In China's culture the thought is often articulated through the concept and practice of feng-shui -the system that governs spatial arrangements to create a sense of energy or aura. It is believed that when arranged properly with the necessary elements in the most appropriate location then that space has the potential to emit a power linked to prosperity, success, fulfillment. Another provocative idea regarding space, ergonomics, suggests space becomes powerful only when there is intent to design with maximum productivity and efficacy in mind.
Consider the space of 258 North Merton Street. Nestled in the Binghampton community...the Commons on Merton is a shared space community with over a dozen non-profit entities occupying the space. Each organization seeks to enhance the city/region by offering distinct services and opportunities that advance and promote noble work. Behind the work of these organizations exists a common thread that potentially enhances their respective work. The arrangement of these organizations within shared building space offers something powerful to the local landscape and to the region. Energy, vibration, resonance emerge from The Commons on Merton.
On a Tuesday afternoon you'll hear the chatter of young voices coming from the basement of the Commons on Merton. These children are gathering to exercise and expand their capacity to become better students and as children often do, they show their enthusiasm through their smiles and effervescence. There's an anticipation of what the moment holds for this robust group. Tutors of the Refugee Empowerment Program are in place preparing to offer guidance and assistance with a wide range of academic subjects, but at second glance the learning seems to be reciprocal -multi-layered even. The children offer something to those in position to tutor some lessons on culture, gratitude, humility, resilience.
One flight above the basement sits a sanctuary. As you walk in, the stained glassed windows cast a residue of bright colors onto the wall where a cross is suspended and gives a focal point for the entire room. The hardwood floors, an upright piano, and the arrangement of chairs speak to a sense of narrative, as if the room has stories to tell about the encounters it has held within these walls. It seems to offer a voice about history from the neighborhood ...about the neighborhood...about being a place of refuge for the neighborhood. Even now, in its current usage it speaks even louder about the treasured voices that use this hall as an acoustic chamber to resonate melodies of heavenly proportions.
The Binghampton Community Choir houses its' weekly rehearsals here. Members of the choir are predominantly residents of the neighborhood. They readily express their sense of ownership in the community. Part of their belief is that music has the power to elevate our humanity but also reduce us to the powerful, simple necessity of being heard. This choral community is fully engaged in sharing music through this neighborhood and the city, but it also embraces a sobering responsibility of serving as ambassadors from this neighborhood. This facility that houses their rehearsals seems to add volume to their voice...add harmony to their melody. The historicity connected to the old church building somehow offers a collective "amen" to this choir and its contribution to the community.
Three congregations also house worship services in the sanctuary: Binghampton UMC, Holy Pentecost (A Burundi Church-traditions are from Burundi in Central Africa), and Memphis Metropolitan Christian Church. The diversity of Christian expressions that come from each offer a glimpse into the diversity of the neighborhood and surrounding area. Binghampton United Methodist Church evolved from a remnant of those from the original owners of the property - Everett Memorial UMC and offers a communal spirit of hospitality. It engenders an environment of transformation, and deepens one's faith through collective experience and understanding of scripture. There is an intersection here with God's grace.
At Holy Pentecost the rhythmic undertones of African drums sweeps underneath you as they echo throughout the building. Holy Pentecost offers an indigenous worship experience laced with fervor and passion. The gathering celebrates Christ in native tongue but communicates quite clearly a call to serve its families and peoples with the conviction of the gospel.
Occasionally, as you walk through the building you will faintly hear the soothing notes of violinist Anthony Gilbert. Here at the Commons Anthony offers affordable violin lessons to members of the community. He has a storied history serving as a part of symphonic groups. He speaks with reverence about the space that offers him solace, roots, and identity.
Countless stories from varied partners exist within the halls of this shared space.The sentiment across the board offers a value of the communal spirit of the place. Whether it's Door of Hope, Families of Incarcerated Individuals, or the Memphis School of Servant Leadership a spirit...an energy lives here. Barbara Vann, member of Binghampton UMC, recounts one of the inaugural moments of making the "Spirit of the Commons" a tangible reality for the entire community.
The concept/theme of power and positive energy emanating from a physical space seems to reverberate when shared space partners speak about the Commons. The distinct infrastructure married to the ethos of the place warrants an appreciation for intentional community.