In early July, the Rev. Rita Henault got a totally unexpected call at her office at Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Fayetteville. It was one that combined both a request and an offer, and after hearing the details, she decided it was something she couldn’t refuse. And when the parish’s administrative board, the vestry, learned of it, its members agreed with her.
The call came from Prime Financial Services, which has had an office for about seven years at 1205 Highway 92 south, on a lot just north of and adjoining the Antioch Road property of the parish where Henault serves as rector. The business’s owners—Alfred Dingler, his wife Jolene and business partner Karl Thomason—wanted to talk with their Episcopalian neighbors about extending a large walking path through the woods onto the Nativity property.
For several months, they had been developing the land behind Prime’s building to include the winding path, small sculptures, a variety of plants and grass, and strategically placed benches, metal tables and chairs. More recently, they had spread a firm bed of mulch over much of the path, which makes for easier walking.
When she heard the financial services company’s proposal to extend the path onto the church grounds at its expense, Henault almost immediately thought of something she had long wanted to see as part of the church’s physical facilities—a labyrinth, where parishioners (or anyone else, for that matter) can combine prayer, spiritual reflection or meditation while walking.
Historians and archaeologists have found evidence dating back many centuries of these concentric circle mazes being used for both religious and non-religious uses. They have been discovered in both Greek and Roman ruins and on floors of some cathedrals built in the medieval era. But in recent decades there has been a revival of interest in their use in a variety of Christian settings, including The Episcopal Church.
Henault says Prime Financial’s officials readily agreed to make a labyrinth a part of the walkway’s extension into Nativity’s woods. “It was really something to see a Bobcat carving out the part of the woods and knowing it was making a place for our new labyrinth,” she said, referring to one well known earth-moving machine.
As a result, one can now enter the labyrinth portion of the path through a garden arch located just north of the church parking lot. Relatively quickly, it leads to an area where the path is configured in the familiar circular route which can be traversed at one’s own speed. Outside the labyrinth, the pathway goes through the church’s columbarium area, a section for burial of ashes of parishioners who have died. It also leads all the way down to the west side of Route 92, where a sign tells southbound travelers they have missed the turn to the church at the Antioch Road intersection. This section of the path also has strategically placed rest areas.
The work completed for this project has been a combination of church youth volunteers, members of the Prime Financial staff and has included students from Whitewater Middle School and Whitewater High School.
A statement issued by Prime about its reasons for undertaking this effort said:
“The Dingler and Thomason families are residents of Fayettte County and believe in a strong sense of community. Their office, a 1920’s ‘City of Dreams’ displaying over 2000 antiques has always been open to visitors. To expand the experience of these visitors and hopefully to share with everyone in our community, they created gardens and a park. Prime wanted to partner with the Episcopal Church so that the park could be expanded and become an amazing experience for everyone who visits.
“Prime Financial’s hope is that individuals, families and groups will look upon this joint venture as an incredible place to walk, think and just enjoy nature. Rev. Rita and the church allowing them to expand is helping this goal to become possible. Together with Nativity Church, they have found it a pleasure to create this peaceful oasis for Fayette County. To date, they estimate over 700 guests have stopped by since May.”
The project that originated this past summer with a meeting between the rector of a church and officials of a neighboring financial services company reached a crowning point Sunday (Nov. 4), when Henault, acolytes, the small church choir, and members gathered at the labyrinth entrance for a formal dedication.
After the rector sprinkled the garden arch with water from the baptismal font inside, the group processed into the church to begin the liturgy for All Saints Sunday. During the service, the Dinglers, their children and Thomason were recognized and received a round of applause from the congregation.
Afterwards, the Prime Financial visitors were greeted heartily by many members outside the door into the sanctuary, where pictures also taken of them with the rector. Nor was that all. While Thomason was talking with a church member, he was interrupted by Alfred Dingler, the business president who had already made his way into the parish hall for the customary period of refreshments.
“You ought to go on over there,” Dingler told Thomason. “They’ve also got us on the cake.”
Sure enough, a cake on the food table was decorated with lettering indicating that it was All Saints Sunday, a major festival in the liturgical calendar. Right below it was another graphic, a replica of an advertisement for Prime Financial, which had made the occasion even more special.