The Roadhouse Biker Church is located in a rather small, plain looking business park fronting a parking lot. The interior has wooden pews and a wooden platform railed off by what I suppose more traditional churches would call a communion rail. On a warm evening, such as the time I visited, the large bay doors are opened to the cooler air with room for extra seating.
Well, hey, it's a church geared to serve the biker community. Their website states, "Sinners welcome." The church meets for services on Saturday evenings, with road trips (called "runs" in biker parlance) scheduled frequently. One upcoming run is an annual event in memory of bikers who have lost their lives. Another, the Jericho Run, makes a circle route of the San Bernardino valley with stop along the way (stations?) to pray for the residents. There is also mention on the website of a Roadhouse mystery dinner ride and an Easter sunrise run. There are Bible studies on Tuesday evenings, and recovery programs on Wednesdays.
San Bernardino is located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles in the part of California known as the Inland Empire. It has the dubious distinction of being the second poorest city in the United States, after Detroit. In 1940, two local brothers by the name of Richard and Maurice McDonald opened a restaurant in San Bernardino that, erm, improved upon the system of speedy preparation and service of hamburgers pioneered over 20 years previous by the White Castle restaurant chain. In 1961 a gentleman by the name of Ray Kroc purchased the brothers' equity in their company, and the rest, as they say, is history. The McDonald Brothers' original restaurant was demolished in 1976, but a McDonald's Museum exists today on the site. The church is located a block from the National Orange Show Fair Grounds, the site of a yearly event celebrating all things San Bernardino and offering fun for the family.
Pastor Denver Dooley, Philly L. (guest speaker), and Baptized (guest band).
What was the name of the service?Spoke-N-Word.
How full was the building?
About three quarters full, between 75 and 100 people. Lots of denim, black leather, bandanas, beards, and club patches (Christian club patches!) were in evidence.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A very polite, gracious young man hanging out near the door greeted me, shook my hand, and introduced me to his family. It turned out that he, his brother, and father comprised the guest praise band, Baptized. A woman came by with a handful of programs, but as she went to hand me one she realized it was the wrong week's program. She apologized, and a few moments later she brought a proper one to me at my seat. A woman a couple rows ahead of me turned and smiled and introduced herself. She had an attractive Roadhouse shirt on that I admired. Her granddaughter had designed it several years before, she said. We agreed that it might be time to resurrect it for their gift shop. Altogether a friendly bunch.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard wooden pew, but padded. No wonder I didn't feel uncomfortable after the long service!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I got there pretty early, not being sure of the parking situation. The pre-service time was relaxed, with people running around setting up, and catching up with friends.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
(After the recorded sound of a revving bike) "Welcome to Roadhouse! How is everyone doing?"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were quite nice copies of The Holy Bible, New International Version in the backs of the pews. I found it interesting to look through the Bible history maps and some psalms while I was waiting for the service to start. But although Bible verses were referred to during the "sermon" (later about that), they were projected on large screens via PowerPoint, so we actually didn't need the books. Even so, the chapter and verse numbers were printed in the program so that we could refer to them later after the service if we wished.
What musical instruments were played?
The guest praise band, Baptized, was a family trio playing lead guitar, bass guitar, and drums.
Did anything distract you?
I found the decor riveting! Instead of stained glass and banners, there were motorcycle paraphernalia, enlarged photos of old-time bikers, lanterns, a shiny new Harley that was being raffled in a few weeks, images of Christ and crosses, including a rugged wooden cross on the center front wall with a crown of thorns. Oh, and I learned that the big wooden box by the door housed a spa used for baptisms. It was a lot to take in.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Pretty darned happy and clappy. There was a lot of clapping with the band for one. After the music was finished, there were several prayers offered for church ministries and the well-being of members. And people felt free to exchange quips with Pastor Denver during the service (e.g. "If you feel a burning inside you, it's not heartburn it's the Holy Spirit, as we haven't eaten anything yet!"). Yep, "happy" is the word. There was an altar call, after which the whole congregation joined in a prayer, confessing that they had sinned, asking for Jesus to be in their lives and lead them on the good path, and thanking Jesus for his love a reaffirmation of faith for people who were already Christians, and a new profession of faith for the newly converted. Lastly, the service closed with Pastor Denver saying, "Keep your eyes on Jesus," to which the congregation responded, "He keeps his eyes on you!"
Exactly how long was the sermon?
70 minutes (!)
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – This was a personal witness by Philly L., a church member. Pastor Denver was good at putting him at his ease and using biblical passages to guide the narrative. There were eight readings in all, but the one I remember best is James 1:2-5 (facing trials leads to joy and wisdom).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The "sermon" was an interview by Pastor Dooley of Philly L. about Philly's journey toward Christ and redemption. Philly started life with the cards stacked against him. Unwanted, abandoned by his mother at age five, he grew into a young man looking for thrills: first in the military, then in a life of crime. He was sentenced to prison for 33 years to life as a result of California's "three strikes" rule (a law enacted in 1994 that prescribed increasingly harsh prison sentences for convicted felons who, after their release, committed additional felonies). In prison, he joined the white supremacist prison gang Aryan Brotherhood as the gang of choice for a white guy. But eventually he grew a conscience and had a revelatory dream that started him on a new path. Coincidentally (or providentially) the California three-strikes law was amended in 2012 to make it less harsh. Philly found that he stood a chance of being released, and he resolved to make a new beginning. He did. And with the support and guidance of caring Christian friends and mentors, he now has a life of faith with a loving wife and a faith community. And a Harley-Davidson can't forget the Harley!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon. It was a thing of joy to hear how someone was recovered from so far down in the pit.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermon. It was horrific listening to hear about Philly's terrible experiences. There was a reason that this service was advertised as an "adult" service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At first, not much. The newly saved (those who had answered the altar call) were invited to talk to a couple of church members, a man and a woman, to be welcomed and given some presents. It wouldn't surprise me if one gift was a Bible, but they didn't say. There was a post service pot-luck (I'd read about it online and so brought a pizza) and most people either headed for the food line or left. I went out front to cool off, and a pleasant couple came by to visit and chat about their home projects as we watched the teenagers chase after the Roadhouse tee shirts being shot from an air cannon.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I decided not to stay for the chow, but it looked like other people were enjoying it. I seemed to have nabbed the last bottle of chilled water before I left. It was good. I saw a few plates being passed around with little squares of pizza on them, so it would appear that my offering was found acceptable in their sight.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I go to a church with regular, real-presence communion, which I'd miss, and I love my own church family. But the community at the Roadhouse is just great and I wouldn't mind returning to visit.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely! This is a church that makes a real difference in people's lives, and is a place in which I believe Jesus would feel entirely at home.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Philly's lit-up face as he related how good life is now.