Skateboards meet spirituality

A fresh expression of church in Perth, Ontario, is attracting young skateboarders to blend skating culture with Christianity.

The Tuesday night ministry is collaboration between a local teenager looking for a space to skate in the winter, and a church that made the switch from opposing teenagers to welcoming them.

Where signs once warned off the skateboarding fans, Christian rock music now blares from speakers at St James the Apostle Anglican Church as young people take advantage of the only place in town they can skateboard indoors in the winter.

Organisers got the idea for the initiative after watching a Fresh Expressions DVD about a youth skateboarding group.

The move is a bold one – coming as it did after an incident in spring 2009 when skateboarders broke into the church's hall and damaged folding tables they used as makeshift ramps.

The church's rector, the Revd Christine Piper, says:

There was a misunderstanding. The youth understood they were free to come in and use the church, and that wasn’t the case. There was a little bit of distress over that.

When the skateboarding continued, the church put up signs telling skateboarders they weren't welcome at St James. Christine later attended a workshop where she learned about projects reaching people who don't come to traditional church. The DVD clip of a youth skateboarding group caught her eye.

They were working together to create an expression of religion with their skateboards,

she says.

It was very, very interesting.

Soon after, a member of the church congregation, Peter McCracken, approached Christine with the idea of offering kids a space to skateboard at the church.

I saw those signs telling them to keep away, and I thought, that's exactly what we don't need to be doing,

Peter says.

We need to be welcoming these kids in.

SkateboardersWith the congregation aging, he saw skateboarding as a way to show youth that there is room for them in the church. He enlisted the help of avid skateboarder Thor Stewart, a Perth and District Collegiate Institute student, who runs a skate shop in the town. But before the idea could take off, the pair needed the approval of the parish council.

I was expecting some resistance,

Peter says.

When they saw it in the light of an opportunity rather than in a more negative way, they saw that there was a potential to welcome kids into the church.

Christine Piper adds:

They were all very open and interested. We could see clearly that youth were seeing our church as a place to come skateboard, and we didn't have a problem with that. We said 'Let's learn from this. Let's turn this into a learning opportunity for them (youth) and the church.'

After all, Christine says, Christianity is all about reconciliation and moving forward.

While she sees the skateboard ministry as an opportunity to reach youth who may not otherwise set foot in a church, she said the young people shouldn't expect 'heavy duty stuff' if they come out to the weekly sessions.

We're trying to meet them where they're at,

she says, noting that Christian music and videos will be playing, literature will be available and she will be there supervising, but it is up to the visitors themselves to show an interest in the religious aspect if they choose.

Beyond the Christian-based message, the skateboard ministry will be a boon to young skateboaders looking to extend their skating season after locally available ramps have come down for the season.

In past years you just put the skateboard away for the winter,

Thor says.

If we get a lot of kids skating all winter, that's fun. And we can have ministry outreach, fellowship and mentoring each other.

Thor and Peter constructed a couple of ramps and are seeking donations of wood in order to build more. Young people wanting to take part must have consent forms signed by their parents, and bring their own skateboards and helmets. 'Phase Two' of the ministry in 2010 will be based on feedback received during the winter season.