By Rev. Celestine Slater-Brooks
In checking out Holy Experiment’s Facebook page recently, I noticed the hash tag “#rewilding.” Of course I clicked it. When it opened, there was image after image of bison, caribou, beaver, red deer and Phil Hart. I found phrases about wildlife and nature conservation. They were similar to how Phil described the vision of ministry and mission and all of our hopes for our churches at the Ohio Conference Annual Gathering [http://www.ohioucc.org/annual-gathering-2015/] in September.
Wildlife conservationists believe, “…for more wonder, rewild the world.” They say, “From bison to bears, conservationists are trying to bring back some of Europe’s disappeared or endangered animals.” And, “rich and wild landscapes are starting to flourish again. Exciting times ahead for these areas!”
I am no wildlife conservationist. More than likely, I have identified the animals I saw on Facebook incorrectly. However, I did recognize Phil’s words. His presentation reignited within me the passion I carry for the Church…the body of Christ. He said, “Jesus doesn’t call us to be domesticated; Jesus calls us to be wild.” Phil’s words described who I am and what I do.
On a rainy summer morning, I found myself in a gas station surrounded by eight women motorcyclists. Members of the Chrome Angelz National Riding Club, they were headed to Michigan for the “World’s First and Largest All Women’s Motorcycle Peace Sign.” Having waited months for this weekend adventure, they were filled with anxiety and not the normal excitement felt when riding on a sunny day. I had a container of Holy water from the Jordan River, a gift from a friend. I had on my United Church of Christ stole over my leather motorcycle vest.
As the women put on their rain gear preparing to leave, I quietly walked around to each bike and put the water on it in the sign of the cross. I ride; I know how dangerous it is — in the rain, even more so. I prayed that God would keep those bikes upright. As we say in the motorcycle community, the shiny side up and the rubber side down.
I watched them pull out in the rain after a gathering prayer, “God has brought you together this day to a journey for peace. As you form that peace symbol, I encourage you to think of the areas in your life, in your community, and in the world where you want more peace. Think of places where you want God to bring peace and where you can be an instrument of peace. I sent them off into the wild with the hope that they would know they can be God’s peacemakers on motorcycles.
Although the Chrome Angelz is not a religious organization, the founder, Annamarie Sesta, feels strongly about providing pastoral care for its membership. Each Chrome Angelz is unique in what she believes about God or does NOT believe. However, the organization’s core values remind me of what is required to be Holy and present in a pluralistic society — respect, acceptance, and support as we embrace differences to learn and grow. These values permit me to serve as their chaplain and pastor. The membership’s uniqueness offers an inclusiveness that reminds me of the UCC and our “God is still speaking” and “…because no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here” mantra.
The church and the world need the uniqueness of voices in the motorcycle riding community today. Those voices provide a different perspective on what it means to be a community, one filled with different perceptions of God and Christ, and a different view of what we call the gathered Church.
As their chaplain, I ride with them. I pray for and with them. I listen to their stories of pain, loss and joy. I bless their journeys. I visit them in the hospital when they go down on their bikes. I travel to their towns with the hope of building community around this sisterhood. I am blessed to be their pastor.
In November I will be heading down to Portsmouth to gather a chapter for a small group study on hell, the rapture and the end times. Next year, I will officiate our first Chrome Angelz wedding. In addition, I will be advisor for one of the Central Pennsylvania chapter’s breast cancer fundraising event in collaboration with the Catholic Church. Motorcycle ministry…who knew! From where I am sitting on my Harley, I see rich and wild landscapes of the Church flourishing again. Indeed, these are exciting times in ministry and mission.
Rev. Celestine Slater Brooks, also known as Revee, is an authorized (ordained) minister of the Central Southeast Association of the Ohio Conference. She serves as the National Chaplain for the Chrome Angelz National Riding Club for women, which has over 50 chapters in the United States (11 in Ohio), Canada and the UK. She is the President of the Arch City chapter in Columbus, Ohio. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.