first suggestions of the day; a meditative tour that could replace the labyrinth also filled a yet unspoken need for a single project that would unite the whole enterprise of revamping Skyland.

Larry Lopp makes a point
Later, Theis led a tour of the property to show how such a path, wandering around the church buildings and even incorporating the parking lot, touched as it went all of the areas of landscaping under discussion:

* The Wicht triangle, which is now the southwest corner of the Skyand's property, stretching from the edge of the parking lot to the edge of the land behind Whitaker Hall.

* The section of land between the new property and Whitaker Hall and the church itself, which has been used for ad hoc parking and as a conduit to the rest of Whitaker.

* The area behind Whitaker Hall, which needs to be regraded to prevent flooding of the building.

* The eastern section of the property, behind the patio, the shed and the trash cans, where Theis sees a place for an easily accessible amphitheater for outside services.

Route for meditative path toward amph itheater

* The unpaved land near the northeast corner of the parking lot, which can be expanded to accommodate utilities, such as the water tank and the large propane tank near the back of the shed, and trash disposal.
* The parking lot itself, which can be, Theis insists, both expanded and beautified.  It currently has 27 spaces, with the spillover going to the road outside.  Inserting "green" spaces - soil surfaces supported by an underground plastic grid - in the current asphalt can support plant-delineated lanes, and even allow for several new spaces at the northwest tip of the Wicht triangle, Theis says.

In some cases, the path can serve as a boundary between different sections of church property; it can pass through others surrounded by gardens and other landscaping.

The suggestions reported in this article, or in the others about individual sections of Skyland property, have not been agreed on or even thoroughly discussed. They are possibilities. Theis did offer the possibility of recruiting community service aid in construction; otherwise, nothing was said about  financing, or order of work.
But after this second visit from Bob Theis, and with paperwork on the land transfer completed, Skyland has a start on a plan.
-- CB
Behind Whitaker

Area needs to be graded to prevent flooding. Structures between trees at back are across road, not on Skyland land.

The main need here is to regrade the area so that lower Whitaker Hall is not flooded in a heavy rain, as it has been. In the process, one of the remaining oaks may be removed. Theis also recommends building a berm five feet from the south edge of the property, to retain water.

This area, Whitaker's back yard, has long been the site for outdoor services, picnics, and the harvest festival.  Presumably the latter two functions could continue; but Theis suggested, during the recent site tour, that another area on the east slope might provide a better venue for the services.

Moving the Shed

Path from rear of Whitaker runs past shed at top of proposed amphitheater
The need to remove the shed, which is unstable in its present perch on the hillside, gave Bob Theis the idea that the area below it would work as an outdoor amphitheater not only for worship, but as a meditation point for people following the proposed trail around the Skyland property. Arms of the trail from the rear of Whitaker and the parking lot could feed both the top and the bottom of the amphitheater.  

The shed would be moved from its present spot to a still undesignated point in the woods beyond the northeast corner of the lot (see photo below).
Utility & Trash Space

Can the shed and the propane tank fit with this crew and be pushed back to a larger space on the hillside?::

Greening the Parking Lot

Line of wood chips denotes possible strip of plants  that  would mark parking line

With some space age ground cloth and a buried plastic frame, Bob Theis says that the parking lot asphalt could be made to bloom - in this case to mark a parking line that says "go no farther."

A similar construction in the corner of the adjacent Wicht triangle could produce several more parking places on the dirt there.

In addition, plants in the lot would be the final link of the meditational path winding around S kyland.

Meditation M oment   

By him therefore let us offer the  sacrifice of praise to God continu ally, that is, the fruit of our l ips  giving thanks to his name.  

But to  do good and to communicate forget
not: for with such sacrifices God is
well pleased.       
-- Hebrews 13: 15-16
Altar Flowers

To donate flowers, please consult the calendar in Whitaker Hall and sign up for an open Sunday. 

rock purslane's spindly
stems erupt in a riot
of magenta blooms. 

-- Haiku by John Heyes
Reworking the
Harvest Festival

Paula & Terry Leary work lunch at last year's festival

Harvest Festival Coordinator Renée Pressler and the Skyland Church Council recommend simplifying the 2017 Harvest Festival, thereby reducing the workload and focusing on the celebration for the families and friends of our community.

Some of the changes would do away with a number of the booths, reduce the sorting time substantially, put more emphasis on child and family-friendly activities, and keep the sanctuary empty and available for quiet conversation and as a peaceful oasis. 

There would be fewer silent auction baskets, and they would be moved to lower Whitaker Hall. Poster displays and information about Skyland Church and our missions would be available in the nursery and surrounding areas. 

Join us for a discussion of the plans at our annual meeting  after church June 11.

-- Anne Evans
A plan for the land - new and old   

Suggested areas for landscaping are in red.
Minister's Letter

Opening Our Minds to New Possibilities

Looking up over proposed amphitheater site.

I have walked around the Skyland Church property for many years, and have never envisioned an outdoor amphitheater space for worship where our storage shed now stands; but under Bob Theis's mind-opening guidance, I could see it clearly. 

