The JUC Labyrinth Story

by Anna Gilkison

 

Labyrinths were the last thing on my mind when I came to join the ministry at Johnsonville Uniting Church. What was on mind was the hope which the church expressed that I would lead it into new forms of ministry and new ways to be a spiritual presence in the community. I had no idea what this might entail at that stage, no clear vision. For the first few years I kept faith with this expectation by asking and praying for a new direction to be revealed – a vision which would grow organically from the reality of these people ministering in this place.

 

That was chapter one of my ‘labyrinth story’. Chapter two involved an encounter with the practice of mindfulness. I went to a workshop led by the Director of the Mental Health Foundation. I felt a deep sense of connection with what the Director was saying about mental health and its importance. Then he said that doctors and psychotherapists have started prescribing a course of spiritual treatment for anxiety and other mind-related illnesses.

 

Which rich spiritual tradition is being called on as an aid in therapy? Not Christianity. It is the Buddhist practice of mindfulness that is the new pathway to mental recovery. Because I believe that our primary Christ-given task is healing I researched mindfulness practices with a view to eventually offering ourselves as practioners. The big question I was left with, after my research, was: ‘How can we offer opportunities for mindfulness healing that flow authentically out of our own spiritual heritage?’

 

The problem is that many of our traditions have an overt and sometimes aggressive religious agenda. People are drawn to Buddhist practices because they can receive the gift of healing without the payment of religious adherence.

 

It was about this time that labyrinths entered my field of vision. Chapter 3 is the story of creating a labyrinth in the grounds of JUC. Many people are now part of that story. For me, the labyrinth represents a new direction in our ministry to the Northern Suburbs. It is in tune with the spirit of our times – the revival of interest amongst younger people in gardens and gardening. It uses the resources of our land responsibly. And it offers a way to practice mindfulness that is part of our rich spiritual heritage.

 

The labyrinth has been a much more difficult story than I would ever have imagined possible. It still puzzles me that a harmless and well-intentioned proposal should have evoked such strong resistance within the congregation. Our efforts to negotiate these stormy waters safely for all concerned left the labyrinth work group feeling dispirited and embattled. However, thanks to these dedicated people and with their very generous assistance, we have been able to put down a labyrinth in the grounds of the Terrace Centre. It is beautiful. Many local people have already expressed an interest in the project and there is every sign that this will be a valued addition to the Johnsonville landscape. We hope that, with time, more of our own people will recognise the potential of this spiritual tool as a real extension of our ministry to the local community and a good reason for all sorts of people to pay us a visit.

 

Deputy Mayor Justin Lester walks the Labyrinth after opening it on 18 Oct 2014