Churches look to host indoor skate park for LGBTTQ+ community
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It was in mid-December, last year, a few weeks after the story broke about queer skateboarders not feeling safe using the Youth for Christ indoor skate park. That’s when I sent a whimsical note to Geoff Woodcroft, Bishop of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.
While researching the story, I learned about Anglican churches in Great Britain that were responding to the needs of the skateboard community by converting unused church buildings into indoor skate parks.
That included the former chapel at the Caterham Barracks in Caterham, Surrey, and the Gloucester cathedral, which was turned into a skate park for a week by a group called Christian Skaters.
It was after seeing those stories that I sent a note to Woodcroft.
“Got an old church in Winnipeg that might be suitable?” I asked him, sending him some links.
“We are looking into possibilities presently,” Woodcroft replied.
I was taken aback. “Really?” I responded. “If that’s the case, I want to tell that story!”
Here’s that story.
The idea was proposed by Caleb Elias, who attends St. Margaret’s Anglican Church. For 15 years, Elias was involved with The Edge, the Youth for Christ indoor skate park, including as director. He resigned in 2022 for various reasons, including that organization’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
Elias wondered if some of the churches in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land might be open to hosting an indoor skate park in their parish halls. Woodcroft thought it was a great idea.
As for why he was open to it, “We have buildings that aren’t being fully used,” Woodcroft said. He added he saw this as “an opportunity to promote healing” between the church and the queer skateboarding community, and to be “good neighbours.”
It would also be a chance to “change the optics” of the situation for those Winnipeggers who were seeing Christianity in a bad light because of what had happened in some Christian organizations.
It also fit within the mission of the Diocese, he said, which is “to embrace LGBTTQ+ people and to honour the dignity of every human being.”
For Elias, it was not just about the queer community, as important as that was to him, “but my love for the skateboarding community as a whole,” he said. “I have a big heart for that community. I’ve seen them come alive when they are together.”
It would also be a way for queer people to see that not all churches wanted to “put barriers” in their way but wanted to make them “feel welcome,” he added.
When Woodcroft put out the call, two churches quickly said they would consider the opportunity: Holy Trinity, downtown, and St. Francis in West Kildonan.
Wayne McIntosh is the priest at St. Francis. He wanted “very much” to host an indoor skate park.
“We are an inclusive church and we believe all are welcome,” he said of the decision to consider the opportunity. “Many churches sadly have a reputation for discriminating against gay and lesbian people.”
He also saw it as a chance to show Winnipeggers that “not all churches speak the same” about whether or not to welcome LGBTTQ+ people. “We want to be an open and inviting voice,” he said.
Unfortunately, it was determined St. Francis wasn’t suitable. “We very much wanted to host it,” said McIntosh, expressing his disappointment.
Over at Holy Trinity at the corner of Donald and Graham, Rector Andrew Rampton was also hoping his church could be a suitable space.
“We have a large facility that we don’t use 24-7,” he said. “If we can make space for a skate park, why not put it to use for the betterment of the community?”
Like at St. Francis, it was ultimately determined Holy Trinity’s parish hall also wouldn’t accommodate a skate park. “It was disappointing to learn that,” Rampton said, noting the hall isn’t big enough.
But even though it didn’t work out, it’s a chance to show “a different side of the church” to the queer skateboarding community, he said. “It would be an opportunity to respond where our siblings in the faith missed.”
Maddy Nowosad is the executive director of the Manitoba Skateboard Coalition, which is actively looking for a safe indoor skating space for the local queer skateboard community.
She appreciates the efforts of Anglican churches in the community to try to accommodate them.
“By wanting to help, they amplify the discriminatory choices made by YFC,” she said, adding “it’s great to see them wanting to create safe and welcoming spaces for everyone.”
While appreciating their efforts, Nowosad — who used to skate at The Edge until she stopped feeling safe there — doesn’t think the queer community will take the diocese up on the offer.
“There are still lots of people who won’t feel comfortable in a church because of the trauma they have experienced in churches,” she said. “We would prefer a non-church affiliated space.”
Even if it won’t work out, there is still some good that comes out of it. At least members of the queer skateboard community can know if one branch of Christianity was the cause of their hurt, a different branch of the church is trying to be part of the solution.
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John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.