Westminster Presbyterian to serve as a cornerstone of justice
by Joy Powell | Special to Presbyterian News Service
MINNEAPOLIS — Westminster Presbyterian Church opened its spacious new wing on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, with more than 1,100 people celebrating the connection of their 121-year-old church to a new building full of sunlight and color.
But beyond the stone, wood and copper-covered lead that blend this Romanesque church with its modern addition is this congregation’s conviction: This space will serve as a ministry tool connecting them to the community.
And so it was fitting that the ribbon-cutting came as Americans paid tribute to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who saw in all of life a sacred connectedness. The celebration was aimed not just at the edifice, but at the energy and collaboration it embodies, said pastors of Westminster and two smaller partners, Liberty and Grace-Trinity community churches in Minneapolis.
The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), preached about the need for the Westminster congregation of more than 3,100 people to expand beyond their new walls to build what King called a “beloved community.”
“Westminster, your challenge is not to be consumed with the love of this building at this point, but it is to be consumed with God’s love and shared in this downtown area. Share it across this particular city,” Nelson urged.
Along with King’s call for justice for all, one of society’s most persistent questions noted by the slain civil rights leader had been: “What are you doing for others?”
This congregation has provided an answer through their five-year, $81.5 million campaign, which includes $8 million for mission work. There’s new space for a clinic for special-needs kids, a community counseling center, a senior center and more in the new two-story building.
Half of the mission — about $4 million — will be used to build 150 low-income apartments in downtown Minneapolis, said the Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen.
Mission funds are also supporting the two smaller Presbyterian partner churches in Minneapolis as well as others in Cuba, Cameroon, Palestine and South Sudan, he said.
The campaign covered the $52 million construction of the 40,800-square-foot wing and a two-story underground garage, church leaders and the architect said.
Connecting rather than dividing
Alika and Ralph Galloway are co-pastors of Liberty Community Church, the first and only black Presbyterian church in Minnesota. Through its presence and connectedness, Alika Galloway said in an interview, Westminster helped the Galloways found their church, which focuses on helping families as well as survivors of the sex trade.
Her church’s challenges include poverty, educational disparity and neighborhood violence.
She told worshippers who packed Westminster’s sanctuary how their generosity, including funding and volunteering, has helped her church expand its 21st Century Middle School Academy to now serve students in kindergarten through the 12th grade.
In his sermon, Nelson, leader of the 2 million-member denomination, preached that just as Jesus and MLK did, Presbyterians and other churches are obliged to speak the truth and love, railing against those who would damn and demean the less fortunate.
While from the Oval Office President Trump defended himself against charges of racism, Nelson discussed the president spewing demeaning words about African and Caribbean nations — as he lifted a European nation.
“And we are allowing, in this period in our nation, a president who at 2 a.m. tweets some of the most insulting things to humanity and the people. We are waking up in the morning to newscasts that we are hearing him calling nations of people with vulgarity rather than their names and saying, in essence, ‘we don’t want them here,’” Nelson said.
A third-generation Presbyterian preacher, he told of growing up black in the “Jim Crow South” and then, as a man, traveling to South Africa in the middle of apartheid to investigate how the Presbyterian church should respond.
Nelson described recently leaving the Middle East after seeing a wall on Jericho Road, in the Palestinian territories, which King had preached about by referring to Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable. Now, a physical wall pushes out Palestinians, Nelson said.
He was there when Trump announced the moving of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Nelson heard immediate fireworks and gunshots and then witnessed for days as schoolchildren hurled rocks at police, only to be sprayed with tear gas.
His voice rising in anger, Nelson also described traveling to New Hampshire, where he met with Indonesian Christians in offices of immigration authorities during deportation proceedings that would send them back to homelands where radical Muslims had threatened to kill them.
The words on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” are being eroded every day by what takes place in Washington, D.C., said Nelson, who believes we are stepping back in time.
The challenge for churches is to do what Dr. King did and try to transform our nation, to try to share the love that is at our core, Nelson said in his fiery sermon.
Where it all began
Nelson’s message was inspiring yet at times grim. But there was also much beauty and joy, from the new art glass wall that shimmers like a rainbow to a drum line that led worshippers from the sanctuary to the underground garage for prayer.
This is where it all began, thanks to a donation that allowed the church to buy and raze an old, rat-infested apartment building. Members helped relocate the tenants.
The church later bought and razed an office building next door, enabling the church property to grow from a half block to a full block at the south end of Nicollet Mall, and to expand their underground garage to 300 spaces. Sunday, during a blessing of the ramp, sunlight cascaded down into it from the glass-topped four-story “Trinity Stairwell” in the new wing.
Westminster, now the biggest Presbyterian church in the city, is a model in several ways.
Built to be sustainable, 95 percent of this building has natural light. A “green” rooftop is seeded with sedum, and rainwater is collected for the church, including enough to flush 35 toilets. Electricity comes from a wind farm. Building materials were bought as close as possible to Minneapolis, Hart-Andersen said.
As up to 10,000 people pass here weekly from Nicollet Mall on their way to Orchestra Hall and beyond, now the church can better live up to its tagline of being “a telling presence,” as it opens doors and two green spaces to the community, he said.
More than $65 million from donors
Through money given and pledged, the congregation has so far raised more than $65 million, said Jim Campbell, who with his wife, Carmen, co-chaired the campaign. The church borrowed less than $20 million from the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP) in the biggest project it’s ever funded, Campbell said.
He added that PILP worked with Thrivent Financial on financing, which will be repaid as donations come in. Individual donations have ranged from $25 to more than $1 million.
Sunday’s ceremonies included, in a large space called “Westminster Hall,” the world premiere of a commissioned song, I Will Make a Way, by Tom Trenney of Nebraska. It’s based on Scripture suggested by Hart-Andersen, Isaiah 43:19, which says, in part: “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth.”
Piano music accompanied a chorale. The backdrop was floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto Nicollet Mall as snow was falling.
Among many listening shoulder-to-shoulder in reverence was Jim Dayton, representing the fourth generation of the department store family that’s been part of Westminster since the 1800s.
Dayton said the hall is designed for acoustics and light. The African hardwood anigre was used for veneer on the ceiling, which has leaf-shaped cutouts that let sunlight through, creating dappling. The floors are walnut.
Designed for accessibility
The architect said his firm, James Dayton Design, designed the new structure to go beyond the “hemmed-in” original church and be accessible, both physically and philosophically.
Hart-Andersen and Dayton said that while respecting church heritage, the new structure looks forward into the next century for this congregation.
The builder, David Mortenson and company, finished ahead of schedule and on budget. He and Dayton greeted each other excitedly amid the ceremonies. Mortenson told Dayton that more people approached him about this project than any other, with many effusive in their praise of how the vision, carried out, has transformed the city and helped the church with its outreach.
The congregation has worked hard to get to the point of the ribbon-cutting Sunday, but they’re far from done with their calling to be a 21st century church, said Hart-Andersen.
“We’re just starting,” the pastor said.
“It’s ministry. It means music and worship and education, community gatherings, fellowship and mission onsite. This building is not meant to be a museum, not meant to be looked at and marveled. Yes, it’s beautiful. But it’s a tool for ministry.”
Joy Powell is a freelance writer in the Twin Cities area who writes for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies.
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