ARKANSAS: Diocese building broad retreat ministry

July 27, 2007

The Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas has begun a capital campaign to support House of Prayer, a new ministry of the diocese and St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, Little Rock.

The ministry is meant to provide a silent refuge for prayer and meditation to persons from all faith traditions as well as those with no church experience.

It also has the potential to unite the ecumenical community, according to Arkansas Bishop Larry Benfield.

Information about the House of Prayer capital campaign was mailed to all Episcopalians in Arkansas in May and is also available on the House of Prayer website.

Construction on the building, located on the campus of St. Margaret's in the Chenal Valley neighborhood in west Little Rock, is underway and is expected to be completed later this year. Benfield will dedicate and consecrate the building on December 2. The first event to be held at the House of Prayer will be a workshop on centering prayer scheduled for December 7-8.

The House of Prayer is being funded entirely by private donations. Just over $1 million has been raised to date, and another $120,000 is needed to complete the building and garden areas. An endowment to pay for maintenance, security, and utilities has been established.

"I think this is an opportunity for people to fund ministries that are going to reach out to people who are not already in church," Benfield said. "A lot of what we do with our giving tends to support existing institutions, and this is a chance for us to use our money to go beyond the organizations with which we are already familiar."

The House of Prayer will also allow practitioners of different faith traditions to learn from each other, the bishop added.

"In such a setting we think that many people can come to a better understanding of how God is active in their lives, and can come to a place of peace and God's presence," he said. "Thus, we think this building and what it offers the larger community can be important."

The 2,100-square-foot structure contains four chambers: an entry courtyard, a pre-meditation space, the prayer house, and a walled outdoor garden. It will be faced with copper panels that will reflect the tree bark on the property.

"The House of Prayer is designed architecturally so that even if a person does not know how to quiet their mind for meditation simply being in this space in silence can have the effect of stilling the chattering mind," said the Rev. Canon Susan Sims Smith, diocesan canon for special ministries. "Our deepest wisdom from God may come in moments of stillness and quiet. The structure and colors of this space are created to draw us to that stillness."

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