Episcopal priest takes motorcycle ministry out on the road

July 14, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Barbara and Bill Dutton of Hagerstown arrive Saturday for an outdoor worship service at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Lappans.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

LAPPANS, Md. — It’s hard to beat motorcycles for grabbing attention — especially when they roar down the road in a pack.

And it’s hard not to notice them when they head through the typically quiet countryside, shattering the evening air with a bellowing blast of noise that envelopes men and machines.

On this particular Saturday evening, bikers travel along Lappans Road, where they pull into a parking lot, their gleaming chrome a contrast to the black asphalt.

Most are dressed in jeans and T-shirts, while some wear leather or denim vests with patches and insignias.

They come from all age groups and all walks of life. But there is a common bond as they walk across the open space, exchanging handshakes. It’s the biking bond. And it’s almost a religion.

Maybe that’s why it seems appropriate that they gather in this particular parking lot, which isn’t home to a bar or music hall. It belongs to a church.

You can throw out the biker stereotypes with this group — especially the man who warmly greets familiar faces.

He might be an accomplished motorcyclist who has roamed the road on his Harley-Davidson for more than 30 years.

But he also is an Episcopal priest.

And on Saturday night, with fellow bikers in attendance, he is the celebrant of a motorcycle Mass.

It surprises some people to know that a man of the cloth also is a biking enthusiast, said the Rev. Steve McCarty, vicar of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Clear Spring.

But as far as McCarty is concerned, God is where you find him.

And if that happens to be on the back of a Harley, that’s as good a place as any.

He’s not alone in his beliefs.

The people gathered on the lawn near St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Saturday talked about motorcycle suspensions and carburetors and upcoming rides and rallies. But they just as easily talked about heaven.

“We love to ride and we love church, too,” said Bill Dutton of Hagerstown, who attended the Mass with his wife, Barbara. “And when you ride, you need all the God you can get.”

That’s why they enjoy coming together with other bikers on Saturday evenings in the summer for a motorcycle Mass that includes readings from scripture, a short sermon, music, prayers and Holy Communion. At each service, there also is a free-will offering benefiting a local charity that is collected in a motorcycle helmet.

The outdoor service is offered as part of the newly formed Motorcycle Ministry of the Episcopal Church called “Taking the Church Out on the Road.” It was organized by McCarty.

“I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was 17 and, over the years, I’ve met different bikers who no longer go to church because they feel disenfranchised,” he said. “They feel people are judgmental toward them because of how they look or dress. They are spiritual people, but feel unwelcome by those who say, ‘Cut your hair and cover your tattoos and you can come into our church.’ That’s not what church should be about. It’s more than brick and mortar and sitting quietly. It’s about spreading the word of God however you can — even if it means taking the church outdoors or on the road.”

There are many motorcycle ministries around the country, McCarty said, “but this is new to the Episcopal Church in this area. As far as I know, I’m the only local priest who incorporates my ride with my ministry.”

Saturday’s Mass was the second of the summer, he said, with future services planned for Aug. 18 and Sept. 15.

Both Masses have averaged about 18 people, McCarty noted, “but we’re hoping to see those numbers grow. We’re still working at spreading the word.”

Bill and Barbara Dutton said they were invited by an acquaintance to attend the first motorcycle Mass and enjoyed it so much, they returned on Saturday.

“We love the idea,” Barbara Dutton said. “It’s a nice bit of camaraderie. And everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve been telling people about it.”

McCarty said it’s important for people to know that you don’t have to arrive at Mass on a motorcycle to participate. In fact, many people drive their cars.

“Anybody can be a part of this,” he said. “It’s a way of making people once again feel connected to God.”

For more information, call McCarty at 301-991-4293, send an email to or go to

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