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The "Cross and Flame" on two wheels

 


The "Cross and Flame" on two wheels

Oct. 14, 2004

By Linda Green*

CORCISCANA, Texas (UMNS)-A column of 25 motorcycles roared through this small Texas town on a recent Sunday morning.

People stopped and stared. Who are they? Why are they here? Are they like the Hell’s Angels who are labeled as "bad-guys," they asked.

No, these motorcycle riders are more concerned about getting into heaven.

The riders traveling through town were members of the United Methodist Motorcycle Enthusiasts, a nearly three-year old organization led by the Rev. Cathy Mordecai and her husband, Guy. The bikers were participating in a 27-mile ride, rally and picnic on the grounds of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.

Twenty-five bikes, with one and two riders, lined up for the ride. Some came from more than 100 miles away. Riders from all walks of life - including factory workers, doctors, teachers, farmers and a bank president -- straddled motorcycles to feel the wind in their faces, enjoy the freedom of the open road and "to just enjoy a bunch of brothers and sisters getting together and taking a ride," said Paul Jones, who participated at the invitation of a friend.

The riders, with this United Methodist News Service writer astride the big, black Harley-Davidson of Guy Mordecai, journeyed through town and around the city’s Richland Chambers Reservoir, navigating the twists and turns to the church.

Enthusiastic church members greeted the bikers when they arrived at the Pleasant Grove church. "Having a bike-riding pastor is unique," said Tammy Sloan. "It is wonderful to have this at our small church. Rev. Cathy uses her love for bikes as a gift to reach out to different types of people."

Sandra Hughes described her love for motorcycling, how she loves to feel the air and view the openness that can’t be experienced from a car.

"UMME is unique because who would have ever thought that riding a motorcycle would be an outreach to people," she said. "Some people view bike riding as something like a gang of outlaws but we are Christians. It is all about God."

"We’re not bad people. We’re good people. We enjoy it," added Suzanne Armstrong, a rider from First United Methodist Church, Mansfield, Texas, and a member of the Mansfield chapter.

Billy Campbell of Lorena, Texas, pointed out that the riders might be the only contact with Christians that some people have. He, along with Lee Johnson, rode their motorcycles 80 miles that Sunday morning to meet up with riders from other chapters.

United Methodist Motorcycle Enthusiasts is the brainchild of the Mordecais. The couple founded the biker group as a way to promote the fellowship of Christians through a common interest and give them the opportunity to be together doing something they are passionate about-riding motorcycles, according to Cathy Mordecai, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Kerens, Texas and Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, Corsicana. Texas.

"We ride because we love it. And through the church, it’s an opportunity to change people’s minds about the stereotypes that we form about people," she explained. "We turned our passion for two-wheelers into a ministry."

These freewheeling Methodists say their idea is catching on. They are getting inquiries from across the country about beginning chapters of United Methodist Motorcycle Enthusiasts.

Since its Dec. 2001 beginning, the group has blossomed into seven chapters with more than 200 members in the Central Texas Annual (regional) Conference of the United Methodist Church, and in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois.

The bike ministry began after the Mordecais talked about groups within the United Methodist Church and he asked if the denomination had an organized motorcycle entity.

Finding that no such organized group existed they began forming a group and established a website, www.UMME.org. They even drafted a code of conduct that requires members to conduct themselves in a respectful Christian manner and practice safe riding habits, so as to not reflect badly on themselves, the UMME, their local chapter and the United Methodist Church.

"The church, you know, isn't your grandma's church anymore. People are looking for new things," Guy Mordecai explained.

Now 47, his passion for motorcycles began as a nine-year-old, when he received a mini-bike from his parents. "I’ve been on two wheels every since," he said. "It is the gift that God gave me and that is what UMME is all about, using the gift God gave you for his name."

When Cathy Mordecai was going through the ordination process to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church, she kept her love for riding motorcycles hidden "because I didn’t want to have to deal with the stereotypes," she said. Now, "I enjoy the freedom. It is incredible to be on a motorcycle and smell every smell and count cows."

Once the motorcycle group started growing, the Mordecais sought approval from the Central Texas Conference. Bishop Benjamin Chamness approved the group as a conference-related entity. He was presented with a UMME jacket during the 2003 annual conference session.

Each chapter of UMME is different, reflecting its membership. Chapters meet for day rides, dinner rides, and overnight weekend rides. Members wear "colors" on their backs which bears the United Methodist "Cross and Flame," the United States flag, the state flag, a ribbon with UMME, and a ribbon showing the local church affiliation.

By wearing the "colors" the public is comforted and intrigued with the motorcyclists, spawning questions and conversation, the couple explained. Sometimes the questions and discussion bring new members into the chapters.

Not all of UMME’s members are United Methodists. Many who ride with local chapters are of other denominations. "UMME is for anyone who wants to ride with other Christians," the Rev. Mordecai said.

"God is going to bless Cathy in that she has started this ministry," Hughes said, "We’ve always been the little church in the woods but through the UMME, Cathy has taken us uptown." Membership at the Pleasant Grove church has grown from 35 to 65 members in the past year.

Cheryl McClelland, a member of the Mansfield Chapter, wanted to get a motorcycle after witnessing the passion her husband had for riding. "I saw his love for it and decided to get a bike. It is a rush. It is freedom. I get to see God’s world in all of its glory."

Her husband, John, called UMME a "brotherhood, a bonding of souls where the only requirement is to enjoy camaraderie, like motorcycles and love the Lord."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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