Patricia Storms laced up her skates and headed out to the roller rink to the beat of loud music. A first-time visitor might have thought the rock 'n' roll was the mellow sort heard on certain radio stations. But this was Christian Fellowship Night, and it was contemporary Christian music that came over the loudspeakers.
On Monday nights at Northridge Skateland and Friday nights at nearby Sherman Square Roller Rink, skaters from all over the San Fernando Valley and beyond join like-minded people for an evening of fun in a "Christian atmosphere."
"The atmosphere is mellow, not rowdy or wild," said Traci Roach, 19, who car-pooled from Burbank last week with seven other members of Calvary Open Bible Church's college-youth group.
Victoria Benavides, 18, with the same group, had only been to this location once before, though she used to attend similar sessions at a rink in Oxnard when she lived there. "It keeps us from worldly things," she said. "I wouldn't feel right if I came to skate on another night."
Started With Organ Music
Christian roller-skating is not entirely new, nor is it limited to the Valley. For about 10 years, rinks around the country have attempted to attract skaters by playing one form or another of Christian music. Previously, this was limited to organ music and traditional songs. The nationwide boom in contemporary Christian music has changed this.
"It's no longer the 'Amazing Grace' and 'Rock of Ages' syndrome," said Kris Stevens, program director for WCFL in Chicago. With 50,000 watts, WCFL is the most powerful Christian radio station in the country. It covers six states in the daytime, and 26 states and half of Canada at night.
Motivated By Requests
Stevens has been involved in Chicago Christian radio for seven years. Since he began getting four or five requests a day to play his music at local roller rinks, he started Christian Skate U.S.A.
The company sells a package to rink owners consisting of contemporary Christian music on tape and instruction on how to approach churches in their area to promote Christian skating night.
"With this program, rink owners in many cases have been able to increase their attendance to 300 a night," Stevens maintains. "Many Christians don't feel comfortable attending most of the movies playing at neighborhood theaters. They are looking for an alternative to discos, and they don't go to the bar on the corner."
Attendance at the Christian skating nights varies seasonally. In the summer, according to Dave Fleming, who owns Skateland with his brother Mike, the rink gets 250 to 300 skaters per night, including families with children of all ages.
Once school starts in the fall, attendance at Skateland drops to about 75, except for an upswing at Christmas, and consists largely of young adults and singles age 16 to 29.
At Sherman Square Roller Rink, Friday night attendance hovers around 125 year-round, including a number of children.
According to Mike Fleming, there are about 3,400 roller-skating rinks in the United States. About half of those are members of the Roller Skating Rink Operators of America. Fleming, who is on the trade association board, estimates that two-thirds of the rinks in the country have some form of Christian or gospel session. He has instituted such sessions at Holiday Skate Center, the Orange County rink he and his wife, Robbin, own.
'An Electric Feeling'
"The music is upbeat," Fleming said. "The people come knowing they're going to have a good time. It has an electric feeling."
Music is the key to the popularity of Christian nights, and both Skateland and Sherman Square have disc jockeys who bring their own collections of Christian contemporary music to the rinks.
Skateland's Kellie Winslow, 25, of Van Nuys used to skate there and learned the job from the previous deejay. Winslow, who owns about 100 albums, also works at a Christian record company, Sparrow Records of Chatsworth.
According to Winslow, among the most popular artists and groups are Stryper, Steve Taylor (who used to be a youth pastor), Bryan Duncan, Deniece Williams, Amy Grant, White Heart and Russ Taff. Two of the songs frequently requested by skaters are "I Get Carried Away" by Morgan Cryar and "Your Kindness" by Leslie Phillips.
After playing a video by Steve Taylor that could have been mistaken for one of David Bowie's, Winslow smiled and said, "People think Christians are all stiff and strait-laced. If you're really a Christian, the love of the Lord is what you want to portray to people."
Winslow said many of these popular Christian singers were previously involved in mainstream rock music before they became serious about religion. "That's why Christian music has gotten a lot better over the years," she said.