We may never decide to do such a thing, but what fun it was for all of us who met with Bob in mid-May to crack open our minds and imagine new possibilities for our shared Skyland Church space. As a Christian church we are supposed to be all about God's creating, and the Holy Spirit's power to inspire people; but it is easy nonetheless to get stagnant and just keep seeing things as we always have. Bob helped us to break out and imagine wild new possibilities. 

I can't but feel that this is one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us and among us. As June rolls around and we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, let's keep the conversation going and stay open to fresh ideas and flights of imagination. If we do that, we will be taking steps to create extraordinary spaces that reflect our extraordinary church community. 

Thanks to everyone who has participated so far and all who will join the creative process. What will we do together?

-- Stephen

Photo by Nancy Jo Lopp
The Wicht Triangle: Cleared for Action
This is where it all began, the outright gift by the Wicht family of a slice of property that Skyland has coveted for decades.  It has taken well over a year for title to the property to be transferred; but the paperwork is now all in order, and Skyland is free to proceed with development of this property without getting separate permits for it and existing church land.

Nancy Jo Lopp's photograph, above, has become the iconic view of

Skyland Road - you can't miss it.
Skyland, seen from Skyland Road northbound near its intersection with Miller Hill Road. It's a new look for the church, reflecting the removal of dead trees on the property inside the new land, and the clearing of the Wicht property itself.

After much discussion and two visits from Berkeley landscape architect Bob Theis, there still is no plan for developing the Wicht triangle. But on Theis's second visit, May 13, came a glimpse of how we could tie the new property into the rest of Skyland's  landscape.

It resulted from a discussion of the suggestion made last year, by several members, to lay out a meditative labyrinth as part of the new property. A lot of people liked the idea, but it ran into the objection that such layouts are commonly fairly large, and that therefore a labyrinth might not be the best use for the land.

Another suggestion for the church grounds had been to construct a path through them, marked by gardens and picnic tables.
That one foundered on the prospect of providing garbage disposal for picnics.

But Jan Swayne found a way to meld all of these ideas into one. The labyrinth, she felt, could be unpeeled into a meditative path, which could find its own way through the grounds.

Theis responded with the idea of using the path as a link between the new land and the old.  The faint red line in Nancy Jo's photo is architect's tape showing how a path could run along the boundary, and cut between two trees to tie the sections together as it progresses to the area behind Whitaker.

Dangerous intersection
Theis's observation that Skyland Road at its intersection with Miller  Hill Road "owns" the Wicht triangle brought traffic into the discussion. A rise at the intersection degrades visibility for drivers approaching from the south, east, and north. Suggested remedies included creating a roundabout and regrading the road.
The Wicht sector is already cleared and ready for whatever development members now decide on. Theis recommends regrading it, so as to make it more accessible by modifying the vertical break between it and the rest of the property. In addition, he would create a berm along the western edge to control water runoff and create a buffer to the road. The meditative pathway, planted with a hazelnut hedgerow, would mark the barrier between the two sectors.

As a bonus, Theis says that room for additional parking places could be found at the northwest corner of the triangle (to the left in Nancy Jo's photo). These would be "green" spaces - earth supported by a buried plastic grid.

View of Wicht property from southern leg of Skyland Road


The Land That Came in from the Cold
Relieved of its duties as Skyland's prime frontier, and cleared up by some careful winnowing of trees, the land just inside the new Wicht property is already blossoming. It remains, however, the prime route for vehicular access to lower Whitaker.

Theis suggested that the proposed meditative path run along the lower edge of the sector, along the boundary with the Wicht land. The path and some grading, plus a decorative hedgerow, would mask, and in some places eliminate, the vertical drop between the old Skyland boundary and the Wicht property.

   The Eastern Front

From edge of parking lot overlooking site of proposed amphitheater

This is the terra incognita of Skyland's property. A swale descending from Skyland road on the north to Skyland Road on the south, it is so steep that few people venture down it. Yet it was here that consultant Bob Theis found space where, he says, a grassy amphitheater can be carved into the slope.

The east side of Skyland drops off behind a phalanx of buildings, utilities, and trash cans.  The shed at the rear of the church perches unsteadily on one corner on a knob of land, and then soars off into a jungle of struts and cross-pieces that look unstable and reportedly are so.  The shed is a candidate for removal to another location.

That suits Bob Theis fine; he sees this corner of Skyland's east side as an excellent spot for an outdoor worship spot. An amphitheater can be carved out of the hillside, he said, with the audience looking southeast over the bay and a dais on a level area at the bottom.   

Tiered seating can be built on what he calls "burritos" of dirt rolled

Looking up amphitheater space

up in geotextile fabric that is designed for slope support and erosion control. With the shed moved, and the propane tank next to the church and the trash receptacles at the edge of the parking lot moved to a larger space on the north side of the property, there is room for the meditation trail, with its easy 5% grade, leading to the amphitheater from both the parking lot and the rear of Whitaker.

