The winding, circular prayer labyrinth just outside Lake Shore Baptist Church was created to be a place of quiet meditation for anyone in the community needing spiritual solace.
But it began to see less usage in recent years as lack of maintenance on the rock-and-granite path led to disrepair.
“There wasn’t really a plan for long-term upkeep, and so after a while and years going by, it just began to become overgrown with weeds and things like that,” said Erica Lea, a pastoral intern at Lake Shore Baptist.
A group of church members spent the past two months restoring the labyrinth and hopes it again serves as a peaceful reflection spot for residents throughout Waco. It is open to the public and will be formally rededicated in April.
“It needs to be used,” church member Marie Allen said. “It’s a beautiful space and it’s meaningful.”
Unlike mazes, a labyrinth has one path and a single entry/exit point. Walkers follow the path around until it meets a dead-end center point, the turnaround and return to the starting point, using the journey for personal reflection or prayer.
“I’ve seen people reach that center point and just start sobbing,” said Sandy Londos, another church member who worked on the labyrinth. “Other times, I’ve seen people get to the center and just (exhale).”
The labyrinth was the brainchild of Lake Shore Baptist member Becky Henderson, who designed the path and insisted that it be wide enough to accommodate people in wheelchairs. The church finished it in 2003 after Henderson died unexpectedly, naming it in her honor.
Rick Allen, who is not related to Marie Allen, said in addition to couples and children walking the labyrinth, some therapists asked to use it to help their clients open up more during sessions.
He personally used it in teaching lessons on prayer to teen members in a Wednesday night Bible study course in the spring.
“When I would go through the labyrinth, I would say to myself, ‘Stay on the path, stay on the path,’ and that became not only a mantra but also a metaphor for things that were going on in my life,” he said.
The disrepair began in part because the small congregation didn’t have a designated group to manage the project.
Londos’ husband, Skip, would prune and water the trees on the perimeter of the labyrinth, but he had to dedicate most of his time to caring for the Kay and Jack Hansma Peace Garden the church also maintained.
“Sometimes we don’t keep our promises — we’re human,” Rick Allen said. “We didn’t keep it up, and if you don’t keep it up, it becomes unattractive. And if it’s unattractive, people don’t use it.”
Also, the church co-managed a community garden with nearby Mountainview Elementary, growing vegetables that were donated to Caritas of Waco for clients.
“When people would go work outside, it was to do the garden with vegetables and weeding that space,” Sandy Londos said. “With the labyrinth, there was the thought that that’s just a path, we need to maintain the garden because we’re producing food here.”
Marie Allen in August took the initiative to clean and restore the labyrinth herself, weeding it by hand.
She said she used the project to work through her grief after her 90-year-old mother’s death in April.
“It’s just a holy space for me, and it’s outside,” Allen said, adding that she even put off work around her duplex to devote more time to the labyrinth. “I just like the idea of people being able to walk around and meditate and pray in a space that is beautiful.”
A committee of about eight church members formed to finish the project.
Baylor University students also pitched in significant muscle during their fall Steppin’ Out community service day earlier this month, helping spread 3 pounds of granite sand to create the pathways.
But there still is work to be completed.
Maroe Allen wants to renovate a birdbath that had become overgrown with weeds and rusted out with a new bowl and re- install it.
The committee also plans to plant more bushes and three trees to create shade over the otherwise uncovered space, as well as renovate the labyrinth’s irrigation system.
Lea said the process of restoring the labyrinth was also a spiritual exercise for the church.
“We talked a lot about the Sabbath as a spiritual practice of cleaning out stuff in your lives and making space to commune with God,” Lea said. “Some of the problem is being overwhelmed with too many things and not leaving time for spiritual reflection and growth, so the labyrinth seemed very much in the spirit of what we were studying as a church anyway. ”
Lea said the church now has created a quarterly maintenance plan for the labyrinth, designating committee members to clean up on certain days. The church’s building superintendent also will have a role in the ongoing upkeep.
“We really just want to announce that this is an available place,” Lea said. “If more people are using it, moving in and out and aware of this space, that could help deter some of the vandalism. And also we’re thinking if more people are out there, there may be more interest in helping upkeep it.”