Four mosaic-tiled benches designed and created by 24 Houston-area high school students as part of the Sacred Sites Quest (SSQ) organized by Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance will be part of a new labyrinth at the Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church prayer garden, 1407 Valentine St. A dedication ceremony for the labyrinth will be at 10 a.m. June 7.
The ceremony is free and open to the public. In addition to the herbs and flowering plants that devoted gardeners are tending, the labyrinth will anchor the space as its largest central feature. The four mosaic-tiled benches will frame the four corners of the prayer garden plot.
Since April, a multifaith, highly diverse group of Houston community volunteers has been collaborating to install an 11-circuit labyrinth in the prayer garden located in the shadow of Houston’s downtown skyscrapers, according to Mike Pardee, the Boniuk Institute’s associate director for community engagement.
“Freedmen’s Town, aka the Fourth Ward, where this labyrinth and prayer garden sit, is one of the most-endangered National Register Historic Districts of its kind in the United States,” Pardee said. “It is a historic residential neighborhood that was founded and built by previously enslaved families and their descendants immediately after emancipation in 1865. It’s one of those places where there is a church on virtually every corner.”
About 100 years ago, neighborhood residents founded the Mt. Carmel Church. Over the decades, however, the church building became structurally unsound and was eventually demolished. All that has endured recently of the Mt. Carmel Church is its prayer garden.
The SSQ students, who attend a dozen different schools in Greater Houston, designed the labyrinth as their capstone art and service project. Before they created these original designs, they spent two months exploring 12 different sacred sites around Houston. Their four mosaic-tiled benches complement the distinctive labyrinth design and represent how they have synthesized their collaboration and learning, Pardee said.
The SSQ students did not get to complete construction of the labyrinth they designed before their quest concluded. So that task has been taken up by another new group of grassroots volunteers, including many adults from throughout Greater Houston. The students dubbed all their capstone artwork “The Heart of Serenity,” Pardee said. “So that will be their lasting legacy to the refurbished Mt. Carmel prayer garden.”
For more on the Boniuk Institute, go to http://boniuk.rice.edu.