Church offers faith and Frisbees on Mall

Andrew Donohue

Flying white discs and words of love and peace shared the Northrop Mall air Monday as students took in a game of Frisbee and some spiritual advice.
In the second annual Preach-off and Frisbee Toss, the University Episcopal Center offered students messages of faith by presenting an alternative to the fiery Mall preachers — whose antics usually draw more hecklers than supporters. The event included four preachers from local churches and free Frisbees.
“So many of these mall preachers speak of hell fire and brimstone,” said the Rev. Janet Wheelock of the Episcopal center. “We are preaching love more than judgement.”
Event planners and participants said the abrasive nature of the Mall preachers often leaves a foul taste of religion in the mouths of students. These experiences can repel them from participating in an event or even stopping to listen.
“When people hear words like Jesus, God and the Bible, they cringe,” said College of Liberal Arts senior Eloise Teisberg. “I hope if people stop and listen they’ll see it is a different message. We focus on relationships, not rules — true grace and unconditional love.”
Wheelock brought youthful preachers from around the area to ensure the message will be better accepted by students, she said.
The Rev. Bill Bulson from St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis focuses on two topics when dealing with University students.
“Asking questions is a good thing,” he said. “People who are struggling and asking questions are probably closer to God than those who can offer superficial answers without thinking and learning.”
Bulson also said the University environment and business world can suck the humanity out of a person.
“We are not reducible; we are all children of God,” he said.
Some students said they felt the image of Christianity itself is floundering within the University community.
“If you are a Christian you are looked down upon at the University because it isn’t mystical,” said Beth Towns, a University graduate who came back to help with the festivities.
The event also captured the interests of those outside the University community. R.C. Laird, a philosophy major at Hamline University, attended the preaching for intellectual purposes.
“I’m into thinking about religion — finding answers to questions and finding information for asking new questions,” he said.
Attempting to play to the needs of all University students, Wheelock said the center preaches “a middle of the road” Christianity.
But not all students responded to this approach.
The event drew one heckler, a female student who called out, “Get a life. Get a job.” The heckle came during the Rev. Paul Allick’s preaching. Allick, of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles in East St. Paul, playfully shrugged aside the comment and continued his preaching.