Central UMC gives downtown Spartanburg a new two-acre park

SPARTANBURG—Spartanburg’s oldest church, Central United Methodist Church, has given the downtown a new two-acre park with the intent to strengthen the sense of community that has been gaining momentum for the past few years.

The church held a dedication of the park April 22, Earth Day, after its regular Sunday service.

Appropriately named “Central Park,” it is located behind the church, at 233 North Church St., with direct access to University of South Carolina Upstate’s George Dean Johnson Jr. College of Business and Economics, Chapman Cultural Center, Spartanburg Marriott, the city’s parking garage and the highly anticipated future development of a 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,” church pastor the Rev. Tom Norrell said. “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 small park, but it connects many existing businesses and gives people a 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 owned by the church has been landscaped with trees, plants, sod and decorative light poles. A serpentine concrete sidewalk winds from the church’s back door to Liberty Street, wrapping around three tiers of outdoor brick-bench seating and an inlaid brick labyrinth that can serve as a stage.

“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,” Norrell said. “He really captured the spiritual nature that we wanted and made great use of the land. Also, 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 and was paid for by the church, its members and friends, the pastor said.

“Central Methodist Church has a long history of being good stewards of the Earth,” Lay Leader John Simmons said. “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.”

At the heart of the park is a large inground labyrinth that has a 36-foot diameter. Labyrinths have been used in Christian theology since the 12th century, but they have historical roots going back as far as ancient Greece. For many years, STAR (Sacred Traditions And Rituals), a close associate to Central Methodist Church, 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 STAR.

On Jan. 28 of this year, the labyrinth was dedicated to nursery worker Lillie Norris, who retired after 44 years of service to the church. It is officially the “Lillie Norris Labyrinth.”

The park is free for anyone to use. Individuals may use it at will.

“Like any proper labyrinth, Central Park is meant to be something that people are drawn to for celebration and affirmation,” the 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.”

For more information about Central Park, call Central at 864-582-7263.

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