A unique journey started when an unusual biker patch caught the attention of the Rev. Jamie Lea and his wife Kandace. It read, “Black Sheep, Harley-Davidsons for Christ.”
Before long, the pastor from Crosby UMC learned all about the ministry, a Gospel for those who prefer two wheels and Harleys.
“It brings together our love of Christ and our love of bikes,” Rev. Lea said. “And Kandace and I love to ride.”
The story behind the 20-year old motorcycle ministry also spoke to the pastor, who now serves as president of the organization’s Texas Gulf Coast chapter.
He explained that the international group started with Marty Edwards, who served as pastor for eight churches in southern California. “Marty was a clergyman and a church planter,” Lea explained. “One day, he got an itch to do something that some people would call a mid-life crisis. He bought a Harley.”
Edwards did not know much about motorcycles. So, when he was out riding one day and got a flat, he called the dealership to come fix it. A young man named Michael Butters arrived with a truck to retrieve the bike for repairs.
“He had tattoos, and his hair was a little long,” Lea said. “He looked kind of rough.”
While the two drove to the dealership, Pastor Edwards felt called to speak to Butters about Jesus. Still, he felt too intimidated and decided to stay silent.
About a week later, Butters died in a tragic vehicle accident, and when Edwards heard the news, he called the dealership. Owner Rich Quaid told the pastor that his employees were devastated by the disaster and asked for spiritual guidance.
Edwards rushed to help, praying with everyone at the dealership, comforting them during their time of loss.
The pastor vowed to never let that happen again. “He’d never miss an opportunity to minister,” Lea said.
Black Sheep was born, directly serving Harley Owners Groups (H.O.G.), which counts millions of members worldwide.
The group’s goal is to take the Gospel where it might not be well known or where disciples otherwise might not be served.
Instead of waiting for Harley riders to come to church, Black Sheep members go to them. They park bikes at the dealership and flip burgers at biker events. They like to offer free boot shines, which they compare to Jesus washing feet. They bless motorcycles and their riders and pray with them.
“If something comes up, they know who we are, and they’ll come to us when they have a need,” Lea said. “That’s something very important to the biker community. They want to know if you’re real before they listen to you.”
Lea and his Black Sheep ministers also now help at weddings and funerals for the H.O.G. community. “We’re part of the scenery until they need us,” Lea said.
The Rev. Jim Love, associate pastor for Bellaire United Methodist, also serves as regional director for Black Sheep, covering Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. He said a growing number of men and women are joining the motorcycle ministry.
“It’s a great way to get outside the walls of the church,” he said. “God uses us, and we just do what we’re called to do, to share God’s love.”
One of his recruits was John Benham of Lakewood UMC. “When you put motorcycles and ministry together, I’m there,” he said. “None of mind putting our hands on shoulders and praying together.”
An opportunity to pray with strangers is something constantly presented to Love as he rides across Texas. “We want to support people who ride and those whom God brings into our lives,” he said. “We have story after story of people we meet out on the road that God allowed us to reach.”
Sometimes, the most unlikely characters appreciate their prayers the most – and thank the pastors for their blessings.
The Bible refers to times when Christians were outcasts, Pastor Lea added. He said that bikers too are often seen as black sheep.
“The Methodist Church opens hearts,” Lea said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do, each and every church. Everybody’s got a story.”