By: Jen Russon
When Roger Vance decided his church needed a meditative healing place, COVID-19 had yet to strike. It was 2018, and everyone he knew was still reeling from the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
“We lost the leader of our youth group, Carmen Schentrup, in the tragedy. I wanted to build something, but I didn’t want it to take away from what we already have,” said Vance, who is a member of the vestry.
He referred to the tree and stone memorial that St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church dedicated to Carmen and 16 others killed three years ago.
Since that unimaginable day, Vance said his church lost over a dozen people, but for an entirely different reason than gun violence.
“That I know of, we’ve lost 15 to 18 people from COVID-19. The labyrinth will have memorial bricks with their names,” said Vance.
For four months, Vance, who lives in Tamarac, has been brick-cutting and finishing out the turns on a meditation area at the back of the church, shaded by lots of trees. He wants to dedicate his project to the memory of those lost in the pandemic, as well as the few people who pitched in, like his friend Howard Villiers.
Vance and his wife Rose have been active members of St. Mary Magdalene in Coral Springs since 2004. To fund the labyrinth project, he’s dipped into his own pocket, relying on the Brotherhood of St. Andrew to pick up the rest.
As a Broward County Transit supervisor, he joked that he spent his stimulus check on the labyrinth, pouring $1,800 into the project, including 2,400 bricks.
After breaking ground in October, he expects to be finished by March. Although no one expects the labyrinth’s consecration ceremony until the summer, as the church is still operating under strict social distancing rules.
Carol Ann Ferrari-Rogers, the administrator of St. Mary Magdalene, has been watching Vance working intently on the labyrinth and hopes they open for regular services by June.
“I think what he’s doing is amazing, and I can’t wait to start taking my lunch breaks in that beautiful space,” she said, adding that, like Vance, she’s been fielding questions about what a labyrinth is and when theirs will be finished.
Vance said many are under the misimpression it’s a space of healing for people affected by what happened in Parkland on February 14, 2018. While Vance said the labyrinth might be used to reflect on whatever visitors wish, the point, for him, is to honor those who lost their lives to COVID-19.
“At a certain point, building something that makes you relive the same day over and over just isn’t good for you anymore,” he said.
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