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Locally Grown: I’ll Come to Church If I Can Bring My Motorcycle

By Andrew Sharp
Staff Writer

They come to Pond Bank Mennonite Church in their Sunday best—engines clean, windshields spotless, and chrome lovingly polished. For the congregation in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Harleys and Hondas in the sanctuary is all part of the fun on Motorcycle Sunday, held every year since 2008.

Joel Sollenberger, a biker who developed the idea for the event and helps organize it, said the service is held the Sunday before Memorial Day (so they aren’t competing with holiday rallies). The children have a hard time focusing on Sunday school classes as the motorcycles start to arrive for the 10 a.m. service. The first 10 or 15 riders who show up wheel their bikes into the sanctuary and park them around the room, and the rest fill up the church parking lot (those who prefer four wheels park across the street). The church brings in a speaker, usually a musician who can provide an entertaining concert along with a message about the gospel. The church feeds everyone a meal at lunchtime, then the bikers go on an organized ride that ends up back at the church, where everyone shares ice cream sponsored by local businesses.

The goal, Sollenberger said, is to promote the kingdom of God through people’s interests and share about Jesus. In the first couple of years of the event, more unsaved or unchurched people came through the church doors than in many previous years of special revival meetings, he said. “That makes you step back and say, ‘What are we about, what are we doing here?’ That sort of wraps it up in my mind as to why we do it.”

The organizers try to put on a quality event with good music. Singers have included Steve and Annie Chapman (Steve is part of the motorcycle riding community himself), country/folk singer John Schmid, and instrumental guitarist Richard Kiser (with his guitar made from a Thunderbird muffler).

Bikers have come from many different places to participate. Motorcyclists form “quite a community,” Sollenberger noted, so they are able to get the word out by posting the information on different websites that cater to riders. They also put up signs around the community. They don’t have much convincing to do—bikers don’t need much of an excuse to get out and ride, Sollenberger said. One group even travels down each year from Ontario, Canada. The event has grown from about 25-30 riders the first year to 75 in 2012.

Some of those who participate in the event have started attending Pond Bank, and of that number several were not church attenders before they came to Motorcycle Sunday. Marlin Ebersole, who serves on RMM’s board and was pastor of Pond Bank at the time Motorcycle Sunday started, said the event has served its evangelistic purpose. While people usually haven’t responded to the message during the service itself, some have come to faith later. Ebersole said the event was also a good way to connect with the community and has helped the church overcome preconceptions about Mennonites.

The congregation loves the event, Sollenberger said, even those who don’t ride. “We have fun… the only thing we can’t control is the weather; however, God has smiled on us.”

The event has inspired at least one other ride. The Mennonite World Review reported that Mercersburg Mennonite Church hosted a Motorcycle Sunday in September 2012, and its organizers had been inspired by attending the event at Pond Bank.