Rural Oregon mission creates nature park and labyrinth

Christ Church, St. Helens, Oregon
Posted May 30, 2024

The Rt. Rev. Diana Akiyama blesses the Blessing Woods labyrinth at Christ Church, St. Helens, Oregon, with holy water during a May 25 dedication event.

A rural Oregon mission, Christ Church of St. Helens, Oregon, has transformed its two-acre manicured lawn into a public nature park with a labyrinth, trails, native plants and a children’s play area. Blessing Woods Nature Park was officially dedicated May 25 by the Rt. Rev. Diana Akiyama, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Oregon.

A mission of the diocese, Christ Church has been serving Columbia County since 1855. Vicar Jaime Sanders proposed the nature park to her congregation several years ago and parishioners have been supportive. “We envisioned creating a place for spiritual refreshment for people of all or no faiths,” she said.

After consulting professional landscapers and local experts, the church formed a Steering Committee of volunteers and hired landscape designers. Volunteers and expert crews tackled invasive plants such as blackberry vines, holly and ivy. Walking trails and the labyrinth were constructed and a children’s play place was created out of logs.

Benches were, along with an art installation and a little lending library. “We want this to be a valuable community resource,” Sanders said. “We envision people finding respite from daily life in this nature park.”

The project was funded by individual donations and while the church members back the project, the church itself has expended no funds. When a beloved church member died, memorial donations for the park poured in.

The park and church building will be available for spiritual retreats. “We hope neighboring urban churches will want to use our rural setting for a haven from complicated lifestyles,” Sanders said.

As Sanders prepares for retirement, she is leaving the park in good hands, with members of the Bishop’s Advisory Committee, the senior and junior wardens and the project coordinator developing a plan to care for and nurture the park.