It’s called a “Rally,” not a worship service; there’s no choir and hymns; what you’ll see is lots of leather, tattoos and a band playing modern tunes.
As pastor Chuck Pearce is apt to say: “This ain’t nothing like your mama’s church.”
And yet the only Freedom Biker Church in Canada, which launched in 2011, has taken compassion and acceptance to a level some churches would shy away from. The idea is to provide a space that is comfortable to people who may find themselves on the fringes – those fighting demons, both internal and external, whether it be drugs, prostitution, a former gang life or other disreputable behaviour.
“We attract lots of people who’d never go into a regular church,” Pearce says.
The base of the church is people who love to ride motorcycles, he says, but anyone is welcome. The Deaf Riders, a group of deaf motorcycle enthusiasts including some women, were part of the church’s recent travels through BC and Alberta.
“We have members from your average person in the street to the hardcore person with tattoos,” Pearce says.
The church accepts and encourages people to join who have just left prison, for instance. The goal is not to pass judgment, Pearce says, but to show the love of God through their actions.
“If people don’t feel accepted they won’t want to hear the gospel,” he says.
Some 20 riders passed through Valemount July 25th during a seven day, 3,500 kilometer ride throughout B.C. and eastern Alberta, on their inaugural Recovery Ride. It was an opportunity for them to visit recovery centres across Western Canada as well as to raise awareness for the importance of recovery programs.
Many of the riders on the trip successfully completed recovery programs and are in the process of reintegrating back into society. One third of their church has come out of recovery. The church is not set up to provide recovery services, but acts as a referral agent to point people in the right direction.
“It’s a reality in every community we pass through,” Pearce says.
There are no recovery or detox centres in the Robson Valley, though the Robson Valley Support Society and private counsellors offer counselling services and referrals. There are also AA groups that sometimes meet.
Vancouver’s Nightshift Ministries was along for the Recovery Ride to promote recovery centres in BC, like its new 600 acre Care village in Fort St. John.
The Care Village is a 1-2 year program for people in recovery from addictions, and Nightshift Ministries founder and President Mary-Anne Connor says they won’t turn anyone away right now – even those with limited financial means.
The Care Village will teach lifes skills, farming, carpentry, and is intended to be self-sustaining and give those in recovery an opportunity to develop new skills before heading out into the world.
“They’re not booting them out with a knapsack and saying, ‘Have a nice life,’” Pearce says. “There’s people who need to be in long-term recovery.”
Pearce says he and other church leaders are trying to fill in the gaps where services are lacking in Vancouver. The referral service for recovery centres is just one thing they do.
He says even people who look like they are ok, may be in need.
“You look at people on the outside and don’t think anything’s wrong,” he says. “But many just live in a hopeless state.”
“If you’ve got an addiction you’re almost in the majority. It’s an opportunity to admit that and get your life back.”
Pearce is a firm believer in faith-based recovery. He says the relapse rate is much lower. They never take healing or recovery into their own hands, however. They will phone local agencies and refer the person to support.
The Surrey-based church has grown to about 125 members, with about 75 regular attendees.
Ron Szoczei, one of the church members on the Recovery Ride, says this church is far different from the usual one.
“I’m not a fan of organizations, I’m not a church guy, but I admire the work they are doing and I want to support the care village.”
Pearce says 40-50 people have accepted Christ and got off addictions – people who had never been to a church before.
While the church is not associated with any motorcycle clubs, Pearce says the biker church has been accepted by many motorcycle clubs and organizations in the province. He was careful how he phrasesd things.
“It’s a tightly controlled world,” he says.
He has received threats – one time a pile of horse dung was left near his vehicle. When he is threatened he repeats Psalm 34:7 aloud. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”
“The day our church shows any aggression, we’re done. We simply won’t compromise on that,” he adds.
A dozen freedom biker churches exist in the US, but the church in Surrey is the first in Canada.
It was after Pearce was arrested and sat in jail overnight that he got the idea to devote his life to serving others. He says he was never compassionate; now he speaks of his unbelievable compassion for others. He was very judgmental, but he says God changed that.
“I’m 180 degrees from 7-8 years ago. I will do this as long as I’m able and God wants.”