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Kathleen Thelen pauses to pray at the center of the new labyrinth at the Church of the Advent. (Farmington Independent)

A peaceful walk to ease troubled minds

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FARMINGTON - A new labyrinth at Farmington's Episcopal Church of the Advent invites community members to walk a twisting, turning path as a form of meditation, prayer and self-reflection. The road to getting the paving-stone path built had plenty of twists of its own.

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The labyrinth, conceived as an outreach project for the 60-member church, has taken more than five years to reach its current state. There have been discussions about the proper placement of the labyrinth, and about funding. Three years ago the church used yellow flags to mark the path first in one place then another before removing the flags altogether.

Now that the project is finished, though, everybody involved is thrilled with the way it turned out.

"It's been a labor of love for all of us, because we wanted to do it right," said Kim Fortney, the church's senior warden. "There was a lot of discussion on what form it should take. How big it should be. We wanted to make sure it fit in with the age of the church, because we are very proud of our historic chapel."

The finished project is part meditation tool, part patio. The church held an outdoor service there when it dedicated the space last month, and it plans to continue to use it as a gathering place.

The labyrinth's primary purpose, though, is as a spiritual tool. People who use the labyrinth walk a path from the outside of a circle to the center, but it's not a maze. There is only one possible path. Those who walk use the time to rid themselves of their day-to-day concerns and connect with God, or with themselves.

Labyrinths, which date back thousands of years, often carry religious overtones, but at the church's new labyrinth the connections are not overt. Walkers bring to the experience what they choose and take from it what they can.

For Fortney, the labyrinth was a place where she could deal with the loss of her mother earlier this year. While she was initially self-conscious about walking in view of people passing on the street, she eventually got comfortable there.

For church member Kathleen Thelen, the labyrinth has been a place to get away from worldly concerns. Thelen lives just down the block from the church, and the labyrinth has become a place to finish her regular walks. When she served jury duty for the first time recently, she used the labyrinth to help put her thoughts about the difficult case in order.

"It's just someplace where you can go and get away from the household activities and just go over any decisions you have to make," Thelen said. "If you're really sad, you can come and be with yourself, or be by yourself with God.

"You can walk with your sorrow or with your thankfulness."

Church member LaDonna Boyd brought the idea of the labyrinth to the church. She was introduced to them when the former Trinity Hospital built one several years ago. She thought it would be the perfect project for a church looking to reach out into the neighborhoods that surround it.

"I thought it would be something we could offer the community, since we're so close to downtown," Boyd said. "We wanted it close to the sidewalk so that it could be open to the community. So they'd feel comfortable coming in and using it."

Building the labyrinth was a big project for such a small church, and it took some time. The effort got a boost when longtime member Catherine Gaines Boehlke died and left a sum of money to the church. That money went to the labyrinth, which now bears Boehlke's name.

There are already plans to improve the labyrinth with landscaping and other additions. For now, though, everybody seems happy with it just the way it is.

"It's brought us together," Fortney said. "It's brought our church together. That's the way projects work. We all did our part."

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