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ISSUE 115 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 3/22/2002

Tearing down invisible walls

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 22, 2002

“ Tearing Down Walls is the first thing youll see. It stands in bold letters on the sign that welcomes you to Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn. Tearing Down Walls is their goal, and thats just what theyre doing tearing down walls between denominations, social classes, genders, races, and most of all between people and Jesus Christ. My first experience at Woodland Hills took me by surprise. I was expecting, well, a church -- narthex, nave, pulpit, and baptismal font. I was expecting a steeple and stained glass. Instead, I found myself standing in a renovated Home Depot. I was also expecting the homogeneous congregation to which Ive been so long accustomed. At Woodland Hills, I observed a significant diversity. An African American family sat in front of me. I noticed a hearing-impaired couple to my right. Children of all ages were scattered throughout the congregation. Throughout the service, I heard some Hallelujahs and Amens, and that would never happen in the church where I came from. At first, it was all a little bit overwhelming. Then I became intensely curious about what was inside the church that was slowly bringing together and integrating the community. The space inside Woodland Hills is immense and the whole room is filled with seating to accommodate an enormous congregation. At the front is a stage, where a musical ensemble leads worship and Pastor Boyd delivers his message. The service begins with singing, led by Pastor Norman Blagman, a dynamic black man with a beautiful voice and a tremendous heart for praise and worship. After song, Pastor Boyd asks the congregation to support him in prayer before he delivers his message, which is consistently filled with an amazing intensity, humor, wisdom, and conviction. Greg Boyd is the senior pastor at Woodland Hills. He is also professor of theology at Bethel College in St. Paul. He has written many books, including Letters from a Skeptic, an international best- seller. He received his B.A. in philosophy from the University of Minnesota, his M.Div. from Yale Divinity School, and his Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Pastor Boyd started his church ten years ago with only 40 members. Ten years later, he delivers his message every Sunday to between 3500 and 4000 people. At the heart of his ministry is passion. He believes that faith is a matter of the mind as well as of the heart. During his last sermon, he discussed his passion for debating the existence of God and the importance of dialogue between Christians and people of all beliefs. Pastor Boyds appeal to people of all ages, experiences, and backgrounds is his ability to speak to each at his or her own level. Senior Adam Gatzke explains, Hes not afraid to be real instead of religious. Many other members of Woodland Hills agree and identify with Gregs focus on reality over religion. Adam Gatzke began going to Woodland Hills during his sophomore year at St. Olaf College. He confesses that at first he didnt like Pastor Boyd very much and wasnt quite sure about his ministry. Since then, however, he admits that hes learned a lot. Boyd is so passionate. Hes like Michael Jordan … you can tell hes doing just what he was made to do. And hes crazy about God and completely in love with Jesus. Besides tearing down walls between denominations, social classes, genders, and races, Woodland Hills Church is reaching out on global, national, and local levels. Their missions agency is extending hope, care, and healing to impoverished people in Africa and Asia. They are working in the local neighborhoods. They provide small groups within the church for counsel, discussion, and biblical education to individuals of all ages. Whether youre skeptical or curious, a believer or a non-believer, I recommend visiting Woodland Hills just once. Theres room for you and Pastor Boyd has a good word for everyone. Hell speak to you straight in the eye and straight to the heart. No car? Get a ride with me. And bring your wall.

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