By Michael Goldstein
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By LA Weekly
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Zeichner says he wasn't the only one to see the skateboard ramp activities as a positive element for the church and youths. He says it also created a bridge between generations. "Elders embraced those kids. It took them a while. They said they were noisy. But then they said, 'If we don't do this, who's going to do this?' "
One such elder, Weeks, is well aware of the rift between Ogbonnaya and Anderson, and the shutting-out of the teens in Pine's youth program. "I'm a little unhappy with both groups — neither one wants to give in to anything," Weeks says. "But I happen to be on the side of the teens. I have missed their involvement since they all pulled out."
Farnum believes the pastor and church leaders should focus on what's at stake with the kids, and worry less about protecting church rules and adult egos. "There's always politics in church — that will never change," he says, "but I question the motivation of the people who want to stop a program that has been really helpful."
The youth were working on "becoming better human beings and now we want to stifle them," Farnum says.
The church's treatment of its youth members may eventually blow back on the Venice United Methodist Church in a bigger way.
According to a 2010 Gallup Poll, while 53 percent of self-reporting churchgoers are 65 and older, only 35 percent are in the 18- to 29-year-old demographic.
"If we take the youth out of the church, the church is dead," Farnum says. "As people age, who's coming behind them?"
The 18-year-old Alvarez strongly agrees. "There are millions of churches that are hurting because they want youth in church — I know this from experience, I've been to churches where there are no youth."
United Methodist's rigidity has left Pine baffled. "Removing the youth, how could you do that? Don't churches want more youth? This generation — everyone's doing drugs. They don't know who they are yet."
On Sunday, Dec. 12, Ogbonnaya sounded like a man who believes in understanding, telling his small congregation: "The fact that you messed up is not surprising to God. ... I expect divine mercy from God. ... God sees what I can become."
But the young men and boys locked out by Ogbonnaya say the pastor has not treated them with such understanding.
"We can't go back now," Alvarez says. They'll continue meeting and talking about their faith in the dark parking lot at night.
"Now we're outside the church walls," Pine says, "praising Jesus, singing songs, reading the Bible. We don't really need the sanctuary. The church is the people. We're the true church."
Reach the writer at email@example.com.
*This version corrects the initial misstating of the time elapsed since the birth of Christ.
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