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Gainesville First United Methodist opens prayer labyrinth

POSTED: March 26, 2013 1:30 a.m.

This Easter, not all worshipers may be able to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem during Holy Week but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a prayerful journey closer to home.

The Prayer Ministry Team at Gainesville First United Methodist Church has set up a large prayer labyrinth in its reception hall to give people the opportunity to walk and reflect on the holy season.

The prayer labyrinth is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the church at 2780 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville.

The Rev. Wendy Cordova, pastor of evangelism and lay ministry, said the labyrinth is a great spiritual tool that has been used for thousands of years.

When medieval Christian pilgrims were unable to go to Jerusalem because of sickness or war, the path of the labyrinth was a spiritual substitute.

The pattern was usually marked out on the floor in colored stone or tiles. The labyrinths could range from 10 to 40 feet in diameter in a variety of patterns.

"It looks like a maze, but it’s not really a maze. A maze has tricks," Cordova said. "This is just a single path that leads to the center of the circle and then it leads back out. It’s a symbolic way of praying. Once you make your way to the center, you spend some time praying and make your way back out into the world."

For years the church has held prayer vigils and prayer walks on the Saturday before Easter. This year, the team wanted to come up with something new.

The church rented the canvas labyrinth, which is patterned after the medieval labyrinth embedded into the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in northern France.

Cordova said in addition to the traditional method of walking the labyrinth, the church has included a few new features to make the journey easier for those who have never tried it.

Those who decide to walk the labyrinth may read more about the history of the prayer labyrinth at the small table next to the labyrinth’s entrance. Worshipers can carry a prayer walk guide and a smooth dark stone to carry with them as they make their way to the center.

"People can pick a rock up as they make their way to the center, thinking about their burdens and it’s kind of like naming the darkness," Cordova said.

At the center of the labyrinth is a small table with a cross where worshipers can leave their rock and pick up a small wooden cross to take home with them.

The church has provided a journal for people in which to share their experience and reflections after they’ve completed the labyrinth.

"What a lovely way to reflect on the blessings in our life during holy week," John and Bonnie LaForge wrote in the journal. "We are grateful to those who made this possible and especially to our lord and savior Jesus Christ."

Cordova encourages anyone in the community who is interested in walking the path to drop in and try it for themselves.

"I’m very excited that we’re offering it," Cordova said. "I’m very curious to see how people experience it and what kind of a response we get because it is so different than anything we’ve ever done."


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