Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Skateboard Ministries Drawing Young to Church Jacksonville Pastors Say Idea Working

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Skateboard Ministries Drawing Young to Church Jacksonville Pastors Say Idea Working

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Maraghy, Times-Union staff writer

In a Jacksonville church hall, a dozen teenage boys stood on skateboards, then attempted to flip the boards 360 degrees with their toes.

The Rev. Al Force, youth pastor at Oceanway Assembly of God, seemed oblivious to the noisy boys who occasionally fell and shouted "runaway board!"

One of the boys was 12-year-old Ryan Willey, who said he had little interest in church until he discovered "skate church" at Oceanway.

Skate church is a growing trend in Jacksonville and across the country.

Churches have set up skateboard ramps and rails on their campuses to attract teenage skateboarders who are often frowned upon -- and sometimes fined by police -- for practicing their hobby. The catch is that they must attend a church service before or after skating.

That often means a church filled with sweaty young men in baggy calf-length shorts and a pile of skateboards stacked against a wall.

"You can smell the atmosphere," Force said, laughing.

Mark Whiteley, editor of an international skateboarding magazine called Slap, said he's not a fan.

"I'm pretty sketched out by the idea of trying to subliminally force-feed impressionable kids religion as a chaser to skateboarding," he said. "But . . . to each their own."

Jacksonville pastors say the idea is working.

At Oceanway, more than 100 teens are showing up on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for 7 p.m. services featuring Christian rock music, dramas and messages geared toward young people.

"We tell them we love them, God has a plan for them and wants the best for their lives," Force said.

Churches generally require parents to sign notarized liability waivers. Some churches have notaries standing by. Some provide helmets and pads. In-line skaters and girls are welcome, but mainly the ministries have drawn skateboard-toting males age 12 to 20.

"We are seeing an explosion of youth," said Oceanway's senior pastor, the Rev. Danny Baggett. "We have seen numerous kids give their hearts to the Lord since we started this."

Ryan, who lives on the Northside, is one of them. …

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