Fellowship Church pastor Ed Young and his wife Lisa, in front of their $1.5 million home in Bluffview Estates
Fellowship Church's effusive Ed Young and his wife are loving the Lord, having more sex than you and staking their claim in the best neighborhoods in town. Can a reality show about this million-dollar minister and his gleaming family be far away? (No.)
A man approaches me in the parking lot of Highland Park Village, wearing a T-shirt that reads: "Walking Dead." He extends a friendly hand. "Are you here for church?" Yes. "Is this your first time?" Yes. (Maybe it shows?)
It is early Sunday morning. The swanky boutiques that keep Sunday hours here -- the likes of Dior, Diane von Furstenberg and Jimmy Choo -- won't open till noon and 1, but the movie theater at Dallas' most elite shopping center is buzzing with activity, and none of it film-related. The job of the man in the T-shirt is to lead newcomers to the greeters standing beneath the theater marquee. "Good morning!" says a stylish young woman at the door.
Those newcomers are ushered inside and wrangled by volunteers, who introduce themselves in rapid-fire succession. An oversize foamcore signin the lobby depicts a desolate cityscape with bold white letters proclaiming: "Walking Dead: Life Is Too Good Not to Live. A new series by Ed Young."
A sermon hooked to a popular cable-TV zombie show? Edwin Barry Young knows how to titillate and provoke. The charismatic, controversial founder and senior pastor of the sprawling Grapevine-based Fellowship Church burst onto the national scene in 2008, when he challenged the church's married couples to have seven days of sex for greater emotional intimacy. ("Some of the men in the congregation cheered," says Young's wife, Lisa Lee Young, who leads Fellowship's women's ministry, called Flavour.) The ensuing media frenzy included an interview with the Youngs on CNN and a squirmy sit-down for Ed with interruptive satirist Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report. In 2012, Ed and Lisa promoted their resulting book, Sexperiment: Seven Days to Lasting Intimacy With Your Spouse (it landed a No. 3 spot that year on The New York Times best-sellers list, in the "Advice & Misc." category) by bedding down together, sans actual sex, for 24 hours on the roof of their church. The bed-in was streamed live on the Internet. (The stunt also ended with emergency medical attention. The intense lights aimed at the couple and reflected off the crisp white sheets injured their eyes.) On Easter Sunday 2012, Young raised the dander of animal activists when he appeared at the pulpit holding a lamb while a caged lion shared the same stage. "I think his methods are unconventional," says Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas (and famous friend to Oprah), "but his message is conventional."
The antics-for-Christ have helped Young expand his evangelical empire to five satellite outposts in North Texas; two churches in Miami; one in Columbia, South Carolina; a resort-like summer camp and church called Allaso Ranch in Hawkins, Texas; and, just in October, a church in the trendy Shoreditch district of London. He uses a high-tech satellite broadcast system to beam his weekly sermons from Grapevine to each location and worldwide online via "EdTV," found on edyoung.com. He also makes the rounds in person. Young's unconventional ministry has attracted high-profile visitors and congregants, including Dallas Cowboys players and their wives and girlfriends, hip-hop producer Timbaland and billionaire Dallas developer Gene Phillips and his wife, Roxanne. (For perspective, the Phillipses count George W. Bush and Tom Hicks among their neighbors.) Last month, one of the Real Housewives of Orange County attended the Grapevine church with her husband. There was no camera crew in tow, but the star hardly blended into the crowd in her frothy pink dress and Valentino pumps.
Young's ministry has also attracted other attention. In 2010, WFAA-TV Channel 8 aired reports on Young's finances and travels after investigating what an anonymous former staffer called the minister's "lavish lifestyle that keeps increasing," including the use of a private jet, a $1.5 million estate on Grapevine Lake (now sold) and a $1.1 million luxury condominium in Miami. Reporter Brett Shipp cited unnamed sources who put the pastor's salary at $1 million and said records revealed Young was paid an annual housing allowance of $240,000. The stories also cited a number of for-profit companies on the side of Fellowship Church. The pastor says that, to this day, he has still never watched or read the Channel 8 reports, but he knows their contents and that "many of those figures -- and I don't know all of them -- were not even accurate." Young says his salary is set by the church's independent compensation committee in accordance with industry standards, that he uses a private jet leased by the church because it is simply more practical with his unyielding travel schedule and that he reimburses the church for any personal trips. In one of the stories, a spokesman for Young said that "any transactions between the senior pastor and the church are conducted at arm's-length with full disclosure to and approval by the board. The same board, he said, approves all spending decisions and that the church's financial books are audited by an outside accounting firm.
Young already had a thriving church outpost in downtown Dallas, but he got the idea to launch Fellowship Park Cities at Highland Park Village after spending time at the busy Starbucks there. It teems daily with affluent types from Highland Park and University Park, and the parking spots around the coffeehouse are heavy on the Bentleys, Porsches and spotless Suburbans. Around the same time, the Youngs moved into a $1.5 million Mediterranean manor in Bluffview Estates, bought from foreclosure. (The house is owned by Mangrove Revocable Trust, according to the Dallas Central Appraisal District.) Surely the management at Village Theatre was happy to sign a lease to fill its otherwise empty seats on Sunday mornings.
Church newcomers may be disappointed to see that the concessions stand at the top of the escalator is closed this morning. (The church plans to fire up the popcorn machines next summer.) More volunteers emerge to greet and direct; they are mostly young, good-looking and casually hip. Jesus in J. Crew. First-timers are ushered into the VIP lounge -- the theater's bar, but a large foamcore welcome sign on the bar top obscures the view of the alcohol -- to pick up their blue swag bag. Inside is a welcome DVD and a copy of one of Young's 14 books, You! The Journey to the Center of Your Worth.
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SOURCE: FD Luxe