One afternoon the sound of muffled
laughter outside his office led David Norwood (M.Div. 1998, Th.M. 1999) to
look out the window in time to witness four young graffiti artists at
work. He strongly encouraged the youths to clean the wall or he’d have to
call the authorities. He prayed for guidance during the cleaning, and when
the job was done he invited the young people for pizza and soda. A
ministry was born. The next week they brought their friends to church,
returning each Wednesday afternoon for pizza, Ping-Pong, and foosball.
Over the next 18 months, the group grew to include 40 young people new to
the church. Norwood presented a weekly message about being fed by God’s
love (“Jesus made sure that everyone had enough food”) so that these young
people would have a “feeding experience” of Jesus.
Norwood was called to Community Presbyterian Church
in Wapato, Washington, in the fall of 1999. The church is situated in
rural apple country on the Yakima Indian Reservation, an area of extreme
poverty. The diverse 150-member congregation consists of Native American
locals, Hispanic and Filipino immigrant families, and Anglo professionals
and landowners. The long-standing members are descended from northern
European Protestants who “come from conservative roots,” explains Norwood. In the
1960s the area demographics underwent a sea change. Today the schools
serve a 70 percent racial/ethnic minority population, and the struggles
facing the Native American community are varied and intense.
When Norwood arrived at Community Presbyterian, the
church was perhaps best known for “the locks on its doors,” but many of
those doors have now been opened.
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According to Norwood, God’s spirit
is blowing new life into the church community. He asked the elders at his
first session retreat to describe the assets the congregation had for
ministry. One strong asset was the building itself. So the session
established a new open door policy: “If someone asks to use the church,
the first answer should be yes.” The church building is now home to AA
groups, ESL (English As a Second Language) classes, various community
meetings, and a newly reborn Christian preschool. The preschool includes a
new playground that has become a magnet for the neighborhood kids. The
open door policy has been exciting for the congregation, but the tensions
of growth and change have created challenges as well as opportunities for
David Norwood has been opening doors for all of his 43 years. After “a
bit” of college, his career trajectory moved from real estate to
computers, from California back home to Washington State. Along the way he
and his wife, Gail, adopted three late-placed special needs children, and
they now have three grandchildren. At Vashon Presbyterian Church (in
Vashon, Washington), the Norwoods volunteered extensively, and David was
called to seminary; however, he had yet to earn his college degree. With
characteristic determination, he went back to school, finished his A.A.,
and then his B.A. After a year at Fuller (the Seattle campus) he came to
PTS to finish his M.Div. degree.
He has many fond memories of Princeton Seminary, including service on
Student Government, working on the PTS web site, studying with Professors
McCormack and Allen, playing golf with Dean Armstrong, and a “victory lap”
New Testament Th.M. with Professor Don Juel. Norwood’s Th.M. thesis
focused on the Syrophoenician woman, and his theological work on that
story has profoundly influenced his ministry at Community Presbyterian.
Norwood explains that the
Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24–30) was the archetypal stranger. When she
first spoke to Jesus, even he rejected her, but then realized that she
“brought the gift of Truth to their relationship.” Jesus saw this truth,
and his ministry extended to the Gentiles. According to Norwood, “We
receive a special grace when we listen to others who are different than
ourselves. We can’t do this unless God has prompted us to open our eyes to
Young people gather for a pizza party at
Community Presbyterian Church.
Norwood has embodied that theology
at his church and in his family life. At Community Presbyterian, once eyes
and doors were opened, more strangers kept showing up, including a
remarkable pastor named Corey Greaves, who knocked on the church door 18
months after the pizza ministry began. Greaves had a vision for outreach
to Native American youth in the community, who are at grave risk for
suicide and violent death. The session came to share the dream of a
full-time outreach youth worker. They “stepped forward in faith,” and now
the congregation helps to sponsor a praise band and a youth program three
days a week.
For Norwood, it’s been “an amazing
two-and-a-half years, and I can’t even imagine what will happen next. This
is a God-driven place. We just keep saying ‘Yes’ when someone knocks on
the door.... I guess we’re experiencing the answer to the question ‘What
will Jesus do?’”
Leslie Dobbs-Allsopp is the
Bridges Project coordinator at Princeton’s Institute for Youth Ministry.