All of Us – #209

Fr. Larry Lisowski Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph Parish Catholic Church in Chicago

Out On The Road

The best advice that someone gave me about traveling was: 1.) If you lose something on the first day of the trip, like your camera, hat or watch, don’t let it ruin the rest of your trip. Just move on and enjoy the adventures ahead. If something bad happens early on, let it go. Don’t let it tie you down, but be free of them. 2.) Always remember that you are “the visitor.” You are entering the land and homes of others who may have very different customs, cultures and traditions. Don’t expect things to be exactly the same as there are at home. I learned this quickly when traveling through Rome one summer. I think the pope was the only one in the city blessed with ice-cubes and air-conditioning

A few weeks ago, I drove down to visit good friends of mine who live in Cleveland, South Carolina; which is a very small rural town, up in the mountains, about an hour west of Greenville, South Carolina. The rural south is a total 180 degrees difference from what it is like living in downtown Chicago that is often blanketed with noise and congestion. Cleveland would remind you of the fictional TV town of Mayberry, RFD with Sheriff Andy Taylor and deputy Barney Fife, patrolling the empty streets looking for jaywalker.

My friends, Dawn and Vince, are “good Catholics.” “Good” in the sense that they faithfully fulfill their Sunday obligation; they have a ritual of praying daily; contribute to various local charities; participate in a weekly bible study with their neighbors; and encourage and support their fellow parishioners who are trying to grow their Catholic parish in a heavily Baptist part of the country. Their only vice is that they are die-hard motorcyclists who love to tour the windy roads of Cleveland.

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They told me about an interesting church that they saw off the side of the road in town called, the Freedom Biker Church. Their Mission Statement on their website states: “We are a brotherhood of bikers bound by a faith relationship in Jesus Christ, a passion for bikers and the freedom of the open road. Bikers reaching bikers with the message of true freedom in Jesus Christ.”  I would imagine that St. Christopher would be their patron saint.

After attending the Sunday 9:30 A.M. Catholic Mass with Dawn and Vince, they sheepishly suggested that maybe we check out the Freedom Biker Church and see what it was about. Their Sunday service was a 11:00 A.M. and we had enough time to make it. I agreed to go because: 1.) I was on vacation and felt the need to get out of my comfort zone, and 2.) because I believed this could be a good ecumenical experience. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, right? 

My silver 2005 Toyota Avalon, with its Catholic clergy sticker on the front windshield, slowly slid into the church’s dusty gravel parking lot. Our car quickly became surrounded by black and orange Harley motorcycles and red pick-up trucks. We stepped into the make-shift church that was at one time a trucking garage. Even though the air-conditioning ducts were exposed in the ceiling above, I was grateful for the cool air on a hot and humid day outside. The crowd definitely knew that I was a first-time visitor because my yellow Hawaiian shirt boldly stood out again all the black tee-shirts and tattoos.

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Instead of stained-glass windows, there were framed gas tanks and hub-caps hanging on the wall. There was a spotlight hanging from the ceiling that served as a sanctuary light. The center aisle was painted to resemble a highway road with a yellow center line. (For some reason the song, Highway to Hell, started to play in the back of my mind. We took our seats inconspicuously in the back row. 

A bald biker by the name of Anthony, came up and greeted us. As I shook his hand I noticed the black thick tracking device that was attached to his wrist by the state authorities. He politely said, “Welcome. My name is Anthony. First time here?”

 I said, “Yes, it is.”

Through his toothless but warm smile he said, “Well, second time…you’re family.”

I said, “Thanks. That’s good to know.”

The pastor gave a half hour homily, entitled “Dialing 911” that was based on the Second Book of Corinthians. The gist of his homily was that we need to call upon God in times of trouble and crisis. I could tell his message was well received by all the hands raised in the air, and by the “Alleluias” that were joyfully shouted from the crowd. He knew his audience.

There were two black shiny boots on flower pedestals by the pulpit that belonged to the pastor. During the middle of the service the ushers grabbed them and used them for the collection. One of the songs that the band on the stage played was Amazing Grace. They put a creative spin on it and played to the melody of House of the Rising Sun. It was the first time I ever heard it played that way.

Before we left the building, we were given a gift bag from the woman on the Welcoming Committee. It included a copy of the New Testament, a prayer request card, and a key chain that had the logo of the church stamped on it. 

On my way home I reflected on this unique experience of prayer. I realized that it fulfilled the spiritual needs of some folks, especially bikers looking for hope and freedom in their life. Their church relied on the basic things that make a faith community vibrant: a sense of welcoming, a message and a mission that people can relate to; opportunities for stewardship and generosity; and a sense of acceptance and belonging to whoever walks through the doors. 

These fundamentals ironically are many of the things we try to accomplish each Sunday at Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph. 

It is good to get out on the road, because it helps you to see what you have at home. 

May we enjoy the ride!

– Fr. Larry