By Steve Wong
Central United Methodist Church is opening a new two-acre park in downtown Spartanburg in hopes of strengthening the sense of community that has been gaining momentum for the past few years.
Everyone – especially those who live or work in downtown Spartanburg – is invited to the dedication of “Central Park” on Sunday, April 22 (Earth Day), starting at about 12:15 p.m. Guests are encouraged to park in the adjacent St. John Street Parking Garage at no charge.
Central Park sits behind the church, at 233 N. Church St., with direct access to USC Upstate’s George Dean Johnson Jr. College of Business and Economics, the Chapman Cultural Center, the Spartanburg Marriott, the city’s parking garage, and a future five-story multi-use office building and 200-unit apartment complex.
“As a community church in downtown Spartanburg, we wanted to contribute something very significant to the revitalization that has taken hold in the past few years,” said the Rev. Tom Norrell, Central UMC’s senior pastor. “We looked at our resources and at the current revived development in what was once called Renaissance Park and saw an opportunity to make a gift that a great many people can enjoy – and at the same time contribute to the sense of community that is growing downtown.
“It is a project the city of Spartanburg has encouraged us to make happen. It is a small park, but it connects many existing businesses and gives people an intimate place to gather. It will be perfect for outdoor family reunions, small concerts, or just a place to eat your lunch and contemplate the beauty of your surroundings.”
The land, which is owned by the church, has been landscaped with trees, other plants, sod and decorative light poles. A serpentine concrete sidewalk winds from the church’s backdoor to Liberty Street, wrapping around three tiers of brick bench seating and an inlaid brick labyrinth that can serve as a stage.
Want to go?
What: Dedication of Central Park | When: 12:15 p.m. Sunday, April 22
Where: Central UMC, downtown Spartanburg | Who: Public is invited
“The park was designed by one of our church members, Kevin Parris, who is a horticulture instructor and the arboretum director at Spartanburg Community College,” Rev. Norrell said. “He really captured the spiritual nature that we wanted and made great use of the land. All of the work building the park and the amphitheater was donated by church members and friends, especially Ted Petoskey, Kevin Parris, Adrian Hernandez, and John Simmons.
“It took a year from concept to this dedication, but it is something the entire church is proud of.”
The total cost of the park exceeds $75,000, Rev. Norrell said, and was paid for by the church, its members and friends.
Central UMC will hold its regular worship service at 11 a.m. The service will end with the congregation’s singing a hymn while walking from the sanctuary to the park. Rev. Norrell will conduct a short dedication service, followed by a public reception. The church has extended invitations to representatives of the surrounding businesses and city officials. The reception will serve fair trade refreshments in biodegradable plates and cups.
“Central United Methodist Church has a long history of being good stewards of the Earth,” said John Simmons, the church’s lay leader. “As a founding member of Spartanburg Green Congregations, we thought it very fitting to have this dedication on Earth Day – a day when everyone’s attention is focused on preserving the natural beauty of God’s creation.
“We have tried very hard to make this park in harmony with the land, using plants that are natural to this area and keeping the natural lay of the land.”
A large inground labyrinth with a 36-foot diameter lies at the heart of the park. Labyrinths have been used in Christian theology since the 12th century, but they have historical roots going back as far as ancient Greece.
“Labyrinths have been used in a number of religions,” Simmons said. “Chartres Cathedral in France has a famous labyrinth from the 1200s, and our labyrinth is based on that design. It is important to understand that a labyrinth is not a maze. A maze has false paths that lead to dead-ends. A labyrinth has only one path.
“A maze is meant to confuse people; a labyrinth gives people the opportunity to trace a single path toward understanding. It represents life as a pilgrimage. It is a path of growth.”
For many years, Sacred Traditions And Rituals, a close associate of Central UMC, has hosted an annual labyrinth walk for the community in the church’s fellowship hall.
In the center of the labyrinth is a mosaic butterfly, which represents metamorphosis and transformation, Simmons said. It was created by the Rev. Susan Bennett, the original leader of S.T.A.R.
“Not only will this park be a place to gather for fellowship and fun, it can also be a place for contemplation,” Rev. Norrell said. “It is my hope to look outside of my window and occasionally see someone walking the labyrinth in deep thought and prayer.
“It can be used as a spiritual tool, to help people find a path when they are troubled or in need of a peaceful state of mind.”
In January, Central UMC dedicated the park’s centerpiece as the “Lillie Norris Labyrinth,” in honor of nursery worker Lillie Norris, who retired after 44 years of service to the church.
“Lillie was always one of those people could find and create peace,” Rev. Norrell said. “You can’t work in a nursery full of babies for 44 years and not develop an inner peace.”
The park is free for anyone to use. Individuals may use it at will. Groups who wish to use the park for gatherings are asked to contact the church in advance to avoid conflicts. The park is meant primarily for daytime use, and the church discourages alcohol and skateboarding in the park.
“Like any proper labyrinth, Central Park is meant to be something that people are drawn to for celebration and affirmation,” Rev. Norrell said. “It is in the middle of a very dynamic part of Spartanburg, an area that is growing, and it is surrounded by some of our community’s most impactful institutions. As more and more people make downtown Spartanburg their home, we want Central Park to be their refuge, a special place where they come together or just be alone.”