Everlasting Walk with God
By Robbie Hedden
The Trinity Prayer Garden and Columbarium is an outdoor prayer area at Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood, Alabama. This garden has been dedicated as a place of worship and spiritual rejuvenation for members of the church, with a prayer labyrinth in the center. The main purpose of the garden is to find tranquility and peace through meditation and prayer, but there is profuse symbolism throughout the worship space itself, beyond just the labyrinth. The fountain within the garden represents baptism through Christ and the flood of God’s grace to wash away sins and reinspire faith. The winding path created by the prayer labyrinth symbolizes a Christian’s daily walk with God, renewing the idea that salvation is a lifelong journey. The labyrinth only has one entrance and one exit, with no dead ends; one can go forward and backward on the path but not stray and get lost, like in a maze. The idea that one can follow God even with their eyes closed, yet still end up in the right place is encouraging to Christians. Lastly, the columbarium represents the holy resting place of the saints, storing ashes of those who have passed to honor their memory.
History of Congregation and Garden
The Methodist Church has a core belief in the triune God, or the Holy Trinity. The three persons of God are the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son, Jesus Christ. God exists as these three consubstantially, meaning the persons are of the same essence or substance. The original Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, South was on Birmingham’s Southside in 1891, but later that church closed and its name and assets were transferred to a new congregation in Homewood. The church has been on a path of rapid growth over the last two decades, so they have been intent on constructing new facilities in vision of an even larger congregation.
Construction on the garden began in 2012 after a member of the congregation presented an idea for an outdoor worship space in an undeveloped spot between two of the church buildings that was previously known as the “mud hole.” Earlier that year, a youth group at the church attended a retreat at which the youth experienced the concept of the prayer labyrinth as a means to center their prayer. Since cremations are much more economical than standard burials and have become increasingly popular in the nation over the last few decades, someone in the church suggested building a columbarium. There has been extensive debate among Christian for centuries about the rectitude of cremation, for it was argued that cremation could interfere with the belief of resurrection under God; however, the Methodist church has no particular objection to it. Cremation has been more accepted within Protestantism and Catholicism in the modern era, but the church still wanted to make sure there would be no outstanding objections within Trinity. When the church surveyed the congregation, there was a profound interest in moving forward with the construction of both the columbarium and the prayer garden at once, so they proceeded with the design of the worship space.
The Path of Christ
The labyrinth, a holy ground of prayer and meditation, is engaged in five different steps: entering, walking, arriving, returning, and exiting, each of which facilitates the spiritual journey one encounters on their path through the labyrinth. At the entrance, one would sit to meditate and breathe before slowly entering the labyrinth with their hands open, as a reminder that things cannot be turned over to God with a closed fist. Traversing the inner pathway, the walker relinquishes their worries and burdens to God, confesses and repents for their sins, and is immersed entirely in the presence of him. The center of the labyrinth is about being true to your inner self and the power of the Holy Trinity. One can sit, stand still, or kneel for however long they need to in order to fill themselves with the spirit and the presence of God. Once the walker is ready to move on, they begin the returning journey back to the entrance, in which thanks and praise is given to God to wash away the past and focus on what will be brought back into one’s life after exiting the labyrinth. The final step is the ending of your meditative journey; the walker faces the entrance and closes out their prayer. The labyrinth itself stays the same with time, but each spiritually restorative walk will be a unique experience because of where the walker was in that moment of their life.
A columbarium is an array of lobbied niches used to store urns. It represents the communion of the saints, which is the community of Christ-following believers, both living and deceased. When one’s journey through life is complete, they join a community of omnipresent witnesses who encourage those still on the walk of life. Members of the Trinity United Methodist Church had the opportunity to purchase niches within the columbarium for their family, or an engraving on a limestone memorial panel to honor those who did not attend the church. Two hundred eighty-six niches were constructed within the church’s columbarium, each of which can accommodate two urns and an engraving. The profit from the columbarium paid for the entirety of the prayer garden, after selling only half of the available niches.
Baptism to Salvation
The Trinity Prayer Garden itself was built with the purpose of symbolizing the entirety of a Christian’s life. The entrance of the worship space is at the top of a staircase, with a bird’s-eye view over the grounds; seeing the fountain, the labyrinth, and the columbarium encapsulates the entirety of Christian life. As one descends into the garden on the stairwell, they first approach the flowing fountain, a symbol of baptism and God’s overflowing grace spilling over into their lives; this is representative of the beginning of the Christian’s life, signifying that baptism is the entry into a Christian life. This symbolic river of God’s good grace washes over our sins and fills us with the faith to continue doing the savior’s work. The prayer labyrinth epitomizes one’s jump into faith, especially when they feel the furthest distance from God, regardless of the unknown.
However, even when one is approaching the center, there is still a long journey on the road ahead of them, for our salvation is a life-long pursuit of God that must be maintained every single day. The columbarium is a sacred resting place for immediate or extended family members of Trinity Methodist churchgoers, representative of the end of our journey, and the beginning of our eternal life in God. Thus, when you stand from the entrance, you look over the entirety of Christian life, summarized by three serene structures that represent our everlasting walk with God.
Trinity Prayer Garden (Fountain, Labyrinth, and Columbarium)
Medium: Marble Labyrinth, stone-plated Columbarium with glass niches.
Designer: Johnson & Co., LLC
Manufacturer: Brasfield & Gorrie
Location: Trinity United Methodist Church, 1400 Oxmoor Road, Homewood, Alabama, 35209.
Greg Garrison. “Trinity United Methodist in Homewood Builds Prayer Garden Columbarium.” AL, 20 Nov. 2012, www.al.com/living/2012/11/trinity_united_methodist_in_ho.html.
“Trinity United Methodist Church.” Prayer Garden & Columbarium – Trinity United Methodist Church, www.trinitybirmingham.com/worship/prayer-garden-columbarium/.
Yeo, Stephen, et al. “Walking the Labyrinth: Considering Mental Health Consumer Experience, Meaning Making, and the Illumination of the Sacred in a Forensic Mental Health Setting.” The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, vol. 69, no. 4, Dec. 2015, pp. 240–250. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/1542305015616102.
Sources for Further Information
Bates, Mary. “Renovated Labyrinth at Lake Junaluska Offers Place for Centering and Meditation.” Lake Junaluska, Mar. 2018, https://www.lakejunaluska.com/news/renovated-labyrinth-at-lake-junaluska-offers-place-for-centering-and-meditation
Nava, Margaret M. “Center Peace: Finding My Way through a Prayer Labyrinth.” America, vol. 209, no. 1, July 2013, pp. 27–28. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=CPLI0000571999&site=ehost-live.
Robbie Hedden ‘24 was a student in the first-year seminar on Religious Images in Birmingham (UCCA 102) in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in Fall 2020.
Published November 24, 2020.