St. James Episcopal Church has realized a dream twenty years in the making, sparked by a method used to reach and teach their children.
The church has opened the St. James Labyrinth Prayer Garden on their eastern campus lawn off Oak Ridge Drive, a place of stillness, meditation and communion for all.
Carolyn Ray, a church member who served on the project committee, says the labyrinth grew out the St. James’ vacation church school, where a canvas version was used by children as a prayerful path and place of centering.
Church rector, The Reverend Jamie McElroy, says movement, for many, helps to focus the mind, the heart and soul. “For me, the rosary is an important mode of prayer,” he explains of the string of beads used in some faiths. “It’s prayerful fiddling. In the same way that we have learned it makes sense for children to ‘fiddle’ to focus, the labyrinth, by movement of walking in a prayerful path, helps one to focus as well. Our children get that, so it’s interesting that this has come out of our children’s ministry.”
The stone path was intricately designed and laid over the summer months by artist Marty Kermeen, a master labyrinth builder from Illinois, whose commissions date back fifteen years. “Once we saw his work, there was no doubt it’s what we needed in this community,” Ray says. “The construction was amazing, meticulous and purposeful. Everything he did was with intent and prayer.” Fondren landscape designer, Royal Catchings, was hired to give finishing touches to the space.
A labyrinth involves pattern, symmetry and sacred geometry that creates calm, wholeness and unity. The St. James version contains seven circuits, a petite version of the same labyrinth found in the CathÃ©drale de Chartres in Chartres, France. Ray calls it “a symbol of a journey through life, to a deeper place within you.”
Rev. McElroy says he has been involved with churches in the past that have constructed labyrinths as “nice ideas” that “seemed to have little meaning.” “Because St. James has so many folks that get it, there’s this example they’ve set that is thrilling to learn from and follow behind,” he remarks. “This labyrinth comes fully out of the prayer practice of our people.”
Labyrinth committee chairman and church vestry member, Randy Boyles, says church members have connected with the garden for its open nature. “It’s twenty four hours a day,” he says. “The space is for anyone in the community – safe, lit and open for everyone.”
Rev. McElroy concurs. “Everyone is so excited,” he notes. “Every Sunday people are out there.” Ray interjects, “All times throughout the week! I’ve seen neighbors: one stopped me saying they’re so glad it’s open and that they had been waiting.” Boyles mentions recent funeral service attendees where families are utilizing the garden prior to and following services.
On November 9, 2014 at 5pm, St. James will host a labyrinth prayer garden blessing service. Rev. McElroy says they are reaching out, ‘far and wide,’ to other churches, denominations and faiths with invitations. “As a prayer practice, labyrinths are interfaith,” he says. True, there’s evidence of their use before Christianity. From Siberia to Scandinavia and South America, the Native American evidence, carved in stone, dates back some 6,000 years.
As labyrinths have spread, there are people that are not necessarily religious who find them meaningful, too. Rev. McElroy adds, “They’re meant to be a prayerful invitation to anyone and everyone.”