First United Methodist Church

A considerable percentage of the labyrinths that we build are memorials. While a memorial suggests the departure of a loved one, which can be sad, the labyrinth itself is a wonderful symbol of birth and rebirth. Some of the oldest known labyrinths are associated with tombs, perhaps as a symbolic map for the deceased to find their way through the underworld. Birth, life, death, and rebirth --all aspects of nature's most enduring cycle -- are well-represented by labyrinths.

Laura Stilwell was a vivacious teenager who experienced the labyrinth while in San Francisco. She was struck by a car and killed while jogging, two weeks after her return to Valparaiso. Her fellow high school classmates at First United Methodist Church decided a labyrinth would be a suitable memorial. With the help of youth minister Tammy Clark, they arranged for donations by Four Seasons nursery for the creative landscape design, retaining wall and plantings, Smith Ready Mix for the concrete work, and all other aspects of the labyrinth design.

I drove to Valpariso in the face of predicted rainy weather, facing a deadline of a dedication that had already been scheduled a week later. With half a dozen high school workers, we managed to dodge the rain and complete a 32-foot Chartres labyrinth by 4:30 p.m. the day of the dedication (which was at 6:30 p.m.). Since the shooting of the concrete was a bit more technical than the masking and other activities, I called upon fellow labyrinth makers Dan Raven and John Ridder to join me on the last two days.

We sealed the labyrinth with a potent penetrating sealer that I recently discovered in Canada, protecting the concrete from ice damage in the winter.Then, a week later, Roger Hurd (from the church staff) gave it the final two coats of sealer. Was the labyrinth as accurate and precise as it would have been using only my own crew? No. But the spirit and the love that went into it have given it far more value. Indeed, the irregularities are what make a hand-made labyrinth so much more pleasing to the eye than a severely perfect one created by computers.

The Stilwells were gracious hosts during my stay. The site of the labyrinth was next to the Asbury Center on Franklin Street, on a lot that once held a house that was torn down a few years ago. At one time, youth minister Tammy Clark lived in that very house! And now there is a beautiful labyrinth there, for everyone in the downtown area to use. More than 160 people attended the dedication service, which was conducted by the young people.

The labyrinth is a great asset for the church and the entire downtown area. It will be lovingly used in remembrance of the one to whom it is dedicated. This project is also discussed as a memorial.

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