The northeast space could be expanded to include all utilities and trash. The shed might be useful in that neighborhood as well, Theis said.
Theis, Planning Committee Evaluate Their Work
Theis's Assessment 

We queried Bob Theis as to his evaluation of the May 13 meeting; here's his answer.

The outcomes that stand out for me from the meeting are:
1. Recognizing the dual nature of the church, as a public place at a busy corner that also wants to be a retreat from daily hubbub.
2. That the site has a natural intimacy gradient, from fully public at the crossroads to quite removed and private at the south east end.
3. That there is a desire to enjoy the outdoors while walking that is frustrated by car traffic making the roads dangerous to walk.
4. That a path around the property would provide a contemplative walk not compromised by the car traffic, help unify the property, and enable disabled access to the lower parts of the property, especially lower level Whitaker Hall.  
5. That an intercession at the intersection would help make the adjoining roads slower, and thus  less hazardous. Conventionally, that would be stop signs. Less conventionally, something unexpected: a roundabout, or painting the paving bright colors.
6. At the new triangle of land, regrading to remove the vertical break with the rest of the property would make it more accessible. That could start to suggest uses.
7. While the ultimate best uses of the triangle are not yet clear, a berm along its southern edge  would sequester runoff on site, make the land more level (hence more useful), and create some buffering from the distraction of the road.
8. The terrace outside the south face of Whitaker Hall is compromised as a viable outdoor room by the distraction of traffic on Skyland Road, by the gophers there, and the weak spatial definition. Regrading the lawn here to redirect runoff away from Whitaker Hall is needed, but a better site for an outdoor chapel appeared during our session.
9. The storage building is slated for moving, and its current location is a good candidate as an amphitheater style outdoor chapel. It's a natural concavity in the hillside, facing south and a view of the bay, is high above car traffic, and could have access from the parking lot at the top and the new walking path at the base.
10. Parking lots are less of an intrusion on the landscape if they can be divided into groups of five cars. Making visual divisions with trees and vegetation can also create rain gardens that reduce the amount of runoff the lower property has to absorb. To initiate this process at the church lot, create a narrow planting strip at the east side of the central parking row, with screening trees at the end adjacent to the entry  and midway back toward the bell tower.  Leave paved  crossings through the long strip so that the vegetation screen is not a barrier.
11. The storage building needs a new location, as do several utilities (propane, water, trash) that currently are loosely ranged around the back of the parking lot.  Use the new storage building location as the anchor for a modest utility courtyard, benched into the uphill slope south and east of the parking lot.

Site Committee Response
Joan Law: It was a great meeting.  Marcia has done such a great job in keeping us going. This time it seemed there were some points where we came together, such as the path around the property, the meditative benches near the cross, adding dirt to better tie the various levels together while still maintaining them as separate areas. I think I felt a real interest in putting some green plants or privet hedge around the bell tower.  It would be helpful if those who have ideas as to where the dumpsters, the watering mechanism, etc. might go would draw a picture so we could get a better idea of what they are thinking.  I also don't understand where the shed is going.
Jan Swayne: I really loved learning and working together with everyone and watching the process of ideas turning 'real' on the ground. These are mock-ups. The ideas we came up with, in concert with each other, and after careful and thoughtful consideration, then got to be tested out on the ground in a physical form.  This gave all a chance to see the idea (such as a few parking spaces) and to feel out possible solutions to some of the problems we have. By taking small, less-permanent steps (like a berm along lower edge of property, a pathway to get down to the bottom of Whitaker Hall, and several ideas for increasing parking), we test steps toward solutions we need. In this way we can come to solutions with confidence.  Our church is discovering our property in a whole new way. And we are on this path of discovery together.
Deana Arnold: I was very encouraged that we have a place to start with moving some earth to create a more accessible site and strategies to block some of the less desirable views in ways that are relatively inexpensive. I also appreciated Bob's recognition of an area that could in the future be used as an outdoor sanctuary with a beautiful view and easier access than our current area behind Whitaker Hall.
Paula Leary: The path/walk around the church instead of the labyrinth was exciting.  When I arrived Sunday to see markers it brought a big smile on my face.  I really felt forward movement.   We have some baby steps to merging the new parcel with the church.  Bob's style of teaching was such a pleasure.  


NOTE from your treasurer:
Pledge income through  May 2 9 is $ 382 more than committed  for our fiscal year Thanks to all who kept their pledge commitment and a midterm pledge increase.
Some late responses bring your generous total giving to $2,106 for One Great Hour of Sharing.                   
We are now able to accept credit card payments for pledge, general and special offerings if that is more convenient than check or cash. See either Jan or me after service for these transactions.
Here are our operating finances as of May 29 for our 2016-17 fiscal year.
                   Summary of Operating Finances
                May 2017     | Jun 1,2016 to May 29
           Actual    Planned |  Actual      Planned
Income   $  11,120  $ 12,032 | $191,199    $184,677
Expenses $  1 2,401   $ 1 0,308  | $1 84,862     $ 184,680
Net      $  (-1,281)  $   1,724  | $   6,337     $      ( -3)

  -- Gerald J. Alonzo,   Treasurer