[Mississippi Episcopalian] During the recent Spring Picnic at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Jackson, Mississippi, parishioners created a unique labyrinth out of canned goods to benefit Stewpot’s Food Pantry.
Parishioners donated more than 1,700 cans of food and then used them to create a seven-circuit labyrinth. Cans of beans, mandarin oranges, carrots, tuna, peanut butter and tomatoes lined the one path to the center of the labyrinth and out again.
Both adults and children walked the winding food-lined path of abundance to the center. A small table with an empty white bowl at the labyrinth’s center served as a reminder that there are many empty bowls and stomachs in the community and state. When returning from the center, adults and children walked the same path, but this time the many cans challenged the walkers to take action and to do something for those who are hungry.
“I think the sheer number of cans and the one empty bowl got everyone’s attention,” said Mary Margaret Hickman, co-chair of the Friends of the Labyrinth Committee. “One child walked peacefully to center of the labyrinth and back out again. Then, she picked up a can of beans and walked back to the center and put it in the middle of the bowl. She knew exactly what needed to be done!”
That child’s action was exactly what organizers of the labyrinth wanted. Two groups at St. James’, the Sparking Our Spirit task force and the Friends of the Labyrinth committee, partnered to offer this experience to the parish. Sparking Our Spirits is a task force charged with sparking enthusiasm and nurturing community through spiritual growth that leads to ministry. The Friends of the Labyrinth sponsor regular contemplative labyrinth walks using the church’s new canvas labyrinth.
“The canned food labyrinth was a perfect idea … an example of contemplative prayer and compassionate action,” said Sparking our Spirit task force member Mary Jane Duncan. “After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, or in this case over a thousand cans.”
Although many parishioners had walked a labyrinth before, no one ever actually had built one. For expert advice, organizers turned to Jason Gyldewell, an experienced labyrinth builder who lives in south Mississippi. Glydewell traveled to Jackson and worked with a small group of volunteers to mark and paint the outline of the labyrinth in the front of the church property.
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure how well this particular effort would go. What I discovered was, with Jason’s instructions and leadership, it was quite simple and relatively easy to get the labyrinth shape laid out and lined,” said Steve Boone, a volunteer and parishioner. “I found myself enjoying the way it looked, and walked, and I wanted to do what I could to make it all work.”
The creation of the labyrinth pattern took about three hours and the help of about eight volunteers. It began with eight concentric circles. These circles were then modified to create the path of the labyrinth. The last step involved lining the path with a special spray paint.
“People started walking the labyrinth as soon as we painted the pattern on the ground. They couldn’t resist,” said Hickman. Neighbors, employees of the church and the members of different support groups that meet regularly at the church all walked the labyrinth during the week.
“It is wonderful that, at least until it rains, we can share this with everyone,” Hickman said. “One day soon, we hope to have a permanent outdoor labyrinth at St. James’ that is open 24/7.”
During the picnic, nearly 100 parishioners walked the labyrinth. Still many others watched from the edge. In the week following the picnic, photos of the labyrinth went “viral” in social media, with more than 19,000 people “viewing” a shared photo posted on St. James’ Facebook page.
“I walked with young children, middle-size children, teens, young parents, older parents, grandparents and many of the wisdom elders of our church … walking, celebrating, praying, enjoying the labyrinth,” said Mary Nell Prichard, a parishioner. “I felt that there were many present whom I could not see … those who came before us to build and sustain St. James’. They were there in my gratitude because they made it possible for me and everyone else to be present on this day.
“I sensed that this labyrinth was a sign of the rich spiritual life of St. James’ and that our work, our walk, our gifts given and the blessings received honored them all.”
— This article first appeared in the May issue of the Mississippi Episcopalian. Carolyn Ray is a communicant of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Jackson, Mississippi.