Church offers welcoming site designed for prayer, reflectionNov 24, 2021 07:07AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Whether in prayer, meditation, self-reflection or a combination thereof, walking a spiraling labyrinth has been used for millennia as a method to experience spiritual or personal growth.
Labyrinths exist worldwide, many in places of worship, parks or even hospitals, inviting those seeking introspection to track their paths. Among the churches with a labyrinth on its grounds is one that can trace its location to 1848, Christ Church Christiana Hundred in Greenville. But the labyrinth is a much newer addition to the church’s grounds.
Michael Sayer, facilities manager for Christ Church, has walked both his church’s labyrinth and others across the country.
“At my mom and dad's church up in Mount Pocono, Pa., Trinity Church, is out in the woods. The [labyrinth] is made mostly out of wood and stone and with the grass in between. They just kind of blocked it out with sticks and stones.
“There are different patterns, but they all do the same thing,” Sayer explained. “[Unlike mazes], there's one way in and there's one way out.” He said of his own labyrinth experience: “It's basically you on your personal journey, on your path, and it symbolizes one way to God, which is through Jesus Christ. That's very powerful.”
The process of entering the labyrinth, reaching the center, then returning out, can be accompanied by prayer or reaching out to God. The Rev. Ruth Beresford, rector of Christ Church, recorded a series of videos in 2020 demonstrating how to walk the labyrinth during Lent, Holy Week and Easter. She tells viewers that walking the labyrinth as a way to pray is in three stages: release -- the path to the center; receive -- spending time in the center; and return -- taking the path back out.
An example is “Lent on the Labyrinth: The Way of Lament.” On the path in, the Rev. Beresford said, “Enter and release your sorrows, your grief …” In the center, “What will you receive? That’s up to God and you and the power of the Holy Spirit.” Beresford encourages the viewers to do a hand gesture that symbolizes their lament, and then open their hands, and wait. “You’ll know when it’s time to walk out again.” Then is the return, in which she said she prays that God will show the walker some kind of consolation and comfort.
The Episcopal church’s labyrinth is in a peaceful field behind the Memorial Garden at the large cross on its 22-acre property. The brick-and-paver design is based on the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral near Paris, built around 1200. The Greenville church’s 40-foot diameter labyrinth measures 91 percent of the original French structure’s size.
There are two access paths that lead to the labyrinth, including one for those with accessibility issues. When reaching the labyrinth entrance, there are two benches and plaques on both sides with suggestions about how to conduct your journey. A small stone wall forms a border and provides another place to sit.
The labyrinth installation in 2011 seemed meant to be. During the search for a rector four years earlier, the Search Committee used the image of a labyrinth on its communications. And when the Rev. Beresford came to the church, she said she used labyrinths in her spiritual life.
To familiarize people with the spiritual tool, before investing in a more permanent one, “I went up to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia and [borrowed] a canvas labyrinth,” Sayer said. “It was in the Chartres design and we put it down in the parish hall.”
It left an impression. The Rev. Calhoun Wick was among those who walked the canvas labyrinth. “He walked it and he was so moved by the experience that he and his wife [joined the effort to create the installation],” Sayer said.
When they were finally ready to install the permanent labyrinth, Sayer said the laying of the first stone needed to be precise.
“The exact center of the labyrinth matches up with the exact center of the cross, and the exact center of the Memorial Garden. And if we open the front doors of the church, from the center of the labyrinth, you can see all the way to the high altar of the church.”
Over the past decade, the Christ Church labyrinth has been used by individuals and groups, both parishioners and others. Sayer noted with a smile that people will call and want to schedule a time.
“It’s open all the time. Day or night, rain or shine,” said Deborah Webb, communications associate and graphic designer at the church.
In addition to walks around holidays, “Clergy will put together full moon walks, where during the full moon they will all walk together around the labyrinth,” Webb said. The labyrinth also plays host to some of the smallest visitors: children in the church pre-school. “We have 70 children, 18 months to pre-K. The kids like to run all over,” Sayer said.
The labyrinth has also been the site for a wedding, a video location for Renaissance band Piffaro and part of an inspiration for artists in Plein Air Brandywine Valley.
Sayer said there is no wrong way to walk the labyrinth. His experience has honed a way that works best for him. “Some people will do a labyrinth in 10 minutes,” he said. “Some people will go two hours. Some people will go a little bit and stop and think.
“I'm a chronological person, so I do mine chronologically. What happened when I was a child? What happened when I was a teenager? What happened in this decade? Then getting to the middle is not the goal. It’s the journey.”
More information about Christ Church Christiana Hundred is available at https://christchurchde.org/prayer.
More information about labyrinths, including where to locate labyrinths worldwide, can be found at The Labyrinth Society, https://labyrinthsociety.org
Natalie Smith may be contacted at [email protected]