Andy Fillmore  |  For the Star-Banner

An outdoor public prayer park meant to be an oasis of peace just a stone’s throw from the clamor of hectic west State Road 200 has been set up by members of the recently formed The Way church.

The park, adjacent to The Way church building at 7173 SW State Road 200, will be dedicated on the National Day of Prayer, which is May 6, with an event on the grounds. The event will include live music, hot dogs and prayers offered for individuals, the community and the nation. 

Here’s how the Prayer Park got started

The Way Prayer Park project was started about six weeks ago, when Senior Pastor Ray Westman noticed an overgrown circular tree pattern in a lot adjacent to the church building. 

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Westman said he understood from a member of a church previously at the location that the circle of trees was first planted in the 1980s and once included a spiral walking path known as “The Labyrinth.” The Way church has been on the property since Dec. 20.

About a dozen members of The Way congregation volunteered to clear and lay out the park as a tangible way to share their belief in God and prayer. 

The volunteers worked for two weekends removing dirt, leveling ground, hauling away truckloads of leaves and placing mulch to make the park. Another weekend session will likely be required for finishing touches.

Tale of the tape for the Prayer Park

The Way Prayer Park consists of a 100-foot-diameter circle formed by 12 equally spaced water oaks, estimated to be about 30 years old, representing the Apostles, with another oak in the center symbolizing God. The center tree is flanked by three cement benches representing the Holy Trinity. 

Parts of the circle are filled with mulch, and red impatiens flowers provide an accent.

Westman said a plaque with a regularly changing message about praying for intentions like peace, comfort and faith will be placed on each tree in the park.

He hopes people will use the park, once it opens, to pray both in good times and moments of crisis.

“We want people to come and sit and relax,” Westman said. He said all are welcome to pray in quiet or request prayers from members when the adjacent church is open, which is Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon.

Volunteers are thrilled with park’s prospects 

Several volunteers shared their thoughts on the The Way Prayer Park project.

Bob Waas said he hopes everyone will visit the park once it opens.

“I’d like to see this park used (by the public) and all feel welcome,” he said. 

Barry Pond, here 12 years from New England, said: “People don’t understand the power of prayer,” which he called “communication directly with the Creator.” He said this is “liberating and empowering.”

Pond underscored the need for prayer in the community. 

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Church elder Darrell Riemer, a retired millwright from Wisconsin, recalled raking leaves and hauling dirt for the park project. Riemer’s wife, Linda, is pianist for the church. 

Ken Lawlor, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, said he enjoyed the camaraderie during the building of the Prayer Park. 

Bill Karg, 74, a Navy veteran who served three tours on destroyers during the Vietnam War, said The Way was what he was looking for in a church group.

“You can get lost in a big church,” he said.

The letter, and spirit, of prayer

Karg made the “The Way Prayer Park” sign posted at the location featuring large cut out letters. His wife, Candy, a member of the church’s Praise Team, said her husband dreamed of letters for a sign about five weeks before the project began, but when he attempted to buy some he did not see them at a nearby home improvement store.

Candy Karg said her husband saw the letters about a week before the project began.

Bill Karg said he felt that the dream and then finding just the right letters at the same store was a case of “listen and do what you’re supposed to do.” 

Candy Karg said “that’s how God works.”

Neal and Elaine Murray are founding members of The Way church. Neal, lead deacon and 26-year Navy veteran with service on nuclear submarines, worked on the park project. Elaine, church secretary and treasurer likes the family atmosphere of the congregation.

Ian Westman, senior pastor Westman’s son, and Ian’s wife, Crystal, are church members. Ian, 39, a district manager with Kimball Midwest, a maintenance and repair products company, recalled removing leaves and adding mulch to the park.

Wayne Richardson, 82, a Marine Corps veteran, RV industry retiree and member of The Way church, was a volunteer in the Prayer Park project. Richardson also worked to repair and upgrade the interior of the current church building by filling about 200 holes in the ceiling with putty, replacing flooring and painting prior to the group holding services in the site, which will hold 160 people.

Here’s how The Way found its way 

The group held its first service in the current facility on the Sunday before Christmas last year. 

The Way, an independent Christian church, was started in Westman’s home in June, during the pandemic, with 18 people, and has grown to about 80 members.

“The first sermon was about ‘not wimping out and defending your faith at all costs,’ ” Westman said.  

His wife, Sheri, music director and head of the church’s Praise Team, had a dream about six months before the congregation’s first meeting about establishing a church with a logo featuring a path winding its way to the three crosses on Mount Calvary.

The logo is used for the The Way Church’s graphics and roadway sign.

“God directed us to form when many churches were shutting down during the pandemic,” Ray Westman said. 

The congregation grew to about 35 members and a church location was sought. They found the current building on Southwest SR 200 in December, but the asking rent was far beyond the group’s budget.

“I sent a letter to the owner explaining we were a young church and we wanted to serve the community by letting other ministries use the building and we supported (many ministries, for example) donating to the food pantry at Interfaith Emergency Services. I asked would he accept a bid below the asking amount. He did,” Ray Westman said.

The Way Church offers men’s and women’s ministries and crafts and music ministries, which are all open to the public, Ray Westman said.

The church’s name, “The Way,” is linked to how early Christians identified themselves in public in an attempt to avoid persecutions by saying simply they were part of “the way,” according to Ray Westman  

He said the church’s “only authority is Jesus Christ” and Bible teaching at The Way is known as “expository” preaching, where “we examine context, theme biblical text and major points” to allow people to apply the meaning to their lives. 

Future plans for The Way Prayer Park include providing a place for families to have picnics.

“Bring your Frisbee,” Westman quipped. 

If you go

For more information on The Way church: 

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