Heaven on Wheels

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Gary Davis had a place for his parish, and soon he had a name. A friend of his had started a biker church in Phoenix in 1989, which he called Church in the Wind. After that church shut down in 1995, Gary adopted the name for his own ministry. On November 1, 1996, Denver's Church in the Wind held its first service.

Gary couldn't have established the church without Rick Ferguson's enthusiastic support. "If I ran into a struggle or a problem, Rick would see me immediately," he says. "We miss him greatly."

This past July, Ferguson and his family were heading to Missouri for a nephew's graduation when a tire blew out on their car. Rick's son, who was driving, escaped with minor injuries, as did Rick's wife. But the pastor died almost immediately.

Today, several church leaders are splitting Ferguson's duties at Riverside Baptist, and a committee has just been assembled to search for his successor. In the meantime, though, his efforts to reach out to diverse communities have continued. There are now close to thirty satellite churches that Riverside has either partnered with or helped start, including a Vietnamese church, a Romanian church and an Indonesian church.

And subsets are growing out of the subsets. Gary has helped bikers start Church in the Wind ministries in seven other cities: Tyler, Texas; Midland, Texas; Longview, Texas; Lindale, Texas; Farmington, New Mexico; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Kansas City, Kansas. Many of the bikers in those congregations had heard about Denver's Church in the Wind through Southern Baptist newsletters or word of mouth; Gary aided them in choosing pastors and offered tips on how to approach hard-core bikers. Gary is now talking to bikers in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, California, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania about founding more churches.

Gary's church is part of a national trend in biker ministries, according to Rudy "Rude Dog" Ward, past president of Disciples of Thunder, a Thornton-based motorcycle ministry that's been around for eight years. "I've seen a lot of growth in the last three years," Rudy says. "When I went to Hollister, California, this year for their annual bike rally, I saw fourteen different Christian motorcycle groups represented and only three regular clubs."

Several biker fellowships have Colorado connections, including Disciples of Jerusalem, Soldiers of Jesus and the Christian Motorcycle Association. Around the country, there are more groups: the Tribe of Judah, the Ugly Christian Bikers Association, Bikers for Christ, the Sons of God Motorcycle Ministry and the Canada-based International Christian Bikers Association, whose motto is "Reaching the Seemingly Unreachable."

Other than that chilly reception in Sturgis over eight years ago, non-Christian bikers have been accepting of their more devout brethren.

There are 110,000 registered motorcycles in Colorado today and about thirty non-Christian clubs. "We do our thing and they do theirs, and it works fantastically," says Bandido Wild Bill, a twenty-year member of the Bandidos, president of the Colorado Confederation of Clubs and manager of Bobo's Bar and Grill.

"We very rarely see Christian groups preaching; it's not like they're on a membership drive. They're like, 'Here's what we believe, and you're welcome to join.' I'm not going to try to turn them into bad guys, and they're not going to try to turn us into church-goers," says Bill, adding that Christians are a common sight at biker events these days. "I remember seeing Christian bikers for the first time twenty years ago, and it was kind of weird."

At first, Bill admits, a lot of bikers didn't regard Christian motorcyclists as true clubbers. But as the number of Christian riders has grown, they've all learned to co-exist. "It's becoming more accepted as religion relaxes its grip on everyone," Bill says. "They're not going to come to the clubhouse and get drunk with us, but otherwise they're just like me. I mean, the reason we're all here is because we love motorcycling."

Even though Disciples of Thunder is a ministry rather than a club, Rudy says it's treated like a club by other bikers and is invited to local biker events as well as other biker clubhouses. And like any other biker club, Disciples have membership requirements. Being a Christian and riding a bike isn't enough: New members have to earn their patch -- although through initiation rites that are much more seemly than standard biker practices. Newcomers go through a six-month prospect period during which they must demonstrate servitude. For example, if would-be Disciples are hanging out at the Bandidos' clubhouse, they should ask their hosts if they can get them anything to drink.

Like Gary, Rudy spends time at bars if that's where his flock leads him. "If someone pulls out a joint, I don't tell them not to smoke it; I'm not there to condemn. We don't push our beliefs; we show by example. I don't drink, smoke or do drugs," he says. "We'll say prayers while we're eating, and it doesn't bug them. And sometimes, brothers who aren't Christian will come to us in private and ask us to pray for them when things aren't going well in their lives.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon