Church celebrates 10 years of ministry to bikers



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Church celebrates 10 years of ministry to bikers

By Mary Lee Downey | May 8, 2009 {1016}

ORLANDO, Fla. — Hundreds of motorcycles lined the parking lot, and event tents stretched across the green lawn of the church campus.

Rodney Edwards displays his motorcycle and biking insignia. Photo by Mary Downey. Photo #09-1173.

Add the mix of worshippers inside the sanctuary wearing suits and dresses and leather jackets and spiked riding boots and it was pretty obvious this particular Sunday morning at Peace United Methodist Church was no ordinary one.

The church was celebrating a decade of ministry to bikers across Central Florida with its 10th annual Biker Sunday.

George Duktig was among the 1,200-plus bikers church leaders estimate visited the church that Sunday earlier this year. He rode from Ocala, Fla., he said, to be a presence and support the Christian Motorcycle Association. He has been riding for 22 years, and that Sunday was his first visit to the church.

“I’m loving it, and I’m having a great time,” he said. “Both sides of the party are here; the fields are ready for picking.”

Rodney Edwards rode from Cocoa Beach, Fla., with Buffalo Soldiers, another Christian organization whose members combine Christian evangelism with their love of motorcycles. “We all wanted to come out and fellowship with other bike organizations,” he said. 

Then there were bikers like Suzy Q (who asked that her real name not be used) from Mt. Dora, Fla. Although she doesn’t belong to a Christian group, she said she didn’t mind the event being held at a church.

“We enjoy all the activity that goes on here,” she said. “It’s a nice event; I like it.”

That activity began at 9:30 a.m. with worship and continued into the afternoon with a free lunch, bike and stunt shows, precision drill team demonstration, bike blessing, games, and door prizes. Prayer rooms and prayer partners were also available for those who wanted to pray.

The idea for the Sunday originated with Mitch and Rhonda Edwards. The two have attended Peace United Methodist Church for 14 years; they’ve been involved with motorcycling even longer. They said they loved attending biker events as a couple and felt having a Christian biker event might benefit other bikers. 

Mitch Edwards looks over the crowd of motorcycle riders. Photo by Mary Downey. Photo #09-1174.

“We really felt a need to do something to open up our church to a biker ministry and invite our friends that we ministered a lot to on the weekends to come to our church,” Mitch said. 

That first Biker Sunday was just a small barbecue with a few games, the couple said. They wanted to see how the congregation would react to the special event.

“The congregation just blew us away,” Mitch said. “We sold them short on how they would handle the leather-clad, big bad biker persona coming in, but the church welcomed them with open arms.”

Even after that first experience the two say they were hesitant about organizing another Biker Sunday. They suggested it might not be a good idea, but Mitch said the church “had taken ownership of the event” and wanted to continue with it.

“… What started with our first event, which was a couple hundred people that we were able to witness to and pray with, (has grown to) people coming across the entire Southeast for this,” he said.

A chance to reach out

Biker Sunday isn’t just for bikers, though, according to the Rev. Ivan Corbin, senior pastor at the church. He said it’s a way for the congregation to connect with the community and practice radical hospitality — one of the five practices of The Methodist Way, a disciple-making process that’s being embraced across the denomination.

“We have been going through The Methodist Way in our sermon series … and Peace already figured that (radical hospitality) out through Biker Sunday,” he said.

Corbin said the event has helped members reach out beyond themselves, “inviting a different crowd and being wide open to them.”

This year the congregation made a more concerted effort to invite bikers living locally  and who might be more inclined than those traveling longer distances to visit again.

Hundreds of motorcycles line the parking lot. Photo by Mary Downey. Photo #09-1175.

Mitch says Biker Sunday gives members an opportunity beyond Easter and Christmas to invite people to church.

“In this day and age everyone probably has someone on their block who rides a motorcycle, and they may have never known how to talk to them before, and now they can go up and say, ‘I see you have a motorcycle, and we have this thing going on at our church, and we would love to have you come join us for the day,’ ” he said.

Biker Sunday has allowed people “to be stretched by the Lord and so far out of their comfort zone,” Mitch adds.

“There are people out there praying over the motorcycles, and if you had asked people 10 years ago how many had ever prayed with a stranger you would have had four or five hands,” he said. “Now two-thirds of the church would be able to say that they have.”

It’s just one more way members can learn to greet people with open arms and make them feel welcome at church.

“They (members) have seen the power of prayer and people come to the Lord and get spiritually supercharged,” Mitch said. “I think it makes it easier to step out of their comfort zone, and we always stress God doesn’t call the equipped — he equips the called. And we see that time and time again. It’s not us. It’s the church.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Downey is a freelance writer based in St. Cloud, Fla.




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