June 9-17 was Bike Week in Laconia, New Hampshire. Thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts from around the country descended on New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, home to “America’s Original Riding Rally.” Bikers traveled winding roads through picturesque mountain forests, alongside stunning lake vistas; and they rode on historic roads like the Kangamangus Trail.
Oh, and they preached the Gospel.
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Visiting the Granite State for a family wedding, I couldn’t help but notice the proliferation of motorcycles along Route 9. We passed “The Tent” just north of Keene, New Hampshire—a roadside stop where, I later learned, Crossroads Ministries has been serving up free meals and coffee for the biker community for 34 years. Hungry bikers look forward to the good food at The Tent, and every year Cornerstone gives away 10,000 to 15,000 meals and 24,000 homemade cookies with pieces of paper that say, “Need to Rap?”
Cornerstone is an Evangelical motorcycle ministry; but working alongside them at The Tent—flagging motorcycles, picking up trash, dishing the food and dishing the faith—are the Catholic Cross-Bearers. Volunteers are always needed, and both ministries exist to bring the love of Jesus to the streets.
So it was that I met Scott Hemenway at the Saturday, June 16 Vigil Mass at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in nearby Henniker. I spotted Scott in the communion line, his black leather vest bearing a purple cross with a Chi-Rho on the vertical beam, and the Alpha and Omega on the arms of the cross. After Mass, I stopped him in the narthex of the church; Scott, a member of Catholic Cross-Bearers since 2010, and his wife were happy to explain the “colors” of the club, as displayed on his leather vest: Purple is a liturgical color and represents a call to repentance. Chi-Rho are the first letters of the word for “Christ” in the Greek alphabet; and the Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters. Hence, the symbols on Scott’s motorcycle vest attested to the fact that Christ is the Beginning and the End.
Catholic Cross-Bearers, a national organization, has a prison ministry, as well; and its members step up to answer any questions about the Catholic faith. Their statement of purpose is:
To provide a Catholic evangelistic presence in the motorcycling world and to all those who are in the streets or imprisoned; and to provide a riding group for Catholic Christian men and women for fellowship and ministry.
One of the most popular events at The Tent during Laconia Bike Week is a “bike blessing.” Scott reported that this year, someone was even baptized at The Tent.
For Scott Hemenway, the experience of riding for Jesus has been positive. Frequently, he reported, when he’s stopped at a traffic light, a nearby driver will wave and give him the “thumbs up” signal. He’s occasionally been asked to pray for someone. Never has this “motorcyclist with a message” encountered a negative response from another traveler.
I spoke by telephone with Tom McGuire, national sergeant at arms for the Catholic Cross-Bearers, and heard much the same message: People are friendly and are happy to share the road with the devout bikers. Tom told me that there are chapters of Catholic Cross-Bearers throughout theUnited States, as well as inIreland andEngland.
Tom referred me to Eric Waldron, founder of the Catholic Cross-Bearers. Eric enjoyed riding, but he had come to feel that in the Evangelical motorcycle clubs, it was sometimes necessary to suppress some parts of his Catholic faith which might be at odds with the Evangelical viewpoint. He founded the riding group for Catholic men and women, as a place where they might join with fellow Catholics for fellowship and ministry.
Eric had embraced his Catholic faith after serving time in prison. Following his reversion, Eric sought to reach out to those still confined behind bars; so one aspect of the service of Catholic Cross-Bearers is prison ministry. Eric was proud to report that the membership includes priests, deacons, Eucharistic ministers, and others who desire to serve God while participating in biking.
Asked to cite a particularly memorable encounter, Eric explained that he occasionally encounters prostitutes during his rides, and he has sometimes offered assistance or referred a young woman to a program which could help her to chart a new course and prepare for a different career. He began talking occasionally to one young woman on the street, and eventually he saw a hopeful change.
Who can become a Catholic Cross-Bearer? Membership requirements are:
- Must be a baptized Catholic Christian who rides a street legal motorcycle or the spouse of a riding member
- Obedient to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Bible, and the Catholic Church
- Obedient to the Pope and to the Bishops of the Catholic Church
- Active in the life of the Catholic Church (regular Mass attendance)
- Dedicated to the mission of the Catholic Cross Bearers M/M and striving to be holy – set apart for God
If you are interested in learning more about the Catholic Cross-Bearers, or if you’d like to combine the sport of biking with the practice of your Catholic faith, you’ll enjoy the photo albums and history on the group’s website. Contact them to find a group in your own state, or help to found a new chapter.