The Blue Hairs

Day 13/30

While in seminary we served Bardstown First United Methodist, a beautiful and historic downtown church, in a small town that was just as beautiful and historic. In the summer busses parked by the courthouse spilled retirees onto the sidewalks to see the tavern where Abraham Lincoln passed the time and to invade the antique stores. On rainy days the air was thick with the smell of sour mash and bourbon aging in charred oak barrels stacked in rickhouses around town.

We were located just one block off the main street, landlocked by historic buildings on one side and historic homes on the other. And over the years, as the church grew, the parking lot shrunk… to just five spaces.

Every afternoon several high schoolers rode the bus to a nearby elementary school. From there they rolled out on skateboards to terrorize unsuspecting senior citizens and local sidewalks.

Around my second year Sam started attending youth. Sam wasn’t new to church. She and her dad, of the same name and ilk, came every Sunday morning. And in our church sea of golf shirts and sundresses, their jeans and t-shirts set them apart. I loved them both immediately.

Shortly thereafter I met Kit, a skater turned youth pastor from Texas, in one of my classes. He was a jump first, ask questions later kind of guy. We connected instantly.

In short order Sam began asking me how we could reach out to the infestation of skaters roaming the city streets. Many of them were her people. So the three of us put together a plan to build ramps that could be stored inside and brought out into our five-car parking lot on Wednesday afternoons before pot-luck supper.

The church and insurance agent signed off on it. Poor fools.

So Sam told some of her friends and one day we built the ramps. We built two quarter-pipes that had wheels on the backside in order to be stood up and rolled into place, a mini launch ramp and a grind box. (That’s skater lingo.)

Within two weeks we had more students than our church parking lot could hold and way more than our adults could keep up with. Of course, when I say adults, I mean just me. Church members were gracious in giving up their parking spaces, but were a bit afraid of this new breed of teens with unfamiliar hair colors. I remember acting as a crossing guard stopping the skater traffic for little old ladies to cross with their Corningware dishes of broccoli casserole.

Sam’s dad, as you might guess, was the first to volunteer as a chaperone. In fact I don’t think he formally volunteered. He just saw me drowning in a parking lot of black jeans and Slipknot t-shirts and decided to help.

The church was in a constant struggle between genuinely loving non-churchy kids and just how much dirty language and underage smoking is acceptable in our parking lot.

I almost always advocated for the teens, perhaps to a fault. But I had learned some of their stories. And some of their stories sucked. Not all. But just like everyone else, they were looking for a place to belong.

Some time during all of this, Kit came on as an intern for one or two semesters. He provided instant street cred, in the fact that he owned a skateboard and knew what to do with it. I wasn’t afraid to try, but looking like a duck on a frozen pond doesn’t buy much standing. Kit and I were able to build relationships with kids and before long we had many of them hanging around for pot-luck and even Bible study afterwards.

That winter we took a few of them to a Winter Retreat. Next thing you know, I had students asking me how to follow Jesus and wanting to get baptized. So, a few weeks later four students who would never have graced the doors of our high church were baptized at the altar, wearing their wallets on chains and 00 gauge plugs in their ears. Only two of them wore their natural hair color. After the service, as was custom at our church, the members came down to the altar to welcome our new initiates.

It struck me as I watched that we’re not all that different.

It’s just for different reasons that our hair is blue.

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