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Hip-hop ministry's flip side: skating

Crossover Community Church forms a skateboarding ministry and draws up plans for a skate park.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003

Elcin Lewis and brothers Chris and Jonathan Zamora arrived at church on a recent Thursday night with their skateboards in tow.

It's the first time the young skaters have attended services at Crossover Community Church, Tampa's most unconventional house of worship, and they couldn't wait to pop ollies off the newly built mini ramp.

"My mom thinks it's a good idea for us to come here," said 12-year-old Chris Zamora. "We can listen to God's word and then skateboard."

The Christian hip-hop church is now targeting a new slice of urban youth culture through its recently formed skateboarding ministry.

Mark Jannetta, the 23-year-old skater from Aylesbury, England, who promotes the ministry, is offering lessons for beginners and he plans on forming a team of Christian skaters.

He's looking for sponsors to build an elaborate skate park made up of ramps, rails, flat banks, and quarter pipes behind the church.

Eventually, Jannetta said, he hopes the skate park will attract enough skaters to begin offering a nightly service for them similar to Thursday night's Hip-Hop Youth Service.

He and Crossover's pastor, the Rev. Tommy Kyllonen, have discussed opening up a skate shop on church grounds stocked with their own brand of skateboarding products. They would like to market their own skateboarding videos, as well, in much the same way rappers who are affiliated with Crossover produce their CDs under the church's Christian hip-hop label, Flavor Alliance.

"Many skateboarders are oblivious to God," Jannetta said. "For a lot of skaters, skating is their God. I just want to open their eyes and make them see they're not so far away. I want to show them there's more to life."

Jannetta received his religious calling in a dream while in England after he lost his job in construction.

"I was living for myself so I decided to change my life and began to seek God first," he said. He gave up material possessions and volunteered his services at a homeless charity for a year. Then he heard the Rev. Bill Wolfson preach in England. For Jannetta it was a turning point.

"He was real and blunt," Jannetta said.

So Jannetta followed the famous pastor to New York, where he started a four-month internship at Metro Ministries, a children's Sunday school ministry in Brooklyn public housing.

It became a staff position for the next three years. Last year, Jannetta met Kyllonen, a nationally recorded Christian rapper known as Urban Disciple, in New York through Jim Dell, a mutual friend.

Jannetta talked to Kyllonen about an idea he had for forming a skateboarding ministry. Kyllonen, who founded Crossover's youth ministry in 1996 with only four teenagers, liked it so much he invited Jannetta to Crossover.

Jannetta visited twice, last December and in July, before moving to Tampa.

"I thought it was amazing," Jannetta said. "You can just come as you are."

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