Minister's faith expressed in work for justice

  • Updated: January 1, 2011 - 6:25 PM

Minneapolis minister mixing up faith and action

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The Rev. Sarah Campbell, 50, is the lead minister at the Mayflower Church on Diamond Lake Road in south Minneapolis.

The Rev. Sarah Campbell lifts a small mallet on Sunday mornings and gongs a Tibetan prayer bowl. As the reverberating hum fades, her Mayflower Church in south Minneapolis falls under complete silence.

"In the larger scheme, three minutes is not a long time," she says. "But people are so busy in their lives that they welcome this silence in our worship and this move to a little more meditative mysticism."

Don't let Campbell lull you into thinking she sits around, leading a bunch of congregants chanting, "Ohm."

Since becoming the lead minister six years ago, Campbell has been a social justice dynamo. Under a slogan of "less parking, more justice," she led her United Church of Christ congregation's push to build the adjacent 30-unit Creekside Commons, providing affordable housing to a diverse group of neighbors, including Hmong, Somali and other refugees.

"It's a little slice of the reign of God right here in south Minneapolis," Campbell says. "Our intent is to be in a relationship and build community for young families who can't afford market-rate rents."

When those bank tellers and first-year teachers go to work, the church will offer slots in its preschool program for their kids. But the church members aren't done yet.

Campbell recently commissioned Native American artist Joyce LaPorte from the Fond du Lac band in northern Minnesota to design a massive 6-foot dream catcher. It now hangs in front of the church, "waiting to capture our next dreams."

Those might include opening a senior building nearby for aging congregants to "further anchor us in our neighborhood." Campbell would like to add solar panels and rain barrels and try to reduce the church trash to one bag a week to make it more self-sustaining within five years.

"We feel pretty emboldened after building 30 units in the middle of a city neighborhood," she says.

Her church's progressive streak includes her refusal to legally marry anyone until she can marry gays and lesbians. And she credits that activism as a factor behind her congregation's growth to 700 people -- up 170 in six years -- when many churches are seeing memberships dwindling.

"Progressive churches that combine strong social justice work with deep spirituality are the ones that are going to be thriving," she says.

In a few months, Campbell will head to Istanbul, Turkey, for sabbatical study. When she returns to Minnesota, she'll be full of her trademark gusto. Born in Moorhead and a graduate of St. Paul's Macalester College, Campbell spent nine years at a Grand Rapids, Mich., church.

"There was no public access on the lakes there," Campbell says. "With our Scandinavian background so deeply rooted in the common good, I came back to Minnesota where that wouldn't be tolerated and where all our urban lakes have access for everyone. To me, that's a metaphor that gets at why I love Minnesota."

CURT BROWN

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