Finding a place where a skateboarder is free to practice his moves isn't always easy. First United Methodist Church of Brooksville is providing an outreach ministry in hopes of meeting that need in a wholesome way.
From 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday, skaters are welcome to join their peers at Ascend Skate Ministries — "Skate Church," as it is informally called — in the lower church parking lot, near the basketball court, to skate, participate in fellowship and share pizza. They also hear a short devotional.
Bryan Wall, the church's youth director, leads the group with the help of church member Dylan Lamy, 20, a dedicated skater who has been a part of the ministry for six years. Currently, about eight to 10 skaters attend regularly. They are all teenage males, though females are welcome. Skaters have ranged in age from seventh-graders to 22.
"It's been really neat to be a part of and … growing a different kind of ministry," Wall said. "It's not really within the frame of the church. It's more about relationship building than anything else. It kind of sets it apart."
Wall would like to attract both churched and unchurched teens to the social event.
"Whatever that might bring in, it brings in," he said. "We want to be open to providing a place where the kids can be. We hope to be a place where they can feel encouraged — where we can pray with them and show them that even in the church you can have a place where it's fun and have good relationships."
The Skate Church provides an opportunity to connect with kids of various backgrounds.
"There's always a stereotype that people have about kids that are skating," Wall said. "Some come from broken homes or just backgrounds that are a little difficult. Some of them had been wrapped up in doing drugs or whatever. But not all those students are from that background. Some, including our core group, attend other churches as well. So it's a neat mix of people that we have at the Skate Church."
The ultimate goal is to introduce them to Christ.
"This is a place where we want to be able to laugh, enjoy each other's company and just be able to show them that there is hope in Jesus and joy in being involved in the church," Wall said.
There are some basic rules for the skaters, such as not smoking and not using profanity. And Wall has begun tightening up the basic structure of the program.
"We go over key issues that are relevant to teenagers and what they're going through in their lives and different things that the Bible teaches about things like good morals," he said. "We do hope that some of the students would be integrated into the youth ministry that we have actively going at our church."
The skateboarding ministry was started in 2003 by Andy Zipperer, who is currently the church's praise band worship leader, and revitalized a few years later by youth director Jeff Wisniewski.
Lamy began attending at that time and grew in his skateboarding skills, later becoming more involved in the ministry. Currently, he takes turns with Wall presenting the devotional part of the ministry.
"I really enjoy Skate Church," said Lamy, a student at Pasco-Hernando Community College. "It's a good outreach for me and for the youth in Brooksville. We can all skate in a safe place and not get in trouble for skating where we're not allowed. Over the years, I've made a lot of new friends, and I've never had any negative feedback."
While skaters — or their parents if they're minors — must sign a release/permission form to participate, Lamy said no one has been injured while skateboarding during the activity.
The ministry took on a fresh look recently when men from the church rebuilt the ramps, rails and boxes used by the skaters.
"Usually, the students set it up however they feel," Wall said. "Different guys have different types of skate styles, so they'll set it up and everyone will take a jump, and then they'll switch it up to something else."
Tyler Hicks, a 17-year-old Hernando High School student who attends Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church, has been attending Skate Church for the past three years.
"It's fun to hang out with friends that like the same sport and talk about Jesus," Hicks said.
With several years of experience, Hicks enjoys teaching skateboarding tricks to "newbies."
"One move, probably the first one you learn, is an Ollie," Hicks said, referring to a trick where the rider and board leap into the air without the use of the rider's hands.
Hicks' advice to those thinking about learning: "Come and hang out with us. You'll have fun, and we're giving a positive message."
"If you want a good, positive place to go and make new friends, you should come," he said. "It's worth it."