What’s old is new at College Avenue church – a labyrinth

A New Labyrinth On A Busy Corner

The College Avenue United Church of Christ has constructed a 40-foot-by-40-foot labyrinth on the corner of Orangeburg and College avenues in Modesto. Video By: Joan Barnett Lee and Marty Bicek
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The College Avenue United Church of Christ has constructed a 40-foot-by-40-foot labyrinth on the corner of Orangeburg and College avenues in Modesto. Video By: Joan Barnett Lee and Marty Bicek

A Modesto church that, in spring 2015, said “Goodbye, lawn” now is saying “Hello, labyrinth.”

College Avenue United Church of Christ, at Orangeburg Avenue, on Sunday dedicated a 40-foot-diameter labyrinth of paving stones and crushed rock. Complemented by drought-tolerant landscaping, it takes up a good piece of land fronting College Avenue that once was lawn before the congregation chose to let the grass wither to conserve water during the drought.

My mother walked quickly, purposefully and joyfully through life. In the labyrinth, I think she found a way to slow down, reflect and pray; to seek answers and find solace. To find her way home.

church member Melinda Kopp, in prepared comments for the dedication, about the great interest her late mother, Doris Scanlon, had in labyrinths

The 11-ring circle is based on the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth laid in the early 13th century outside Paris.

“It’s a walking meditation,” the Rev. Erin King of College Avenue United said of labyrinths. “… As you walk in, let go of what’s in your mind. You get to the center and you receive. Quiet, prayerful images may come to your head, solutions to problems may come to mind.

“Then as you walk out, it’s like a return to the world. It’s in walking out that people find this energy comes up, this surge.”

Members of the church laid the labyrinth in one weekend in May 2015 under the direction of labyrinth builder Lars Howlett. Only recently has landscaping been planted and an instructional sign on “walking the labyrinth” been added.

Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has no tricks, no dead ends, no puzzles to confound you. There is one path to the center and back out.

Strong interest among some congregation members in building a labyrinth goes back “a number of years,” said King, who came to the church in 2007 and was trained in the 1990s as a labyrinth facilitator. She has a three-piece canvas labyrinth that was rolled out on the lawn of the College Avenue church about once a month.

Melinda Kopp, a lifelong member of the church, is part of a committee formed in June 2014 to plan a labyrinth for the grounds. Her mother, Doris Scanlon, was a founding member back in 1948 and among those greatly interested in labyrinths.

In remarks prepared for Sunday’s dedication, Kopp said, “When she passed, close to three years ago now, my sister Lucinda and I wanted to honor Mom’s unwavering connection to this church.”

We’ve had walks on the full moon – it’s a beautiful evening. Winter solstice is coming up; people might want to celebrate what that means, the shift in seasons.

the Rev. Erin King, College Avenue United Church of Christ

On the weekend the labyrinth was laid, dozens of church members placed pieces of paper – notes, blessings, hopes – beneath its bricks, King said. As his Eagle Scout project, Brendan Holcomb-Russell built and installed a bench and concrete walkway at the labyrinth in memory of his grandmother, longtime church member Harriet Hills.

“The underlying significance of the labyrinth is as a memorial to Mom, to Harriet, to the names, hopes and prayers we placed underneath the labyrinth as we built it and connected to the plants around it,” Kopp wrote in her remarks.

King emphasized that the labyrinth is for everyone: “Come, use it as you want. Or just sit and look at it.”

There’s no need to check in with the church. But people planning to use it as a group might want to contact the church to make sure there is no other use scheduled at the time, she said.

The earliest Christian labyrinth dates back to a fourth-century basilica in Algeria.

King had some friends walk with her a few months ago in celebration of her 60th birthday. People with questions on their minds or decisions to make walk labyrinths to seek answers. No matter a person’s faith – Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or other – meaning can be found in a labyrinth, she said.

Students graduating high school might walk the path to meet their parents at the center. People are married at the center.

“There is even someone who came and wanted to have a ritual when they were divorcing,” she said. “They said, ‘We had a ceremony when we were married, we want to recognize what we’re doing in letting go.’ 

In that it’s not tucked behind the church but is out at the busy intersection of College and Orangeburg avenues, across from Roosevelt Junior High, “it’s an urban labyrinth,” King said.

She likes that it’s so visible, even that it’s so noisy. Right after an ambulance passed, siren blaring, King said, “We can use (the sound) as white noise, or in my walking, I might hear an ambulance and pray for that person.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

Upcoming events

World AIDS Day – Dec. 1. A candlelight labyrinth walk will begin at 7 p.m., followed by a reception.

New Year’s Day – Labyrinth walk Jan. 1 at noon.

Both are open to the public. For more information, contact the Rev. Erin King at 209-815-0763 or For more on the church, go to