By Jessica Easthope
They call Ocean Grove, New Jersey “God’s Square Mile,” and it just got a little longer, with a 500-foot pier that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, shaped like a cross.
“It’s reflective of Ocean Grove’s history, as a Christian seaside resort, we have been this since our founding and it’s just a great design, practical, more views, it was an inspiration,” said Michael Badger, the president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.
The association is a non-profit established after the end of the Civil War, when the Methodist church put down roots in the small shore town. The association owns all of the land in Ocean Grove, including the boardwalk, beach and the pier. When the town’s original pier was swept away by Hurricane Sandy, being a religious non-profit, the association wasn’t eligible for FEMA funding and raised $2M for the project. But the design sparked a debate about religious freedom.
“Historically it was a place of respite for missionaries and that’s the foundation of the town,” said Maryan Giachetti.
Giachetti has lived in Ocean Grove for seven years, her morning walk now includes coming to the ends of the pier, which some residents say is a secular space, where a cross doesn’t belong.
“It feels like a lot of the time everyone can voice their opinion and be who they want to be and don’t come against me because this is who I am and support us or you’re canceled and it feels like, except Christians,” she said.
“The free exercise of religion is not exclusively to be done in your home and your church sanctuary, you can be who you are in the public eye, especially on your own private land,” said Badger.
For Ocean Grove, the cross is a reminder that Christ welcomed everybody.
“This is who God calls us to be, we’re going to do this in the public square and you’re welcome, please come,” said Michael.
And that is the hope.