By Sue Botos
At first glance, the playground at Rockport United Methodist Church on Wooster Road in Rocky River doesn’t seem like a place for quiet reflection. But take a look behind the neon-colored slides and climbing toys, and the church’s new prayer labyrinth can be found.
This serene oasis was the Eagle Scout project of Andrew Riddlebaugh, 18, a recent graduate of North Olmsted High School and a church member. “I heard the church was considering having one built, and I decided I could do that,” Riddlebaugh said during a recent visit at the labyrinth, nestled in a peaceful setting overlooking the Cleveland Metroparks.
Riddlebaugh said that while it took about a day to construct the labyrinth, made of bricks that outline the circular gravel path leading to the center, it was months in planning. In addition to this project, Riddlebaugh, who is headed to Cleveland State University in the fall, said he had to fulfill other requirements for Boy Scouting’s highest award, including earning merit badges and serving in leadership positions for his Boy Scout troop 664.
A scout for 12 years, Riddlebaugh continued through the ranks even though teenagers often lose interest in Scouting. “I stuck with it because I found it fun,” he said, adding that camping was one of his favorite activities.
While it looks like a maze, Barb Davis, Christian education director at Rockport Methodist, explained that a labyrinth is different. “You can never get lost,” she said, adding that there is only one winding path to the center. As a person walks, she or he can reflect, meditate and pray. “It’s a lot like life,” she said.
Davis said a person can navigate the labyrinth at their own pace, passing others who may be going slower. Once the center is reached, they may stay as long as they wish, then follow the path out. On this day, Davis was playing meditative music to accompany the walkers.
According to information distributed by the church during the labyrinth’s dedication on July 28, prayer labyrinths date back thousands of years. Churches during medieval times sometimes embedded labyrinths into their floors, and they were viewed as a journey to Jerusalem for those who could not afford to make the pilgrimage.
Davis said that the practice of walking the prayer labyrinth is becoming popular again. She noted that a Westlake church has an indoor labyrinth, and there is also one at Hiram College. A labyrinth can also be found at the Cleveland Clinic’s Ahuja Medical Center in Beechwood. “Doctors and nurses will walk it just to clear their head,” she stated.
Although Riddlebaugh had said that the project took only one day, Davis noted that it was a difficult procedure, because the circular measurement had to be precise.
Riddlebaugh added that he had help from about 20 fellow Scouts and church members. He said he also received about $500 in cash for the project and was responsible for contacting local businesses, which supplied the materials for the project and sponsored it.
The labyrinth is open to anyone of any faith. Davis will be available on summer Thursdays at 7 p.m. at the site to explain more about it.
Jerri Thomas, arriving to try out the new labyrinth, said that every walk is unique, and lets a person leave the day’s troubles behind. “It’s a very personal experience. It draws you inward. You can just be still and know God is with you.”