A place outdoors where people from any walk of life or religious denomination could come to pray or meditate 24/7 free of cost is what the creators of the Paths to the Cross at Mountain Park Community Church envisioned.
On Oct. 2, five entrances were opened to the new paths that lead to the cross on the hill outside of the church. The rustic dirt pathways are lined with rocks, and at night small lamps light the way to the top where benches offer a respite for visitors.
“The beautiful thing is it’s not a contrived experience like a formal worship service,” said Rita Puckett, a church worker who helped develop the idea for the paths. “This is just you and whatever way you meet with God.”
Associate Pastor Greg Battle, who also helped to develop the path project, said that for as long as he can remember, a cross has always been on the hill outside of the church, but no distinct pathways existed.
Puckett said they noticed many families, including her own grandchildren, who enjoyed walking up to the cross despite the lack of pathways. As a result, the church prayer team, which both Puckett and Battle are involved in, thought that designing a route for them would be a good idea.
Although the original idea for the paths surfaced with the prayer team at MPCC in January, the development was not set into motion until the yoga ministry asked to incorporate the path idea with their portion of a church event series that was occurring at the time. As a result, with the help of a group of about 12 volunteers, the paths were built in nearly two-and-a-half days, Battle said.
Despite having only been open for a few weeks, many people have visited the paths to the cross, including Jane Hoffmann and her 10-year-old son, who was particularly impacted by the experience.
Hoffmann, who also works at MPCC, said that when the two of them visited the paths on opening night, the experience emotionally impacted her son and made him think about his own life and family. Hoffmann also said that the paths offer a safe place to go, and that she personally uses them to raise her spirits when she is upset.
“I find recently that ... there’s so much loss, and people passing and ill,” Hoffmann said. “So I have been going up to try to uplift ...”
Currently, the favorite gospel verses of five people who were instrumental in seeing the path project come together are being placed on large rocks at each of the five entrances. These people include Puckett, MPCC’s prayer ministry leader Pat Patlen, yoga ministry instructors Elena Porter and Rosie Gonzalez, and yoga ministry instructor Dawn Rutledge’s husband, Gavin, who helped build the path, Battle said.
In addition, offers have been made to possibly enlarge or alter the cross on the hill to make it more creative and participatory for visitors in the future, and the possibility of adding more paths to the project has also been mentioned, Battle said.
“The whole thing is an evolution, and I think it will continue to be,” Puckett said. “It’s not any one person’s idea, it is just everyone making it unique.”
Cassidy Olson is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.