Barbara Hartford and Lauren Artress create the first canvas labyrinth at Grace Cathedral.
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Tom Keelan and Lauren Artress outside Grace Cathedral
Did you find the labyrinth or did it find you?
Both. I was in a major transition in life. My recent divorce afforded me the opportunity to move to San Francisco. While waiting for a client on Nob Hill, I had some extra time for a walk; I wandered over to Grace Cathedral to admire its gothic architecture. Once inside I did what most folks do upon entering a great cathedral. I stopped, caught my breath, and looked up while taking in this visual feast.
There was no labyrinth inside the cathedral at that time, as the original canvas labyrinth would be laid out during a walk. I picked up a flyer on a table with the labyrinth design. It captured my imagination immediately and I knew I wanted to “walk” this to experience this mystery. I attended the next walk.
In July of 1994 I called a client on a whim, as I knew his family owned rental property somewhere in San Francisco. My client said, "A resident had just turned in her notice this morning for one a bedroom in Nob Hill …which ended up being 3 blocks from Grace Cathedral.
A voice strongly said, "TAKE IT" and I did sight unseen. I moved in about 3 weeks later and started attending regular services, labyrinth walks and volunteering as a tour guide and with Development.
When did you begin working directly with Lauren?
My first real conversation with Lauren occurred when she took me out to lunch at Nob Hill Cafe in late
How did the office function then?
I worked from home, organizing the requests by time zone. I would get up at 4:30 AM to begin my east coast calls and would finish my west coast calls by 2:00 PM. I lived on a cable car line and learned to time my calls in the 15-20 minutes between cars.
I volunteered for Veriditas full time from August 1, 1995 to December 31, 1996. During that time in the cathedral life, the underground parking lot, conference rooms, great stairs, outdoor labyrinth, plaza, and Chapter House were all being built. In September 1995, the new Chapter House opened and after the 24-Hour New Years Event, we officially opened our doors on Clergy Boulevard on the second floor on January 2, 1996. I was given the title of Associate Director, and Lauren and I received our first paycheck on January 31, 1996.
The small office consisted of 3 desks, 3 phones, one older Mac requiring floppies, a fax machine, and my pager. Email came later that year. The office consisted of Lauren, Tayrn Vassey, and me…and volunteers! I came in early and stayed late to get work done since the phone rang all day long, non-stop. People were searching, sharing, and asking, “What is a labyrinth?” I kept Lauren's book by my side and used it like Google for Labyrinths.
I started traveling with Lauren in mid-1996 (Chico, CA). We hired more staff, moved to the 3rd floor and got off Clergy Boulevard on the 2nd floor, where we were known as the Wild Bunch. Taryn moved on, and Michelle Meyer and Chris Rodgers explained programs and handled registrations; Mike Macadaan created our website, Kimberly Murman was our accountant, and Pamela Oviatt maintained the database, created flyers, and worked with our website designers after Mike left for Silicon Valley. The office had whiteboards everywhere, loaded with ideas, doodling, new projects, and never ending to-do lists.
Veriditas Staff 1997: Michele Meyer, Mike Macadaan,
During those early times we had monthly media requests pouring in, including CNN, ABC Evening News with Peter Jennings, MTV, Ladies Home Journal, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. We encouraged sponsors of speaking engagements to contact local media, and Lauren often had a radio or press interview before and/or during the event.
Every day was different and challenging. It was a golden time. It felt like we were all riding a comet. Lauren often used the metaphor that “we were building the plane while flying.”
How did the Veriditas Product Line begin?
Tell us about the Veriditas Volunteers.
Mark Duffy joined us as a volunteer and became our product shipping and receiving manager, tirelessly boxing and sending products to all corners of the world.
What were the programs at Grace Cathedral like?
Lauren had a sign-up list by the tapestry labyrinth that was invaluable in building up our database.
to help. We recruited at every event and inherited volunteers from the Quest project and the Women’s Dream Quest, We had volunteers from many domestic and international cities fly in to volunteer for a Pilgrimage and Training at Grace Cathedral.
All of these wonderful, eclectic people formed a community to provide hospitality, a safe environment, and to offer their best. When we began hosting workshops at retreat centers, we realized we had a national volunteer corps, which ultimately led to facilitators volunteering in Chartres. Lauren and the staff worked long, hard hours, but a major reason Veriditas flourished was due to the volunteers giving their time, creativity, money, and loyalty to provide seamless events for the participants. They were the lifeblood of Veriditas.
