Jono is a member of Skate Church, a West Seattle congregation that hosts youth-focused events ranging from skateboarding to rock concerts to paintball excursions. “We believe having fun is not a sin,” says 20-year-old Pastor Brennan Pebbles, when asked what makes Skate Church different from most youth groups today.
After bouncing from space to space for about five years in search of a place that would play host to their youthful vision, Skate Church’s founding pastor, Serena Wastman (a parent of one of the youth congregants), hooked up with the open-minded Foursquare denomination, which agreed to help the congregation find a permanent home. Foursquare, which was founded by Aimee Semple McPherson in 1923, has a fairly tolerant faith doctrine, and church planting and missionary work are among its foremost goals.
On June 22, TORN opened its doors on California Avenue, selling skateboarding products at discount prices, thanks in no small part to the church’s nonprofit status and all-volunteer staff. Here, name-brand skate decks go for up to $20 less than at the store’s secular counterparts, and flyers advertise TORN as the best place for candy and energy drinks because the shop is “cheaper than 7-11…closer than Safeway.”
“When I first walked in [to Skate Church], a bunch of different people were playing music,” says 14-year-old Nicole Roberts. “Normally you think of church as a bunch of old people in pews, wearing their Sunday best, but you don’t have to be that here; you just have to be normal.”
Like the handful of churches that are experiencing youthful population growth right now, Skate Church is giving teens what they want: life answers, an accepting peer group, and plenty of energy drinks to boot. Says 16-year-old member Chris Redman, “When we started thinking about starting a church, skating was just starting to blow up, and we thought…kids will just, like, flock to us.”
If this sounds like a church only a teenager could dream of, that’s because it is. But while their alternative looks may suggest the sort of open-minded beliefs usually associated with the skating scene, chip away to Skate Church’s conservative ideological core, and the whole pierced-eyebrow facade begins to look a lot like a classic bait and switch.