A different breed of mall preachers took to their soapboxes on Monday on Northrop Mall.
Six Episcopal priests each took their turn preaching the Gospel, while members of the University Episcopal Center passed out Frisbees to people walking by.
“I haven’t come here to convert anyone … or to convince you of a different way,” the Rev. Paul Allick said. “I have come to speak to people who have nothing in their lives beyond themselves.”
Allick, who works at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Roseville, said he was not offering a judgmental message or attempt at conversion.
“The world is already redeemed. If anyone tells you you have to be redeemed, if they’re so presumptuous to tell you that you get to decide, and that you have to follow their exact words, they’re lying. Jesus Christ loves you as you are.”
The event, titled “Grace is Free, So Are the Frisbees,” was created and sponsored by the University Episcopal Center.
“I had heard a lot about the mall preachers, and had also experienced them 20 years ago as a student at the University,” said the Rev. Janet Wheelock, one of the priests at the University Episcopal Center.
Every spring, representatives from many Christian denominations come to the University to preach to the masses on Northrop Mall.
Most notably, University Police arrested Paul Stamm, a preacher from Oklahoma, twice in May 1994 for disorderly conduct. The first arrest occurred after an officer confronted Stamm for being too loud on the Mall. The following day a student placed Stamm under citizen’s arrest after she was offended by some of his sermon. Some witnesses called both arrests violations of Stamm’s right to free speech.
Wheelock said she had heard from campus counseling centers that some students were genuinely hurt by the experience they have with other mall preachers. Wheelock said the students felt they were being judged and condemned.
“I see in the mall preachers an unwillingness to listen to a student’s story,” Wheelock said. “Faith is about learning through other people’s stories.”
Six priests from Episcopal churches around the Twin Cities were invited to preach at the event, which did not draw a large audience.
Many students passing by took the Frisbees that were offered to them, but only a few stopped to listen.
“It’s too bad there’s not more people listening,” said Dyana Hagen, a senior who stopped while the Rev. Lyn Lawyer gave a sermon.
Hagen, a biology major, said she is Lutheran but doesn’t go to church often. “People are caught up in busyness of everyday life and don’t have time to listen to something like this,” she said.
Noel Boismenue has listened to other mall preachers in the past. He said the Episcopal priests were different than some of the other mall preachers because they were not condemning students. He also said those preachers draw more of a crowd because they are controversial.
“People aren’t willing to fight back when they’re not being insulted,” he said.
Boismenue ate his lunch on a bench in Northrop Mall and listened to the Rev. Theo Park. “He is not insulting people; he seems nice,” Boismenue said.
Park focused his sermon on the concept of grace and talked about his experience as a gay priest. He said God’s grace led him out of self-rejection.
Park, who works as an interim priest at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in south St. Paul, said there are many priests who are gay and hiding it. “For me that’s one of the sadnesses of any church that requires people to hide who they really are,” he said.
“To have a priest stand and talk about being gay and what that’s like, how God is with him in his struggle — that’s a radical message,” said Allick, a colleague of Park.
One priest discussed the “Star Wars” trilogy in his sermon. The Rev. Gerald Krumenacker read from the Gospel of Mark and spoke about how good triumphs over evil in the “Star Wars” epic and called it a “ritual of salvation.” But Krumenacker said “Star Wars” uses “redemptive violence” to convey its message.
“Jesus simply had good news to preach to a person who had been experiencing bad news. He offered new life through transformation not through redemptive violence.”
Michael Johnson, a fourth-year student in English literature, took a few minutes to listen to Krumenacker’s sermon.
“There is a lot of religious propaganda at the University, under many different guises, a lot of groups that have a Christian exterior,” Johnson said. “I always try to stop and determine if their message is Christian in nature.”
Johnson, a member of a Baptist church in Minneapolis, said he liked the inclusiveness of the priest’s message, which he found to be a change from most preaching on the mall.
“Christianity, at least from what I know about it, is exclusive, does condemn sin, or particular sins, and the message I heard was that everything’s okay, no matter what you do.”