We were so fortunate with our volunteer Kitchen and Chef crews led by Ellen McDermott and Eriana Gronthier That would create amazing meals and receptions for the Pilgrimages and Facilitator Trainings at Grace. A huge amount of work had to be done, and they always injected humor to get us through those
Ellen McDermott (board member), Christine Rodgers, Keith Koppmeier Concerts Manager at Grace, Tom Keelan & Cricket Jones Veriditas Volunteer and wife of the Dean, Alan Jones (1999).
Several changes in the program offerings happened quickly. Can you tell us about that?
LOL. Quickly? Yes, they did! We held a Pilgrimage at Grace in February 1996, and afterwards, Lauren approached me, saying, “ I have a new idea.” My eyes probably got really wide. “We need to do a training for people to work with the labyrinth.” We quickly adapted and marketed it, and the first Facilitator Training was in May 1996. We had a full house -- Lauren was spot on about the demand.
In 1998 we started the Theater of Enlightenment: Veriditas-sponsored events held at retreat centers around the U.S, Our first one was a retreat center in Malibu California, and the furthest one was in Maryland. This program usually included local musicians, artists, and poets who would join Lauren in conversation about how the labyrinth would help them in their creative process. Facilitator Training was always attached and products to be sold.
And then Chartres…the crown jewel in the Veriditas Program book took hold.
Labyrinth Walk at Chartres Cathedral
When and how did Chartres become part of the program?
Lauren was the group leader on two tours to France in 1997 with the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) and Robert Ferre’s, “One Heart Tour.” I participated with Robert and Ruth’s “One Heart” and still remember my first time seeing Chartres Cathedral and meeting Francois Legaux. He looked like he came right out of central casting with such an open heart and stories. I recall dessert at 1 AM after a long dinner full of humor, laughter, and sharing, when Francois would say, “ I have 3 things to say…”
Upon our return we decided to try this on our own and created a Veriditas Tour, “Mary and the Birth of the Soul, ” joined by Alan Jones, former Dean of Grace Cathedral. As I was tour director, I was very nervous, wondering if it was going to succeed. We announced it in the newsletter and it sold out in six weeks. I had a big idea that I regretted in the heat of a French summer. I brought a canvas labyrinth and tarp along and we would set it up in the lawn of the beautiful L’ Abbaye la Bussiere.
After this tour and knowing Francois better, Lauren thought we should have our France program held at Chartres exclusively. Thus, “Mary and the Birth of the Soul” was born, and on April 30,1999 we began our monthly adventures at Chartres.
This is from Lauren’s letter from the newsletter fall
“The month at Chartres Cathedral brought to fruition many things. We had, on the average, 70 participants a week for the program that included the exquisite evening labyrinth walks after hours in the Cathedral. Responses and reflections are still coming in about the depth of this life-transforming event. “
When did you leave Veriditas?
A new Board came on in 2003 and decided to move Veriditas in a different direction. The staff was dismissed in March of 2004. It was a hard time for one and all involved. But none of us are irreplaceable, and the project adapted and thrives.
Lauren started Veriditas with the mission of peppering the planet with labyrinths and introducing it as a spiritual practice. She had to abandon herself into this role of visionary, leader, writer, speaker, and creative force. Veriditas was started with light hearts and open gentle eyes taking it all in and refining” her” along the way. Even with failures and difficult challenges, we kept moving the project forward. Seeing the guests’ faces at the end of an event would inspire us to continue. We got into an event’s rhythm and were carried away to give our finest, radical hospitality to participants. I always felt guided in the events, surrounded by a wonderful group of talented, fun people who together created something incredible. Our highest compliment was getting an evaluation that said,
“Everything about the event was seamless!“ “The food was prepared with LOVE.
I believe to work with the labyrinth is to surrender yourself completely. I have witnessed it myself from prisons, parks, churches, hospitals, homes, cathedrals, garages, community centers, rehearsal halls, theaters, and lawns. I have watched people transform from a Friday to a Sunday. So much of the labyrinth effect is intangible, and that is part of the simple beauty and majesty of that sacred design.
Veriditas Volunteer Heroes from the early days:
Anne Larsen Carella
Mary Ellen Johnson
Mary Louise Gotthold
And many more …
Outstanding, Dedicated staff from the early days:
And many more…
For our June column I had the joy of interviewing Mary Brient. Mary has been involved with Veriditas since 1997 and is a major donor and Sustaining Giver with a deep appreciation for the work that Veriditas and Lauren are doing.
Labyrinth at Ghost Ranch
Rita: When did you first encounter the labyrinth?
