At Michigan church, blessing for bikers, black leather

Kathleen Lavey
Lansing State Journal

Lennon — Motorcycle club motifs decorate the rough-sawn pine walls of a former cider mill barn, set in a grove of pine trees outside a small town west of Flint. The décor even includes a working Harley-Davidson with plenty of chrome.

A crowd is gathering — some riding in on bikes, some in cars due to iffy weather or extra passengers. The favored fashions: leather, jeans, bandanas and boots.

What you don’t notice right away is the simple, 8-foot wooden cross front and center against the pine paneling. Or that the black motorcycle vests so many are wearing read “Victory Biker Church” on the back. Or that a handful of them have brought their own well-thumbed Bibles.

“Grab your owner’s manual,” Brian McKay said. He founded the church in 2010, but prefers the title Apostle to Pastor.

Some church members pulled out well-thumbed Bibles and flipped to the verse in question.

This is the Christian faith, presented by bikers, for bikers, a unique amalgam of Christ, chrome and outreach to outcasts. Besides the Sunday service, there is a Wednesday night “pit stop” Bible study and the weekly “Ironhead Teens Group.”

“I have not had church worship like this anywhere I’ve been. It’s inspiring,” said Dennis Riggs of Owosso as he sat in the front row waiting for the 11 a.m. service to start.

He’s a Vietnam vet who rides a 2014 Harley-Davidson Road King. He came to Victory Biker Church nearly six years ago after looking for a church for several years.

“This one felt like home,” he said.

A church home where a pair of motorcycle saddlebags hang on the wall with a sign above them reading, “Don’t be jive, cough up your tithe,” the U.S. flag is prominently displayed and clear patio lights are strung festively across the back of the room.

At 33, Kristy Grooms of Flint Township is less than half of Riggs’ age, but she feels the same way.

She and her husband, Jonathon, known as “Huck,” have been attending Victory Biker Church for about five years.

As Kristy tends the coffee bar, their sons, Rayne, 7, and Gabriel, 4, who is carrying a plastic ukulele, dart back and forth greeting newcomers.

“At all of the other churches, we were the outcast and never welcome because we weren’t dressed like everyone else,” Huck Grooms said. He’s burly and blue-jeaned and currently works the night shift as a repo man.

“We had tried several different churches, and we just didn’t feel welcome like we did at this one,” Kristy Grooms said.

Making people who don’t necessarily live in the mainstream feel welcome is exactly the point, said McKay. Blue-eyed and bald, he keeps his beard in check with an elastic band near its tip.

“We want to make it comfortable, so when our unsaved biker friends come to church, their walls come down,” he said.

McKay rides a 2009 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic, and he’s been working in motorcycle ministry since 1995, filling his free time reaching out to other bikers while working an IT job by day.

He talks about trying to reach the “1 percent,” in this case, the small number of bikers who are drug addicts or involved in criminal activity.

He said he first felt the call to establish a church in August of 2006. The voice inside him was clear, he says: “I called you to be a biker preacher and start a biker church.”

But like many a good apostle, he resisted at first.

“It took me about two years to get over it,” he said. “Then I said, “All right, Lord, how do you want me to do this thing?’”

So for several years he prayed and laid the groundwork. The church opened its doors in the former cider mill in January 2010.

Victory Biker Church has spun off two new congregations — one in Ohio and one in Florida —but McKay said both churches are under reorganization at the moment.