Ministry by motorcycle: meet the Cross Bearers
EDMONTON – Priests wear collars, friars wear habits, and the Cross Bearers, well, they wear black leather vests.
“Ordinarily we don’t talk about motorbike ministry,” said Fr. Raja John, pastor at St. John Bosco Parish, home of the Cross Bearers motorcycle ministry of Catholic riders.
“Motorbike riders are always associated with something evil or bad, but this is something wonderful, that they’re able to go around, bring the Gospel, bringing the cross as they wear it on their own vests.”
The Cross Bearers formed out of the northeast Edmonton parish two years ago. They minister to the motorcycle community by attending rides and rallies and being available for those who seek prayer. They work with the Knights of Columbus to serve at pancake breakfasts, do roadside cleanups and attend parish picnics. They have also done work in Edmonton’s inner city, including the Bissell Centre to aid the poor and homeless.
“As Mother Teresa said, it’s not grandiose works; it’s little things you can do each day. And we try to model our faith and minister to the motorcycle community and those who need help,” said Mike Bambrick, Sergeant at Arms with the Cross Bearers.
Previously a member of a U.S.-based motorcycle community, Bambrick started the first and only Canadian chapter of Cross Bearers at St. John Bosco, the parish his family has attended since the mid-’80s.
With the summer riding season ramping up, the motorbikes and bicycles of parishioners were blessed in the church parking lot June 18 at what the Cross Bearers say will be an annual ceremony. Many of the parishioners welcomed the event and have embraced the Cross Bearers.
“They looked like pretty mean bikers, but they have these crosses and these vests and jackets so of course I had to ask them what it’s all about,” said Greg Gelasco, a parishioner and Knight at St. John Bosco. “They have the image, but it’s the work that they do that is impressive.
“Who would expect those guys to be out there spouting the word of God and promoting Christianity and they’re doing that within the associates they have with all these other bikers? That’s great — you gotta go out to all the streets.”
Preaching or increasing membership of the Church is not their main goal. Their silent witness inspires others around them, who may not be practising their faith, to reignite their love for God.
“We don’t go out to evangelize in a way that we’re kind of in everybody’s faces,” said Bambrick. “Instead people come to us, and I think that’s also what helps our acceptance (in the motorcycle world). We’re not out trying to push anything, we’re just there and available. So we’ve had members of various different clubs come and ask for a prayer and those kind of things.”
Bambrick is not blind to the fact that some may not accept the combination of biker culture with the Church.
“I understand people have that negative idea about motorcyclists, but I like to think that we are trying to model ourselves after Jesus,” he said. “Jesus wasn’t hold up in a church and he wasn’t doing what the Pharisees had wanted when He went out to the masses and the people that most other people even of His time would’ve been scared to talk to … to find out that they are real people and they do have value and they have needs just like we do.”
The general image that bikers are bad is a myth, said Bambrick.
“I think anybody that joins the motorcycle community sees that there’s this old school sense of brotherhood and helping,” he said.
Don’t leave a rider broken down on the side of the road is one rule of the brotherhood that you see daily, he added.
“The reality is there’s a lot of that brotherhood and stuff within the motorcycle world that I think a lot of people seek but they’re too scared to go there.”
Bambrick, who holds a Master of Religious Education from Newman Theological College, is a fine arts teacher at Archbishop O’Leary Catholic High School.
Many of the other bikers are already considered “a little rough around the edges” because most of them work in the oilpatch in a variety of trades, said Michael Bambrick, Mike’s son.
Michael was in an outlaw biker club before joining his father in the Cross Bearers.
“I felt that wasn’t for me, something was missing,” said the 31-year-old. A new marriage rejuvenated his faith and he started going to church again.
“I realized that’s where I need to be and the other life was not for me.”
The younger Bambrick is now president of Cross Bearers. He rides a 2013 Victory High Ball twin motorcycle with a custom Sissy bar handmade with a cross, “just to be different,” he said. His dad rides a Harley Davidson.
As president, Michael hopes to spread the word about their ministry and get other Catholic riders out and more involved in the community.
“I think people when they see us on the street should just not be afraid, because we’re just like anybody else and our goal and mission is to help any and everyone in need, and to get out and help the community strengthen bonds and relationships.”
(Konguavi is a writer in Edmonton.)