by Annee Tara Coastal Journal contributor, Brunswick
BRUNSWICK — At the turn of this century, when she was preparing for her role in Christian education at First Parish Church in Brunswick, Susan Fitzgerald heard a speaker talk about labyrinths and their value in connecting people of all ages to their spiritual path.
Intrigued, she set out to “help First Parish determine whether it wanted a labyrinth,” she said. Soon a group of parishioners had hand-painted an 11-circuit labyrinth onto 30-foot octagonal canvas. It was dedicated in February 2000, and several times each year since then it has been set up at the church’s Pilgrim House and opened to the public for walking.
A few years later, when Mary Baard became the minister at First Parish, she was “delighted to find out that we had a labyrinth ministry here; Susan has been the core person in that ministry.” She and Fitzgerald began talking about Fitzgerald’s dream of an outdoor labyrinth. Over the years they talked about possible sites, but couldn’t envision it on church grounds.
Then in the summer of 2014, Baard was walking near the Thomas Settlemire Community Garden at Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Crystal Springs Farm when she stopped at the edge of a field and thought,“This would be a great place for an outdoor labyrinth.”
She contacted Angela Twitchell, director of the land trust, who was immediately on board. “We’d been talking about ways to make a better connection with faith communities in the area. Land trusts are always looking at ways to actively collaborate with other community groups,” she said. This project is a perfect example: Both First Parish and the land trust are interested in strengthening connection with the community. “It’s a great way to connect faith with nature,” Twitchell said.
A group from the church and the land trust began planning a labyrinth in the woods, which would be easier to maintain and provide more privacy and shade than one in the field. First Parish agreed to raise the money needed for the construction. The land trust agreed that it would provide the site and maintain the labyrinth going forward (with help from the church, which hopes to raise additional money to support the effort). They brought in the Topsham landscaping firm Cosmic Stone to prepare the site. The project took on special significance when, in the midst of the planning “Susan’s cancer returned,” said Baard. Fitzgerald had been diagnosed and treated three years earlier and was back at work in 2014. But the cancer came back and she has left First Parish.
While she no longer coordinates labyrinth activities, she continues to meet with and support the group that sets up and tends the labyrinth sessions. Fitzgerald and her husband John are also active supporters of the land trust, so both groups wanted to formally acknowledge her dream for the Labyrinth in the Woods by adding the words “in honor of Susan Fitzgerald.”
“Inspiration is really a remarkable thing: The right thing, at the right time, in the right place, for the right reason,” said Baard.
For Twitchell, this project serves several purposes. “It connects people in the community with the land; it’s collaboration with First Parish; and it honors Susan Fitzgerald’s great work.”
Both Baard and Twitchell make the point that walking the labyrinth doesn’t have to have be a “religious experience;” it can simply be a meditative way to enjoy nature. “Rarely in my work does an idea like that come to fruition within a year or two,” said Baard.
But on Nov. 14 a small group of labyrinth “tenders,” church and land trust board members, and Fitzgerald gathered to celebrate the completion of the Labyrinth in the Woods. “It brings me joy that the outdoor labyrinth has become a reality for the whole community. It is a little overwhelming. I am filled with gratitude for all those who made it possible,” Fitzgerald said.
The labyrinth is available to the public for walking now. A formal dedication is planned for May.