East Church’s 2011 Labyrinth project
East Church adopted “Searching for God.” as its theme for 2011–2012
To support that theme, a small discussion group was formed to explore a spectrum of personal prayer practices. The discussion group was titled Approaching Mystery.
The Approaching Mystery group had its first meeting in September, 2011. That first gathering focussed on the practice of walking meditation. The classic example of a walking meditation involves a labyrinth. Labyrinths differ from mazes in that one can’t get lost in the former. There are no cognitive decisions to be made. The path is described as unicursal, which means there is only one path — the way in and the way out are the same. While the cognitive, decision-making portion of our brain is relieved of its responsibilities, the walker still has to remain alert and aware in order to stay on the path! It’s a perfect setup for meditation — one must remain attentive and present but, as there are no analytic or cognitive demands on the participant, the one who walks a labyrinth deliberately and consciously is freed to quiet his or her mind and listen for the divine.
Making it happen
East Church had no labyrinth to walk! While “portable” labyrinths, painted on canvas and intended for indoor use, are available for rent, it was decided that a large, outdoor labyrinth would be painted on the parking lot behind the church for the continued use and enjoyment of both parishioners and the wider community.
We decided to model ours after the beautiful, classic 12th century labyrinth found in France, at Chartres Cathedral. Because of its renown, patterns of the Chartres labyrinth are readily available online. Even after hours of study we were unable to discern a predictable logic to the twists and turns. Ultimately we just had to deconstruct the pattern and turn it into a “recipe” which could then be enlarged to its final size of 60 feet in diameter.
Volunteers were recruited to paint the labyrinth. We planned this to take place on Sunday, September 25, the weekend before the first walking. In addition to inviting the East Church community, the Approaching Mystery meeting was announced to the wider community via the local media. This was a huge leap of faith, given that the local weather forecast looked terrible for the weekend we intended to paint.
At the last minute, really the morning of the planned work, the forecast improved. Approximately 16 optimistic volunteers showed up that Sunday, ready to work. Rev. Sara included mystery and labyrinths in her sermon that morning to deepen the experience. It took about 4 1/2 hours to lay out and paint our labyrinth. We marked it out in chalk first, just in case corrections needed to be made. The team, who was beginning to catch on to how cool this was turning out, walked it exuberantly (and not at all meditatively) as one last confirmation that no mistakes had been made before we made it permanent with paint!
Time-lapse video of the development.
Here is our afternoon’s work reduced to a little over two minutes. (Big thanks to Daryl Warner for making the opening title and ending credit edits.)
Here is how it turned out, with the paint just barely dry:
Two days later we walked it deliberately as a community:
A Bird’s Eye View
This is what our church property, including labyrinth, looks like from Google’s satellite:
Here is another aerial view, taken in 2012 by the MapGeo service:
We were thrilled that the age range of our team of volunteers included a kindergartener at one end, youth, young adults and middle-aged in between, and an octogenarian at the other end. These hard workers made East Church’s labyrinth a reality:
- Linda and David Palmer
- Clara Cenci
- Aris, Chris and Zack Bakolos
- Elizabeth Feeherry
- Andrew Sheridan
- Ani and Nancy Gaden, Lisa Jacobs
- Tony Andrade
- Sara, Eric, Zeph and Wren Marean
- Oliver Nelson
- Vicki and Steve Nelson
- Sharon, Stacey and Bob Gallagher
If this sounds like a project you would like to undertake for your own church or organization, please feel free to download our "Do it Yourself" article, which outlines what you will need in terms of time, materials and volunteers. Pretty detailed instructions are included as well.
We were pleased and honored to have the story of the East Church Labyrinth featured in a March edition of the Mass. Conference of the UCC's "Spotlight" newsletter!