Nearly every morning, Hazel Gerlinger walks the twists and turns inside a labyrinth in the parking lot of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Waynesboro, Ga.
She’s usually barefoot because she feels more grounded that way, and she tries to empty her mind and focus only on the twisted path in front of her, following it toward the circle’s center and back out to the perimeter.
“It’s interesting because it’s different every day,” Gerlinger said. “It’s hard to explain, really. It depends a lot on the mood that you’re in.”
The new labyrinth uses space behind the church that once was a tennis court. It was dedicated and consecrated by the Rev. Scott Benhase, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, on Dec. 7.
Seeking to turn the space into something the whole community could use, the church turned to art teacher Stan Dodson and the Burke County High School Art Club to complete the project.
“We were in the midst of redesigning and reconfiguring what we wanted to accomplish as an art club,” Dodson said. “During this time, we had been talking about wanting to do some kind of community project. We wanted to develop a group called Art Reach, which combines artistic projects with community outreach. We would do extensions of the classroom but outside, so we would really be giving our time and talents back to the community.”
Dodson said he wanted to do a labyrinth one day, but because of its complexity never imagined it would be the first project for Art Reach.
Beginning in August, about 20 art students began measuring, sketching and researching labyrinths, types of paint, costs and other issues associated with the project.
Through October and November, the students put paint to concrete to bring the labyrinth to life. Some students worked about 40 hours a week, Dodson said.
A vine makes up the circumference of the maze-like path, and trees in the four different seasons represent the seasons and circle of life.
“It was interesting to see the kids put some practical math skills on a surface that was 60 feet by 40 feet, and take something that was on an 8½-by-11 sheet of paper and move it to a huge space without a projector,” Dodson said. “It was really neat to see them in action and see some of their math skills.”
Dodson said he hoped to teach the students that like the labyrinth, reaching the end was less important than going through the process.
“So much of what I teach the students is really about identity, because I’m working with high school students,” he said. “They’re always trying to find their place in this world and their identity. Their search for self. This labyrinth translated really well to those concepts. The labyrinth itself is really just a metaphor.”
The Rev. Jim Shumard, the pastor of St. Michael’s, said the concept of the labyrinth is not “New Age,” as some people have expressed. Rather, it’s an ancient concept dating to around the year 1200.
He said while he would like to see the labyrinth draw more people into the church, it’s really more of a public service.
“A spiritual public service, for those who would like to use it,” he said. “Some people that may not be comfortable in a church may be comfortable in the labyrinth.”