By DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI
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A couple made their way through a candlelit path in a circle resembling a maze printed on the floor, while a flute played quietly in the background of the dark sanctuary on Wednesday evening, May 2. The ancient spiritual tool called a labyrinth is permanently affixed to the floor of the sanctuary at First Congregational Church on South Fullerton Avenue. The church opens the doors to its sanctuary every Wednesday evening, where people can walk in spiritual prayer for free.
The labyrinth’s use as a walking prayer predates Christianity. It has been used in many different traditions for over 5,000 years. Labyrinth patterns vary according to customs and traditions. The one at First Congregational Church, the only permanent one in Montclair, is modeled after the labyrinth in Chartes Cathedral in France, with seven circuits. Some are larger and have 11 circuits.
According to the Rev. Ann Ralosky, senior minister at FCC, the church’s labyrinth was constructed by the property manager in the summer of 2010. The church started out with a portable rolled up labyrinth, which would constantly wrinkle and had to be tapped down, until they decided to create a replica on the floor of the sanctuary using a cutout, tape and stain. It is laid out in the center of the sanctuary, the central vortex in the neo-Gothic style church.
“It creates a certain energy, takes your eyes and spirit upward, looking up to the oneness of God,” Ralosky said.
She explained that there is no way to get lost. “Its not a maze, there are no wrong ways, its not linear. Spiritual ways lead where God is calling us. Its a symbolic spiritual journey, only one way in and it’s the same way out. Once you get closer to the center you end up back to the beginning,” she said.
The flower pattern, in the center, consists of six petals, a medieval symbol for the city of Jerusalem. In the Middle Ages, to be considered Christian, a person had to make the trip to the Holy Land. The labyrinth was a symbolic journey, she said.
The center of the labyrinth is a place to do some deep thinking or meditation. Some people will sit cross-legged and some will stand. Entering the labyrinth is also different for each person. Some people will come with a question they contemplate on, others will chant and some will have a small piece of scripture with them, Ralosky said.
The couple who had entered the labyrinth thanked Ralosky as they left, telling her they were from Union Baptist Church.
“People who walk the labyrinth are the ones not looking for a Sunday morning institutional structure,” Ralosky said. “You don’t need to be a person with a lot of spiritual practice or any spiritual background to come be a part of it.”
The labyrinth is walkable by anyone at any age. A developmentally disabled group from a Jewish congregation in West Orange comes every Thursday. “Its always fun to see children on it. Kids will dance it or skip it,” she said.
Ralosky requests people to take off their shoes when walking it for two reasons. It’s an indication that it’s holy ground, not an ordinary place, the circle is sacred. The other is to keep it clean.
Two volunteers, Michael Magdalenski and Amy Marrotti, both of Montclair, were on hand to greet people May 2. About a dozen people show up each week. Magdalenski said, “Its a very meditative experience. Surprisingly, it challenges your sense of space and time. One of the beauties of it, you leave the stress of the day behind, be in the movement. Its reassuring, you can’t get lost.”
Raolosky added, “You never see too far ahead, you see this step and the next step.”
Marrotti said, “On the labyrinth, its like we are in peace and can find peace.”
First Congregational Church
40 S. Fullerton Ave.
Congregation of United Church of Christ
Trinitarian church in the Protestant tradition.
Declared Open and Affirming since 2004
Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
Sacrament of Holy Communion on the first Sunday of the month
Congregation size: 250 members
Average Sunday attendance: 150
About 50 church school students
40 percent LGBTQ
40 percent black
Open to all every Wednesday; September-July, 6-8 p.m.