Wrestlers tossing each other around in a church as fans scream and holler?

Exactly so, and not for the first time. On Saturday night, Holy Nativity Lutheran Church in New Hope will host its fifth annual wrestling match to help raise money for its young members’ summer trips.

Professional wrestlers from Midwest Wrestling Entertainment will fight five to six noisy matches in the church community room in what’s billed as a night of family entertainment.

Proceeds will pay for part of the youth group’s community-service mission trip to Denver from July 20-27 and its regular summer trip to Camp Wapo in Amery, Wis.

Previous years have shown the wrestling event to be popular, and about 200 people are expected to attend to boo the bad guys and cheer the good ones. The unorthodox scenario is part of a nationwide trend, as a growing number of churches turn to out-of-the-ordinary events to raise money for ministry and mission work.

The youth group at the 1,500-member ELCA church is made up of seventh- to 12th-grade students who throw fundraisers throughout the year.

Kinna Nordstrom, the youth group’s director, said the Denver trip is expected to cost at least $600 per student. The money goes for van rental, gas, food and accommodations. Families are asked to pay a $100 deposit to secure their child’s place in the trip.

“We try to fundraise the rest so that it’s not a huge financial burden and so they are able to experience these really amazing trips and actually get to be a part of the bigger picture of doing mission in the world,” Nordstrom said.

Chris Jordan, a pro wrestler known as “The Genuine Article” who’s also a Sunday-school teacher at Holy Nativity, agrees. “When you have a group of kids who want to go out in the world and help grow their own faith, you don’t want cost to be an obstacle,” he said.

Not just for the money

There’s another aspect to the event that goes beyond fundraising — it draws people from the neighborhood and beyond to the church. In short, it’s what Nordstrom calls a “community builder.”

Jordan agrees. “People who come ... see all these nice, polite kids smiling and selling popcorn,” he said. “We have a good reputation because of that.”

In the past, many people have gone to the wrestling events not knowing they were church-sponsored.

“It’s something that our kids like and take pride in,” said Wendy Grimes, youth group coordinator.

Besides that, it’s just plain fun, say the young people and their parents.

“Obviously, financially I’m happy the youth group can support that,” said parent Deb Peterson. “And [the wrestling] is very entertaining.”

Her son, Andy Peterson, 16, said the wrestling extravaganza is not just any old fundraiser. “This feels like a unique experience, and I’m proud of that,” he said.


Candice Wheeler is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.