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Oklahoma pastor creates new ministry with bikers Cindy Mason, Feb 6, 2012
Bikes are lined up outside Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City while riders attend worship.
By Cindy Mason Special Contributor
OKLAHOMA CITY—When you think of the term “circuit riders,” do you think of early-American preachers and the Methodist plan of multiple meeting places, called circuits, that were served by this itinerate force of pastors?
They rode on horseback from one location to another, spreading the gospel, often needing five or six weeks to cover a circuit.
The Rev. Stephen Hale from Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City has put a modern-day spin on being a circuit rider—using motorcycles rather than horses.
“Bikers love to ride. They like that sense of freedom and peace that comes from feeling the wind blowing across their faces,” said Dr. Hale. “But, oftentimes, bikers have been hurt by church, never known God’s love, or are not living as Christians.”
His mission is personal. Dr. Hale is a biker, too.
As an 8-year-old, Dr. Hale was on fire about Jesus and wanted to be baptized, he recalled, but a minister told him he was not old enough. As years passed, he experienced preachers who declared people were going to hell because their hair was too long or they wore jeans to church. He drifted away from church and into the “biker” lifestyle. He considered himself an atheist.
Then he found a relationship with Christ, at a Methodist church. He answered a call to ordained ministry. Now Dr. Hale, an associate pastor at Chapel Hill, has taken his ministry on the road.
The Circuit Riders Ministry allows him to reach out to people the church has excluded, he explained. He wants people to know one can be both a biker and a Christian.
Other riders who attend Chapel Hill agree. Among those are bikers touched by this ministry who joined the church during the last year. The Circuit Riders attend Retreat, a worship service on Sunday evenings at Chapel Hill.
Many bikers do live “the party life,” Dr. Hale said. “I would like to help them find Christ as a priority, as a way of being healed of hurts and more peaceful. I am not judging them, just offering them a better way of life.” He knows Christ can change how they live.
He described three types of riders. “One percent are those who choose a lifestyle that skirts the law. Then there are those who do not go to church, but are basically law-abiding people who simply live the biker lifestyle, which includes rallies and poker runs for charitable fun.
“And there is a growing group of Christian motorcycle clubs and riders, such as the Christian Motorcycle Association, Bikers for Christ—and now The United Methodist Circuit Riders.”
Dr. Hale said he would like to see other churches offer opportunities for the bikers in their churches to do outreach in their communities, to take Christ “out on the road” to people who feel the church has nothing for them.
“It takes a lot of patience and love. I have performed several biker weddings and funerals, and people are beginning to trust,” he said. “There are good people out there who still need to hear the Good News.”
During 2012, the Chapel Hill Circuit Riders plan a day-long ride one Saturday per month, two or more Friday/Saturday overnight trips, and some Sunday afternoon rides. “We will also be doing at least two special runs to raise monies for one connectional ministry and for one local charity,” Dr. Hale said.
Ms. Mason is a freelance writer in Oklahoma City. This article first appeared in Contact, the publication of the Oklahoma Conference.