Every year for three weeks in September, Wirksworth stages an arts, architecture, drama and music festival that has increased in size, scope and popularity over the years.
Crowds of people visit the Derbyshire town, especially the first weekend for the Art and Architecture Trail, which is a glorious mix of art exhibitions, photographic displays, and interesting sculptures in curious places, such as people’s gardens and kitchens, shop windows, and every public space there is.
For local people it’s a glorious opportunity to see into houses and gardens that are normally not open to the public. All the churches are involved, providing venues for art or quilting or photographs, as well as offering refreshments and good loos!
This year, some members of the newly combined Methodist and Baptist congregations (Wirksworth and Bonsall Baptist Church) wanted to do something else as well. The Methodist sanctuary, where the joint congregation worships, has a carpet and chairs which can be moved to provide a wonderful sacred space, just right for the East Midlands Baptist Association prayer labyrinth.
It was offered as a ‘spiritual art installation’ for visitors whose senses were being bombarded by images and sounds all over the town, and who might welcome an alternative experience: quiet, reflective, sacred, a means of being close to God.
We had no idea how many people would climb the steps to the church, attracted by the posters, so we produced about 30 specially written leaflets, as well as more specifically Christian meditations, lit the candles, put on the Taize CD and waited.
To say we were overwhelmed is an understatement; the leaflet was reprinted many times during the day and we estimate that over 250 people spent time in the church. Not all became pilgrims, walking the labyrinth’s convoluted, symbolic pathway, but many who did were moved to write a prayer or words of thanks.
Some were moved to tears, others said how much it had helped them. It was probably the only quiet place in the town, and many people sat for a long time, shoes off, reading the leaflet, listening to the music.
We had not thought enough about children! Some who came in with their families wanted to treat the Labyrinth like a parachute game, one little boy delighted in blowing out all the candles, others were noisy. But some walked intently round the white lines, and knelt or sat in the centre.
It was a last minute idea, and if we repeat it next year, we will be better prepared. But what has awed and delighted us is that for many visitors and locals alike, it was a meaningful experience of the presence of God, in keeping with the spirit of the Festival.