San Jose Church Building Labyrinth to Promote Peaceful Contemplation
Article from the San Jose Mercury News
Written by Eric Messenger

The eye-catching stone labyrinth under construction by the First Congregational Church of San Jose resembles a big, two-dimensional maze.

Forty-two feet in diameter, and making use of 26 tons of granite and flagstone, its surface is a winding set of twists and turns, orbiting around a center but with no clear way to reach it.

For all the wall-less structure’s appearances, there is only one path in and one path out. Planners and ministers hope visitors and members of the Willow Glen church will try to reach the center and in the process engage in a peaceful contemplation about the complexities of life.

“There’s something about making those turns that just lets you let go of the chatter,” said senior minister Nathan Miller.

Associate minister Dawn Peters, who originated the project, says that because someone who enters can’t get lost, so long as they follow the path carefully, a person walking can gain perspective on other journeys in their life.

“It’s a concrete, physical, three-dimensional metaphor,” said Lance Brown, the labyrinth’s designer.

That metaphor is nearing reality after three months of work, and is expected to be finished by the middle of September. First Congregational’s members have done much of the construction, chipping in on nights and weekends to break down rocks and painstakingly set them along the labyrinth path.

The process of construction, in fact, has been part of the appeal of the project

for both church leaders and its members. Liz Carey, a science teacher who was hard at work laying out stones late last week, said she enjoyed the process of putting the labyrinth together piece by piece.

“Part of the pleasure is being out here with the community,” Carey said. “It’s definitely better than sitting at home watching the news.”

Miller said he also appreciated that their hard work would lead to a lasting structure.

“To be part of something that’s going to be here for 100 years… we can’t build steeples, but we can do this,” Miller said.

The church’s project comes on the crest of a wave of labyrinth construction across the last decade, often modeled off of the famous labyrinth in the Chartes Cathedral in France.

Peters drew particular inspiration from the two labyrinths at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and said that since first encountering the idea of the structure she had hoped to bring one to First Congregational. Lower construction costs due to the economic climate allowed her church to pursue the project in the middle of other repairs and renovations to its southwestern San Jose site.

And while the structure nearing completion may not have one, clear meaning, Miller said that he expected and encouraged those who walked the path to make their own.

“You bring the context to your journey,” Miller said. “It’s just a path.”

Peters also had faith that the labyrinth would connect with those who encountered it.

“When we get it done and people start walking this, they’ll get it,” Peters said.