Dedicated in 2006, the trail encircles the campus and has become one of the most popular local outdoor exercise venues. From early morning to late at night, hundreds of students, faculty, staff and other Abilenians each day use the scenic paved path, which features strategically placed trailheads, Faubus Fountain Lake and scriptures etched along the way.
The Ascension, a trailhead located on Campus Court between the historic Hardin Administration Building and Sewell Theatre, now features a bronze sculpture depicting Christ ascending into heaven from a large pedestal, one of five limestone blocks with scriptures reminding visitors of “The Good News” of God’s plan to redeem mankind.
“We wanted The Ascension to tell the ‘why’ story of a Christian’s salvation; to tell God’s plan for us,” said family spokesman Holt Lunsford (’85) of Dallas. “Jesus loves us so much he died on a cross and redeemed us and rose from the grave and ascended to heaven. Our faith means nothing without a risen Lord.”
For more than 30 years, the extended family of 1955 ACU graduate Richard Lunsford and his late wife, Dema (Atkins ’57), has been making visible contributions to the campus, focused on creating contemplative places designed to bring people closer to God.
“I am grateful to the Lunsfords for their thoughtful generosity in imagining and funding this project,” said ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91). “They have made a significant mark on ACU for three decades with their deep concern for the spiritual nature of our lives.”
Two interior spaces named The Quiet Place are located in the Mabee Business Building (dedicated in 1986) and Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies Building (1989). The concept was generated by a comment from one of the Lunsford children to their parents about there being few quiet places on campus to sit, pray and reflect. The Lunsfords responded by designing and funding The Quiet Place to include small, customized rooms of varying sizes for individuals or small groups to use for private devotion. “The messages found in the prayer journals of each room are proof of the heartfelt conversations students and others have there with each other and with God in the course of their daily lives,” said Schubert.
When the two-mile-long Lunsford Foundation Trail was dedicated in 2006, Holt said, “I wanted to do this in honor of my parents, who have had a tremendous impact on my faith and my education and who have been involved with ACU ever since we went to school there. And all of this is done to God’s glory. Any time you work to enhance God’s creation, it gives Him glory. As we improve our bodies and minds and spirits, He is pleased. As a family, we want God to receive the glory and the student body to receive the benefits.”
Holt said the idea for The Ascension began four years ago in discussions and study with his father, and was refined by his mother, Dema, and his wife, Kaye Dawn (Ridley ’85). Originally it included plans to include a fountain, but maintenance issues caused the family to reconsider the design. The trailhead has always included a large cross (43 feet long and 34.5 feet wide) inlaid in concrete and stones. Now, the limestone blocks and sculpture can be seen immediately to the east of the entrance to the trailhead, which includes several limestone benches.
The 9-foot-5-inch, 800-pound sculpture is the work of Utah artist Dee Jay Bawden, who is well known for creating bronzes depicting Christ, in addition to various other religious and historical figures. Christ’s flowing robe extends to the bottom of the sculpture, showing his feet above ground as he is depicted ascending from earth.
Leuders Limestone provided blocks of limestone for The Ascension, as they did for other parts of the Lunsford Foundation Trail, at Faubus Fountain Lake, and on the Jacob’s Dream sculpture site. The 16 pieces composing the pedestal weigh about 400 pounds each. The four “steps” leading up to the sculpture pedestal weigh from 400 to 1,200 pounds each, and are 5 feet wide and varying heights. The sculpture will sit atop a 12-foot-tall concrete pier that is 3 feet in diameter. Six feet of the concrete pier is below the ground, and 6 feet is above it. The limestone pedestal is 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide, and covers the top half of the concrete pier.
The staggered limestone blocks representing steps leading to the larger sculpture pedestal were the idea of students from ACU’s Department of Art and Design, Holt said. Etched on them are words from John 14:6 – “I am the way,” “the truth,” “the life” and “No one comes to the Father but by Me.”
Other scriptures represented in the site include I Peter 3:4, Matthew 25:31, Luke 24:50-51 and John 14:3. The large inlaid cross is accompanied by the words from Ephesians 1:7.
Holt says the messages found on the trail are intentional.
“Our desire and prayer is that people will walk the trail and see the complete story of their salvation. We love to see people use it and pause to contemplate their own faith,” he said. “The Ascension closes the loop on the salvation story. Christ did his job. As people walk in, we want them to experience through scripture and visual reminders that He is alive. He died but he rose again and ascended to heaven.”
Thanks to Paul White for his photographic coverage of the installation.