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At Williamsport church, a positive spin on authority

BMX/Skate Nights a way to reach out to youth

BMX/Skate Nights a way to reach out to youth

April 14, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

Between catching air on the half-pipe and practicing grinds on the rail, a group of local skaters and BMX riders gave their wheels a rest Sunday to listen to Pastor Todd Stroud talk about God.

Stroud began his message by offering one of the guys a Mountain Dew. Then, he asked a question that elicited looks of disgust: Would you still want it if I spit in it? Why not? It's just that one little drop in a whole can of otherwise good soda ...

Soon, the New Hope Alliance Church pastor turned the offer into a metaphor for sin and forgiveness, and five of the skaters and bikers expressed interest in starting Bible study classes.

That's part of the mission of New Hope Alliance's weekly BMX/Skate Nights, which the church began hosting in its Williamsport parking lot two years ago, Stroud said.

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"The whole idea is, this is a group of people that we would not normally have an opportunity to share Christ with," Stroud said.

The event, which was attended primarily by Williamsport teenagers in previous years, attracted a record crowd of 17 BMX riders and skateboarders from throughout Washington County at this season's kickoff Sunday, Stroud said.

To attract more people, organizers decided to hold the skate nights in the spring this year, rather than in the summer when many students go on vacation, Stroud said. Also, the church advertised this year's BMX/Skate nights with fliers in several county schools, Stroud said.

Sunday's crowd was made up primarily of BMX riders, who say finding places to practice tricks on the small stunt bikes is even more difficult than finding legal places to ride skateboards.

Even the skateboard park in Fairgrounds Park is off-limits to BMX bikes, said Tony Shumaker, 36, a BMX rider from Hagerstown who carpools to a skate park in Elkridge, Md., about an hour and 15 minutes away, about twice a week.

Shumaker said he doesn't understand the aversion to the bikes.

"For years I've been told we go too fast, but we have brakes and skaters don't," he said.

BMX rider Dustin Bowers, 16, of Halfway, said he and his friends were happy to have a legal place to ride each Sunday relatively close to home.

"Last night we got kicked out of two places," he said.

Ed Maliskas, associate pastor at New Hope Alliance, said the strict enforcement of anti-skateboarding and biking ordinances can wear on teenagers.

"I just remember as a kid that sometimes when authority is used unnecessarily, you begen to resent authority," Maliskas said.

Sometimes church gets viewed as one of those authoritarian institutions, so embracing something positive like skateboarding and biking is one way for the church to reach out to youth and show it isn't out to misuse authority, he said.

The BMX/Skate nights will continue each Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. through June 8 at 300 S. Artizan St. and are open to anyone 11 to 18 years old, Stroud said. Participants must bring a signed medical release form and wear helmets, he said.

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