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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
A new labyrinth garden at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Laytonsville offers a spot for rest, remembrance and renewal.
“Our labyrinth garden is just a beautiful and peaceful place,” Senior Warden Nancy Row said. “There is just something about it. I will be there a lot.”
Row said the church hopes others will do the same.
“We hope everyone in the community will enjoy visiting it,” she said.
Row lauded the garden committee for the “wonderful job” it did bringing the garden to fruition.
“All their efforts towards raising money, developing the concept and the design and everything it took to implement have resulted in a peaceful, reflective setting and a place to get away from everyday life or think about loved ones,” she said.
According to the Labyrinth Society, a labyrinth is a meandering path with a singular path leading to a center. Labyrinths are an ancient archetype dating back 4,000 years or more, used symbolically as a walking meditation, choreographed dance or site of rituals and ceremony, among other things.
Labyrinths are tools for personal, psychological and spiritual transformation, and are also thought to enhance right-brain activity,” according to the society. Labyrinths evoke metaphor, sacred geometry, spiritual pilgrimage, religious practice, mindfulness, environmental art and community building,” the organization says.
In June 2017, a group of volunteers at St. Bartholomew’s discussed creating a sacred space, including a labyrinth. Janice Fitts, Deborah Howard, Sonja Elgin, Nancy Harding, Carol Shoemaker and Richard Shaw formed the garden committee.
At about the same time, roofers who had been called in to repair the church’s slate roof, installed in 1909, informed the congregation that it was beyond repair and needed to be replaced.
That news was a blow to the tiny church.
“The cost was $120,000 and our annual budget is $110,000” Fitts said. “The roof was obviously the priority.”
The very next day, the church received a call from parishioner Ray Amor, who offered to pay for the new roof in memory of his wife, Martha Elizabeth “Bettie” Amor.
The donation allowed the garden committee to move forward with its project, which began in April.
Fitts said St. Bartholomew’s had a unique opportunity to create the space, considering the church sits on about three acres of land in the heart of the growing town.
The committee’s goals included the desire to create an outdoor sanctuary with a labyrinth enabling spiritual renewal, to create a garden inviting all church members and the community to participate in memorials to loved ones and to celebrate major life events, to create a space for outdoor activities and special services, and to use garden donations only, completely separate from the church pledges for the ongoing operating fund.
Fitts said St. Bartholomew’s labyrinth was inspired by Marilyn Carollo — church organist, choir director, artist, mentor and mother.
“It was her final wish that a beautiful labyrinth be built on the grounds of our church,” Fitts said.
Committee members learned that the “labyrinth movement” is growing and that many “pilgrims” travel to visit labyrinths, aided by an online labyrinth registry.
They contacted churches and other institutions to discuss their memorials and/or labyrinth gardens and lessons learned. They visited labyrinths and reviewed designs, shape, color, size and quality of construction.
The labyrinth selected is a modified version of the one within the Chartres Cathedral in France, built in the early 13th century. It was designed to be consistent with sacred geometry used as the centerpiece of cathedral construction and still studied by architects and engineers for its strength and endurance.
St. Bartholomew’s Ladies Guild, which was formed in the 1930’s and works to support the church by raising funds for major improvements and maintenance, donated a Tree-of-Life sculpture for the garden, with 200 leaves available to be engraved. More than 70 leaves have been donated, remembering loved ones and celebrating families and major life events.
The garden also includes 28 newly planted trees and eight benches.
Lighting is expected to be installed this fall.
The Right Rev. Carl Walter Wright, the Bishop Suffragan for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries of the Episcopal Church, on Sept. 9 dedicated the new roof and labyrinth memorial garden at St. Bartholomew’s 10:30 a.m. service.
“Even though it was cold and rainy, everyone came and everybody went out to the labyrinth for the dedication,” Fitts said. “By all accounts, people thought this was one of the most beautiful services we have ever had.”
St. Bartholomew’s is located at 21611 Laytonsville Road, next to Laytonsville Town Hall. The labyrinth and memorial gardens are open to the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For more information, go to https://saintbartholomews.org.
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