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Military Park, the Common of Newark

Bishop Mark Beckwith giving the blessing at Military Park's grand opening

It is called Military Park, but because of my New England roots, I think of it as a “Common.” A park connotes a place for recreation and refreshment, which are laudable – and necessary, activities. A Common goes a little further than that – in that the whole community can claim participation and ownership. With a Common, everyone has a common interest.

The renewal of Military Park, a $3.5 million dollar project, was dedicated last Friday afternoon. It was a great celebration – attended by hundreds of people, from a US Senator to people who forge their lives on the street. We were all gathered in common – on the Common. Our Cathedral, which goes back to a charter granted by the King of England in 1746, has long been located on this six-acre common space – the only building that has ever been on the Common. During the Revolutionary War, the church building that was there was used as a field hospital (hence the name Military Park). The current building dates back to 1857.

Last Friday we celebrated the renewal of this public space. Already there are Tai Chi and Yoga classes in the park. A unique creative playground is available for children; chess games abound; concerts are being planned; a small café will soon open. In the blessing that I offered at the end of the celebration (see video), I invited the audience to participate by shouting out the Swahili word Harambee several times. There was a robust response. Harambee was first used in Kenya in 1963 when the country was establishing itself as an independent nation – creating a union of dozens of languages and even more indigenous groups. Harambee means “let’s pull together”. Harambee is a song that is still sung in Kenya to this day. I learned it in high school.

The word was Harambee; but the energy was that of the Holy Spirit – pulling people together; providing a beautiful and safe space; celebrating our common life. And our Cathedral is a constituent part of it all.

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