Mary: I encountered the labyrinth in 1997. It was at Ghost Ranch, an educational and retreat center in New Mexico. My husband John and I were there for a retreat and Lauren was there with a canvas labyrinth leading a workshop. Anyone who was on the ranch at that time was invited to walk the labyrinth when it wasn’t being used in the workshop. After the first time walking it, we loved it so much that John and I walked it over and over and over again. We just kept going back to it. I hadn’t met Lauren yet but I heard her tell someone she was going to do a European labyrinth pilgrimage. I just walked up to her and said “can we go?’ She said that she wasn’t sure if there was room but she gave me a number to call to check. When I called they said that there were two more places and that they would be glad to have us go with them. So my first really big experience with the labyrinth after Ghost Ranch was the European pilgrimage in 1997 going to France, Switzerland and Germany. The second stop on the tour was the Chartres Cathedral. I remember so well because at first it seemed so dark. But now I only remember the light, with all the windows.
Rita: Share with us some of your early experiences at Chartres.
Mary: After the European Tour, I felt the calling to go back to Chartres. In 2000 I went on the Pilgrimage led by Lauren with my husband and our daughter Elizabeth, who was at Yale at the time studying the Middle Ages and loved the idea of going to Chartres, a middle ages cathedral. She fell in love with the labyrinth there and it was a wonderful time for the three of us to have this experience together. Elizabeth decided to join us on the next two trips to Chartres and, again, we had really beautiful experiences. I think the absolute highlight was the crypt walk and the candlelit walk each evening. After that we decided to make an annual pilgrimage to Chartres with Lauren and started going for the full two weeks instead of just one week. We did this seven times. These were most special gifts. On my last visit I knew that it was my last time. My husband John, who was totally involved in Veriditas, was having some health problems and having a hard time carrying bags. I just knew that we wouldn’t be able to go again. We loved the whole experience so much that I had some sadness around not going back. It was one of our great loves. After that I went to several different retreats with Lauren in several places in this country.
Rita: What are some of the inspirations that you have received through the labyrinth and Lauren?
Mary: One offshoot of all this is that John and I wanted to give a labyrinth to Ghost Ranch because it’s been such an important place in our lives. Choosing a place for the labyrinth at Ghost Ranch was a very special time for me. I didn’t want it to be in the busy bustle of activity but it needed to be accessible. When I walked into a certain place on the ranch I just knew that it was where it was supposed to be built. It was surrounded by a huge red stone walled cliff that just felt like a cradle holding the labyrinth. So that has been a blessing.
This one Lauren story has been very important to me: I went to one of her retreats at Ghost Ranch after the labyrinth had been built. I went with my friend Clare and we did a moonlight walk. I didn’t realize at the time that I had cataracts. It was a pretty dark night and I didn’t know until I got to the labyrinth that I wouldn’t be able to see the path. So I followed Clare into the path. She was wearing white shoes and I was following her shoes to the center of the labyrinth. I left the center before she did and I became lost. I couldn’t see the path. After a while I knew that I was the only one left in the labyrinth and I knew I couldn’t find my way out. Lauren came in and put her arm under mine and took my hand and led me out and back to my room. I still cry when I think of this. The reason I love this story so much is because it really is a metaphor for my experience with Lauren. When being on the labyrinth I’ve been singled out so many times to be one on one with her and to feel her love, support and her guidance. The things I have learned and experienced from her and at the retreats and the walks themselves, have been such a major part of my life.
There is a small labyrinth that I go to sometimes. It’s on an angle and not an easy walk. But I get a message every time I go there. I take my journal with me and I steady myself because I’m on an angle and then just write. The labyrinth to me is about uncertainty and it’s about how to step on a path that is not easy. This has been a very important labyrinth for me in finding serenity and peace through embracing uncertainty and allowing what’s to be.
Rita: Why do you donate to Veriditas?
Mary: I love Veriditas so much. As I mentioned, I became involved with Veriditas in its early years and I really like the vision of peppering the planet with labyrinths. It’s important to educate people about the labyrinth and to train people in sharing it with others and in how to build labyrinths. Veriditas has grown so much, like a stone thrown into water, how it ripples out, on and on. I support not only that original vision now but all that it is doing, all that it can become. And I think it’s important to become a Sustaining Giver because the staff needs to know how much money is coming in, and that they can count on it coming in on a regular basis. That’s why I’m a Sustaining Giver.
We are gathering your stories of how the labyrinth has changed you or your life. These stories will be shared on our website in the months leading up to our celebration, and in a book celebrating Veriditas' 20th Birthday. To submit your story for inclusion, please click here. Thank you for being a part of our Veriditas Family!