By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The congregation and pastors of the Rushing Wind Biker Church are a far cry from the ordinary.
Most of them arrive at the service not in button-downs or dresses, but proudly sport their cuts – that is to say, leather motorcycle vests adorned with patches and insignia – instead. Before the service, congregants chew the fat in the parking lot amid their motorcycles.
In their heavy boots and tattoos, they are anything but unfriendly, quick to welcome old friends and newcomers with equal warmth.
The service itself is led by the church’s four pastors, who in closing take up an offering in a beat-up motorcycle helmet passed reverently through the rows of worshippers.
Bikers for Christ
Rushing Wind is part of the organization Bikers for Christ, a ministry founded in 1990 that now boasts chapters in 49 states.
Rushing Wind held its first service near the end of March, its pastors – the Revs. Ronald “Tubbs” Floyd, Rob “Hotshot” Gardner, Allen “Thunder” Scott, and Marty “Kabalan” Roberts – spent nine months preparing for the job.
“We met each week and worked through the book of Acts. We prayed together and learned to lean on each other,” Gardner said. “One of the things I treasure most about this journey is that the four of us became united as brothers.”
The pastors rotate each week, and the ones not preaching take on other parts of the service, such as scripture readings and prayers. Gardner said each pastor brings a different style to his sermons, from Roberts’ explosive, humor-laden flare to Floyd’s smooth, methodical delivery.
All four of them have different backgrounds in ministry. Outside of Rushing Wind, Scott runs Thunder Heart prison ministry, Floyd has experience with youth ministry. Roberts is a veteran in the pulpit and Gardner was led to Christ through biker ministry.
“We’re out to make disciples,” Roberts said. “There are no politics, none of us get paid for this, and there is no agenda other than Jesus.”
The pastors’ reputations as bikers grant them entry into places a normal pastor might not be able to go, into the biker world where trust and respect are everything.
“And if a club doesn’t trust someone, they won’t have anything to do with them,” Floyd said. “We get to talking about motorcycles, and then before you know it they want to know what we’re about.”
Gardner said Bikers for Christ attend events that are heavy draws for other bikers, usually anything benefiting kids or veterans. When other bikers hit the clubs or bars after the event, they take note when the Bikers for Christ skip out.
“The hope is people see Christ through what we’re doing and are intrigued enough to watch us to see if we live the life we’re preaching,” Gardner said.
He recalled being at the Little Sturgis biker festival in Starkville years ago, and being approached by a broad-shouldered biker with his arms crossed.
“He said ‘we’re watching you,’ and pointed to my Bikers for Christ patch,” Gardner said. “He said, ‘it takes guts to wear what you got on your back.’”
Roberts said when he and Floyd hand out invitations to bikers on the Natchez Trace, people say church makes them feel self-conscious.
“Bikers with a bunch of tattoos aren’t comfortable in a normal church, but we tell them to come on, and wear their leather,” he said.
Soon, the pastors found out the same things that got them respect in the biker world got them credibility with other people searching for God, and the people on the fringes don’t always ride Harleys.
“We’re often perceived as striving for the unchurched,” Scott said. “But we’re also trying to reach the de-churched, those who left because they were hurt deeply and blame God.”
Of all their experience, Scott said the stories of their own salvation are the most effective tool of all.
“A very small percentage of missionaries share their personal testimony because the devil told them they don’t know how,” he said. “But a testimony is simply telling someone ‘this is what I was, then something miraculous happened.’”
In addition, Roberts said Rushing Wind was intended to be very straightforward, and last Sunday used a box of Taco Bell tacos to illustrate his sermon about temptation.
“Before Rushing Wind, some of our members went through issues,” Roberts said. “But because we are common people using common language, they know who we are, and they trust us.”
Though they are branded as a biker church, they are really a church for anyone who is hurting.
“People leave the traditional church when they are shunned for being different, when inclusive becomes exclusive,” Floyd said. “Rushing Wind seeks to be inclusive. It’s not about who has the best bike, but a call to be something more, to grow disciples in Tupelo, Mississippi. There is plenty of work to be done.”
While currently worship takes place at the Summit Center in suite 7, Gardner said they were looking for a more permanent home to fulfill their mission, even if only a garage or storefront. Until then, Gardner said, anyone and everyone is welcome to join them for their 2 p.m. service on Sunday afternoons, leather or no.
“Look for the banner and the bikes,” he said.