As an individual piece of journalism, last week’s Washington Post article on how a church is using a skateboarding park to share the message of the gospel is excellent. Its appropriately edgy style is matched by a straightforward accounting of the facts and a description of an hour or two spent observing the high-flying action:
In their attempt, however, to enter a culture long stereotyped as countercultural, anti-establishment and breaking the rules, church members formed the skate ministry the only way they knew how: with a volunteer committee, attendance rolls and permission slips (which ask for everything from insurance numbers to food allergies).
But the teenagers came anyway.
“They’re nice people, I mean, it’s a chill place to skate and not get in trouble,” said Steve Wood, 19, a longtime skateboarder from Lusby. “I don’t necessarily agree with the whole religion thing, but my attitude is, you know, whatever gets you through the day.”
Showalter is quick to acknowledge that he doesn’t know the first thing about skateboarding. He tries to relate to the kids, however, in appearance — wearing a crucifix stud in his left ear, a gold chain with a cross and a loud T-shirt that says, “Xtreme Faith.” He plays “edgy” Christian music while the teenagers take turns speeding up the ramp and into gravity-defying tricks.
Many of the boys said they are not regular churchgoers. The price of admission to this makeshift skate park is a five-minute sermon during a water break.
I think the Post missed an excellent opportunity to tell a much bigger story. There’s nothing unique about a church using athletics to reach young people. As a kid raised in Hoosier Land, I tagged along with my father in a program that had a slogan: “No Bible, No Basketball.”
So what’s so special about a program that attracts 40 kids on a good day to a skate park in a small community of 1,666 in southern Maryland? Are there not programs like that in D.C.’s churches? Maybe there aren’t, but as a resident of the District, I would like to know. Consider this the mirror image of tmatt’s recent problem with the Baltimore Sun.
While the Lusby, Md., setting is a fine hook for a look at how churches use sports to reach out to kids, reporter William Wan (or his editors) did not feel the need to dig into the story, which is why it ended up on page 11 of the metro section.
p.s. Next to the article, the Post asks readers to submit 400-word versions of how a time of crisis tested your faith, a person who influenced your beliefs or a life-changing event that shaped who you are spiritually. This sounds like the start of a good idea, and it will be interesting to see what the Post ends up doing.