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Highway to heaven: Motorcyclists roll into Preston in search of a higher power | Slideshow
It started with a wild man, and a wilder idea, heaven meets hell-for-leather.
Bill Chase, known as “Wild Bill” in Preston, had this idea, and pitched it to his coffee buddy, Pastor Roy Peacock, more than 10 years ago when he was a newcomer to the Raging River Community Church.
What if somebody, Pastor Roy, for instance, hosted a prayer service, specifically for motorcyclists at the start of the riding season, Wild Bill asked Peacock.
Not a rally, not a church service, and not that wild of an idea, after all.
“Wow, tell me what it looks like,” Peacock, a non-motorcyclist, answered.
With Wild Bill’s guidance and support from the Snoqualmie Valley Ministerial Association, the first biker dedication, held 10 years ago, looked like a reasonable success. Congregation members whipped up homemade food, others cooked hot dogs and burgers on grills, Peacock designed a patch —“oh, you’ve got to have a patch,” according to Wild Bill — and about 30 area motorcyclists joined hands in a prayer for their safety “and that they’re able to see God through the beauty of their rides,” said Peacock, and it was all free.
He saw nothing unusual in the event that year, or in the following years when attendance grew to more than 100.
“Everyone loves to eat, and most people don’t argue with being prayed for,” he said. “It’s just a matter of bringing people together...It’s just a barbecue.”
This year, the dedication, 11:30 to 1:30 Saturday, May 18 by the Raging River Community Church in Preston, will probably look a lot like the first one, like a family gathering, but with extra chrome and leather, live music, and a great big cake.
“It’s a chance to get together, and of course everyone looks at each other’s bikes,” says Suzie Honeywell, who’s made the cake for the event for about the last six years. She and her husband Tony, better known as Toad, are “in-between bikes right now,” she said, but will probably be renting his dream bike, a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, for the dedication.
The sense of family at this event, though, comes from the motorcycles as much as the faith community.
“There’s a whole different mentality with people who ride bikes,” Honeywell said. “You don’t go by what the biker looks like… ‘if you’re on a bike, you’re my guy…’ It’s kind of like that initial handshake that you don’t expect to get.”
The hell-raiser image is still there, and persists in the non-motorcyclist world, says Terry Knowles, who’s come to every one of the dedications, and as a member of the Bellevue chapter of the Christian Motorcyclist Association (CMA) helped Peacock with advice in launching the first one. But within the community, it’s treated light-heartedly.
An insurance adjustor, Knowles travels over much of the Puget Sound area daily on his Yamaha Venture touring bike, he says, “and I tell people ‘I’ll probably show up on a black motorcycle, but don’t worry I’m harmless.’”
That’s not to say there are no outlaw biker groups. Knowles is well aware of the Banditos who operate in Washington, but adds that the Snohomish County chapter of the CMA has built a good relationship, with mutual support between them. He says he’s never seen an outlaw bike group member at the dedication, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if I did.”
“The interesting thing that happens with bikes is it tears all that down anyway,” says Pastor Steve Qualls of New Life Christian Center, also a regular at the dedication with his wife, Karil, on their Harley Road King Custom. “I’ve been stranded alongside of the road and had a couple of guys come up to me, who I’d be scared to death of any other place, and they’re asking ‘hey, can we help you?’”
Echoing Honeywell’s thoughts, Qualls says “You’re on a bike, you’re OK.”
So everyone who comes to the dedication, regular or not, church-going or not, street, sport or dirt, is already a part of their community.
“Not everybody that shows up is what you consider religious,” said Knowles. “I don’t consider myself that, either.”
Honeywell compares it to the official start of boating season, only for bikes. “It’s time to celebrate that you love motorcycles, and just have a prayer cover,” she said, adding that it’s “on very neutral ground… we’re not in a building, we’re under a bridge…. It’s just fun to see people when they’re real.”
She also appreciates the opportunity to basically be a Christian and a biker, and modeling that behavior. “People are looking for something positive,” she said.
Qualls, a long-time rider like Knowles and Honeywell’s husband, says “It’s kind of an outreach too. A lot of guys that come, they don’t have churches, and so we reach out to them and say ‘Hey, we’re here if you ever need us.’”
“We’re there if you need us” is actually the motto of the CMA, Knowles said, and a saying he tries to live. He has a deep respect for Peacock, a non-biker to the bone, for living it, too.
“As Christians we’re supposed to represent the Lord,” Knowles said, and “…. a lot of Christians have a reputation for not doing that. Roy is the kind of guy who takes it seriously… basically show people what would Jesus do if He were standing here? And I suspect He’d be standing behind the grill, flipping burgers.”
Peacock has gone as far down the road to being a biker as he’s likely to go, he says, “But I do wear a vest!” His leather vest sports the patches from past dedications, plus many pins that bikers have given him over the years.
The biker who started it all, Wild Bill, died a few years after that first dedication, but not before changing his wild ways, Knowles said, his voice thick with emotion.
“I know I’m going to see him in the glory, and that’s something that resulted from Roy listening to him, taking him in and putting this together. That’s a cool thing.”