In an unremarkable neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, there is a sort of high holy site for skateboarders, quad skaters, and bmx riders. It draws famous skaters, neighborhood kids, and everyone in-between and offers them a Sanctuary.
The building once known as St. Liborius Catholic Church has, since 2012, taken on a new name: Sk8 Liborius. After spending decades shuttered, it was bought by some local STL skaters who spent years transforming it into an indoor skate park, while preserving as much of the old building as possible.
Sk8 Liborius became both a community hub for the skater, punk, and alternative scene in North St. Louis, as well as a pilgrimage site for traveling skaters. After all, it’s not often wiping out skating and landing flat on your back means staring up at stunning Gothic arches.
This kind of organic, community-driven reimagining of what church could be is exactly what Ministry Incubators is about. In her essay about Sk8 Liborius for the New York Times, board member Rachel Chapman says,
Trying to develop a skate park inside a massive church was never a part of my five-, 10- or any-year plan. But I fell in love with the idea of giving a new generation of St. Louis kids a spectacular place where they would be welcome and where no one would ever shoo them away.Rachel Chapman
A place where no one would ever shoo them away.
Then Jesus called them to [the disciples] and said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.”Luke 18:16-17
Skaters are known for a sort of punk, anti-establishment ethos, but somehow, in their disregard for the expectations of what a place should do, they made it exactly what it was meant to be: a sanctuary. A place of safety, community, and belonging for those who aren’t welcome in the halls of power.
Joss Hay, one of the owners of Sk8 Liborius, tells the story of some of the nuns who once served at the church coming to visit, and after looking around turning to him and saying,
“Underserved urban youth — that’s your congregation then.”
The thought stuck with the non-religious Hay, and Sk8 Liborius eventually filed for 501(c)(3) status and expanded into the Liborius Urban Art Studios, with plans of continuing to build educational opportunities, studio space, and more.
The team was working on bringing the old church up to code and ADA compliance, so that it could be insured, when a massive four-alarm fire set the building, and parts of the neighborhood, up in flames earlier this summer.
The damage is extensive, and since they hadn’t been able to make the updates needed o qualify for insurance before the fire, the team is still unsure how they will proceed and how much of the building can be saved. But they are using their platform now to funnel money into immediate assistance for their devastated community, and in their words,
“The church may be gone but our community stands.”
For all of us who lead our organizations on the brink of a seismic shift in what churches look like, we have a lot to learn from Sk8 Liborius’s example.
We at Ministry Incubators have been inspired by their story, and many of our team have been moved to help. We invite you to do the same, offering prayers and donations to this community as we strive to create what they had in our own communities.