Prayer Garden helps spirits soar during annual gathering

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Prayer Garden helps spirits soar during annual gathering
June 24, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0320}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Bill Viehman felt certain things he'd been carrying with him for a long time fall away with each step he took from one room to the next as he visited the Prayer Garden.

LAKELAND — Bill Viehman visits each of the six specially designed stations of the Prayer Garden featured at the annual conference event, leaving physically and emotionally overcome by his feelings. Florida Conference Lay Leader Bill Walker encouraged all laity to visit the Prayer Garden during his laity address. Viehman called Walker a “catalyst” in motivating him to spend 45 minutes in the area. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #05-205.

The member of Conway United Methodist Church in Orlando visited the Prayer Garden at the "One Body One Spirit" 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event June 2-5 here. Visitors could leave a request for prayer with the conference's Spiritual Formation Team, light a candle at the altar or in one of the prayer stations, or participate in a special healing service at designated times.

Viehman took the time to visit each of the specially designed stations — Praying the Scripture, Breath Prayer, Centering Prayer, Healing Prayer, Confession and Forgiveness, and Adoration Prayer. He left with tears in his eyes, physically and emotionally overcome by his feelings.

"I have a sense of humbleness and a feeling of closeness to God," he said shortly after leaving the area. "I am very thankful for God being in my life. He made all things and everything and guides me in my life."

A transformed man after the experience, Viehman said he was able to deal with some heavy issues he'd been lugging around with him for a long time.

"I was able to get rid of some things," he said. "Anxieties, fears, problems I've had with others. It was very powerful."

Helen Sweatt was a repeat visitor to the Prayer Garden. The member of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg said she wouldn't miss the now staple of the conference event.

"I like the quiet," Sweatt said. "It's an opportunity to get away from the hub-hub and connect with God."

The Rev. David Allen, pastor of Hope of Glory United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, also felt the quietness of the Prayer Garden calm his wearied soul.

"I like the ambiance," he said. "It's very soothing, replenishing to your spirit. I felt a strong presence of the Lord."

The Rev. Brian Wilcox, pastor of Southwest United Methodist Church in Gainesville and a member of the Spiritual Formation Team, which organized the Prayer Garden, said there was a good response from visitors to the area.

"We wanted a feeling of diversity, of all the different ways people pray," he said. "We wanted to create a sense of the different ways to commune ... to have a sacred place for people to pray ... a refuge where people could come and realize that this is what it's all about."

LAKELAND — The Florida Conference Spiritual Formation Team worked for two months to create the Prayer Garden for the 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event. Visitors could either kneel at the altar or sit in chairs and pray at the various prayer stations set up around the Garden. Organizers say more and more people visit the Prayer Garden each year. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #05-206.

Wilcox said it took the team two months to plan the Prayer Garden and eventually decide on the theme "One People, Many Ways to Pray." He said the team was inspired because each year more and more people are visiting the area and getting used to the Prayer Garden being part of the event. The result is increased usage by delegates, as well as children and senior citizens, and people feeling more comfortable with it, according to Wilcox.

"People form a deeper connection with God here," he said. "It's beautiful watching a man walk the Prayer Labyrinth."

The Prayer Labyrinth is an old tradition experiencing a new resurgence in modern times. Christian churches used it for prayer and meditation as early as 350 A.D. It is a singular path that lies in eleven concentric circles with 34 turns going into the 12th circle or center, called the rosette, according to the Spiritual Formation Team Web site. It is divided into three sections — Enter the Path/Shredding Cares, the Center/Illumination and Returning/Union.

Bob Willner, executive director of Winter Park Towers and a member of St. Luke's United Methodist Church, Windermere, may not walk the Prayer Labyrinth, but he routinely uses his time in the Prayer Garden to reconnect with God. He said he cherishes the revered moments with God.

"This is a time to focus with the Lord," he said. "It's a time for me sharing with Him and Him sharing with me. It's a time to be with the Lord in a very special way. We get busy, get in meetings with so much to discuss and so much going on, we don't always listen to God's voice. Coming here is a wonderful time to do so."

The Rev. Eric Shepard, a member of Old Myakka United Methodist Church, also wanted a special place to communicate with God shortly before he became a licensed pastor during the conference.

"This is lovely," he said. "It's a very peaceful place. I needed to pray in an appropriate place of peace, and this is it."


This article relates to 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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