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'Lord, keep our bones safe as we skate'

Huntington Beach pastor and others tied to skateboarding world spread the Gospel amid skate ramps and boards at Sanctuary.

November 09, 2011|By Michael Miller
  • Kids, many of them sitting on their skateboards, listen as Aaron Morgan gives a sermon at the make-shift skateboard park set up behind the Sanctuary in Westminster, a church run by a Huntington Beach resident who used to be a pro skateboarder.
Kids, many of them sitting on their skateboards, listen… (STEVEN GEORGES,…)

It was sundown in a mostly deserted parking lot tucked off Westminster Boulevard. The skateboarders had stopped, as they do every Thursday, to listen to the man with the Bible.

A single lamppost shone over the makeshift skate park, where ramps and wooden ledges sporting the words Gravity Youth covered the parking spaces. Two dozen or so skateboards littered the ground as their riders sat on the curb. Above them, Aaron Morgan held the book open on his left hand and asked how many people had come for the first time.

One hand shot up.

"All right, guys," Morgan said. "This is skate church, so whether you like it or not, I'm going to preach the word of God to you."

A stack of pizza boxes sat at the end of the curb, but Morgan made it clear they wouldn't be opened until he finished speaking. As the sky went from hazy to dark, Morgan, the youth leader at the Sanctuary in Westminster, held forth about hypocrisy, free will, Jesus' sacrifice and the perils of apathy.

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Morgan guessed that most of the teenagers were congregation members of the Sanctuary, a church with heavy ties to the skateboarding world. Some, he admitted before the speech, may have just come for the skate park — and he would welcome more. At one point, he told each of the boys to bring a friend the next time he attended.

The sermon ended after a few minutes, and Morgan blessed the food. In the middle of his prayer, he gave God a specific request: "Lord, keep our bones safe as we skate."

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Christ over cocaine

As the pizza disappeared and a few riders returned to their boards, Senior Pastor Jay Haizlip stood on the curb and watched his endeavor expand — another Thursday evening, another convert.

Haizlip, a Huntington Beach resident and former professional skateboarder, founded the Sanctuary in Huntington in 2002. He is quick to note that his project is not a "skateboarding church." The staff boasts three current or former professional skateboarders among its pastors, and it uses events like the Thursday skate park to attract youth.

But Haizlip is mostly intent on spreading the Gospel, and if it takes a few ramps and boards to entice people inside the church, he'll do it.

"Wherever I go, I don't hang up my Christianity in the closet and go skateboard and when I'm done skateboarding, put my Christianity back on," he said. "I'm just who I am."

It was an identity that came hard.

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