St. Paul’s Episcopal Church recently completed construction of an outdoor labyrinth that the public may use for prayer, meditation and reflection.
Labyrinths are ancient symbols that predate Christianity, and they signify a journey and finding one’s center, the Rev. Jim Melnyk said. They became popular within the church during the time of the Crusades, he said, because it was too dangerous for the faithful to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Their popularity has had a resurgence in recent years, Melnyk said, and that likely has to do with the times.
“Life has become so chaotic, and our schedules have become so regimented, that to find a time and a place to be mindful, and to take a prayer walk, helps us center ourselves,” he said. “It helps us look within.”
There’s no wrong way to walk a labyrinth, Melnyk said, but the typical trip is broken into three parts: the journey inward, a pause at the center and the trip back out. Along the way, people might want to pray aloud or to themselves, and they can stop at any point for deeper reflection.
In modern language, the term “labyrinth” is often used as a synonym for “maze,” but Melnyk said they are actually opposites. A maze is meant to trick and confuse a traveler with twists, turns and dead-ends and blind alleys, he said. Conversely, a labyrinth has a single, winding route, and you can never get lost.
That distinction carries a spiritual significance, Melnyk said.
“In the end, it says there’s a difference between being lost and not knowing exactly where you’re going,” he said. “Being lost, you’re a victim. Not knowing exactly where you’re going, but knowing you’re going to get somewhere, is being a pilgrim.”
In memory of member
St. Paul’s built the labyrinth as a memorial for Beverly Jordan, a longtime member of the church who passed away unexpectedly last fall.
Jordan was very active in her faith, Melnyk said, having served in elected leadership in the church, taught Sunday school and held education for ministry classes that delved deep into theology.
Because of Jordan’s dedication to growing spirituality, Melnyk said, a labyrinth made for a fitting testament to her memory.
“It seemed that a labyrinth, which is all about pilgrimage and exploring your faith journey, was a great way to remember her,” Melnyk said.
The idea originated with Jordan’s widower, and the plan was approved in May at a vestry meeting. Funding came from the memorial donations made when Jordan past, Melnyk said, along with additional support from her family.
Construction began July 8, and it took three hot days of work to lay all of the stone for the labyrinth.
The church will hold a dedication service in the fall, Melnyk said, and they will likely install a commemorative marker at that time. They also plan to do some landscaping around the labyrinth and build an entry way of some sort.
It’s a great place to get centered and to come into contact with the Lord.
Dick Hawk, church member
Open to public
St. Paul’s hopes the public will feel free to make use of the labyrinth, and that includes people of all faiths.
“This labyrinth can be used by Christians, by Jews, by Muslims, by Atheists,” Melnyk said. “It can be a place of centering for people of any faith background.
For visitors, St. Paul’s has put together a pamphlet that explains the history of labyrinths and offers tips for making the most of your experience. In the coming weeks, the church plans to hold workshops about the labyrinth. Information will be posted online at StPaulsSmithfield.DioNC.org.
Ken Ferguson was part of a group that gave the labyrinth a try last week.
“It doesn’t take long to engage yourself in the concept,” he said “I think the greatest joy for the church is that we welcome anybody from the community to enjoy this type of meditation.”
Dick Hawk echoed Feguson’s sentiments, and said he has already taken a liking to the new installation at St. Paul’s.
“It’s a great place to get centered and to come into contact with the Lord.”