‘A gift to the community’

Posted: November 5, 2012

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church member Jackson Cain built a prayer labyrinth in Mount Hebron Cemetery for his Eagle Scout project. He is the son of Annie and John Cain. The labyrinth was dedicated Sunday. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
With the Mount Hebron Cemetery gatehouse behind him, John Weissenberger (above) of Frederick County plays “For All Your Saints, O Lord” during the prayer labyrinth dedication. Below, Pastor James Utt (top right in white) addresses the crowd.

       Winchester

A prayer labyrinth created by an Eagle Scout with help from a local church was dedicated inside the gates of Mount Hebron Cemetery on Sunday morning.

Made from thousands of stone pavers and 30 feet in diameter, the labyrinth lies just north of Mount Hebron’s entranceway in Grace Lutheran Church cemetery, which dates to the 18th century.

The labyrinth took 430 volunteer hours to complete and was spearheaded by Jackson Cain for his Eagle Scout project. It was custom-designed by a Connecticut company that specializes in labyrinths.

“I’m really proud of how it turned out,” the 18-year-old James Wood High School senior said after the dedication ceremony, which was attended by dozens of members from Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, who processed up Boscawen Street to the cemetery following the church’s annual All Saints service.

A Grace Lutheran member, Cain said he got the idea for the project after he approached church leaders and learned they wanted a labyrinth.

The effort cost more than $20,000, with Cain raising $1,800 and the church and other donors contributing the rest.

“I appreciate everyone’s help,” said Cain, who was assisted by about 15 volunteers on the project.

Although the labyrinth is within Mount Hebron’s wrought iron gates, it’s on church-owned land that was deeded by Lord Fairfax in 1753 to 13 German families to build a sacred house of worship.

Within sight of the labyrinth are the ruins of Winchester’s original Lutheran church, built from 1764 to 1793 and destroyed by fire in 1854, and ancient gravestones bearing inscriptions in German and primitive drawings of skulls and crossbones. The labyrinth is believed to be built on the site of a log school that the Lutherans built before the church.

“So this is sacred ground for us,” Grace Lutheran Pastor James H. Utt told congregants as they encircled the labyrinth during the dedication.

“And it continues to be a place for the faithful to gather to pray,” added co-pastor Martha Sims, who called the labyrinth “a gift to the community.”

Sims said several groups have already begun meeting at the labyrinth to pray, including a cancer survivors’ support group that comes monthly.

She explained that prayer labyrinths are “very old” — there’s one at Chartres Cathedral in France — and that walking and praying on them “is a metaphor for our journey in life and faith.”

Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church and St. Paul’s-on-the-Hill Episcopal Church, both in Frederick County, also have labyrinths, she noted.

Sims said there’s no right or wrong way to use the labyrinth. Some people pray while following the path to the center, then retrace their steps out as their thoughts return to daily life. This labyrinth is unique because it features a Luther rose — the symbol of Lutheranism — at its center.

Teresa Lehman, Grace Lutheran’s director of Christian education and youth ministries, arrived at the labyrinth ahead of the processional to set up a spread of hot cider and cookies for guests to enjoy after the dedication.

Gesturing toward the labyrinth, she said, “We hope it will be here for hundreds of years. This is something the church has wanted for a long time.”

— Contact Cynthia Burton at cburton@winchesterstar.com