The sun is setting, and it’s time for church. The pastor calls outside to round up the congregation as rock music floats out the door behind him. Men and women with dusty gray hair and sun-worn skin rise from their porch seats and step inside. They smile and clap each other on the backs—their palms smack against leather vests adorned with patches of flaming or winged crucifixes.
Familiar laughter fills the spacious room while Pastor Michael McGuire, known better as Pastor Mike, and his band warm up on stage. For many of the members of Rushing Wind Biker Church in Zanesville, Saturday night gatherings mean more to them than worship. It’s family.
Before the Saturday night service, some Rushing Wind members attend “hang-around time” from 4-6 p.m., a time when they catch up with one another in the recreational area of the church, which features multiple tables and chairs, a bookshelf full of literature and board games, a few comfy, old couches and a pool table.
Others sit outside and enjoy the weather if it’s nice enough. This was one of those days—a few people gathered around the weather-worn picnic table smoking cigarettes, while a separate cluster gathered around the door to greet friends as they arrived for service.
But once 6 p.m. rolls around, Pastor Mike invites everyone to come inside for worship. They stroll past the tables of lemonade and sugar cookies, past the couches and the battered pool table, and behind the room divider that separates worship from play.
About 100 perfectly aligned chairs wait for the Rushing Wind congregation to take a seat. But they rarely do. They mostly dance to the worship music played by Pastor Mike and the Rushing Wind Band or weave among the rows of chairs, giving hugs and saying hello. Although it’s branded as a biker church, Rushing Wind welcomes all kinds.
With their tattered blue jeans, tattoos and heavy riding boots, Rushing Wind’s bikers only make up half of the congregation, which adds up to about 95 people on a regular Saturday night.
The other half are people who don’t own motorcycles but come for the music, the message and the welcoming atmosphere. Even though not everyone rides, they all have something in common: They’re self-identified outcasts who worship the Gospel literally.
“We call this [church] the island of misfits,” Pastor Mike says. “Our sign says ‘All Are Welcome.’ When you come to this church, we’re going to love you as you are, but we’re going to give you the uncompromised word of God.”
“It’s important that we preach truth. You have to preach the uncompromised word of God to protect the house that you’re worshiping in,” Michael says. “Nobody’s perfect, but the word of God is. We try, to the best of our abilities, to preach that word because it’s important to the community of Zanesville.”
Bertha “Wild Thing” Glosser, 75, found Rushing Wind nearly four years ago after visiting almost every conventional Christian church in Zanesville. She was beginning to feel like she would never fit in when she drove up the long, winding driveway to Rushing Wind’s simple, white-paneled building.
It was New Year’s Eve of 2014. Armed with a cheese ball and cracker plate, a chocolate pie and a hot casserole dish, she waited by her car, unsure of how to approach the bikers’ potluck. But she didn’t have to wait for long.
Noticing the new car in the parking lot, three men came outside to greet Glosser and offered to help her carry the food inside. As she followed them up to the entrance, she was nervous. “Oh Lord,” she thought. “What did I get myself into?”
But her feelings of uncertainty quickly vanished with the warm welcome offered by other churchgoers that night. They dealt cards, played Monopoly and shot billiards until the clock struck midnight. In the end, Glosser reassured them that she would be back.
“From that point on, they didn’t know what they were getting into,” Glosser says, laughing.
Friends stop by her table multiple times to give hugs, so she’s a little distracted. Glosser says her job title at Rushing Wind is “official hugger” because people line up at service or special events to receive one of her special hugs.
As another friend leaves Glosser’s embrace, she turns and says: “The fellowship here is not what you wear or who you are; it’s what you’ve got in your heart.”
A year later, Glosser’s new church family gave her a leather motorcycle vest and dubbed her “Wild Thing” because she loves to have fun and dance to the Rushing Wind Band’s music.
“One of the reasons we started the Rushing Wind Biker Church is to let folks come as they are. It does seem like in some conventional churches that there’s an expectation of a dress code,” Michael says. “We have nothing against that, but when we ride in on our motorcycles and we’ve got our jeans on and our tattoos or whatever, we’re hoping they’ll receive us just as we are, just as we will receive them as they are.”
The flexible dress code, however, was not the only catalyst that led to the creation of Rushing Wind Biker Church.
In 2001, Pastor Mike and his wife, Lynn, rode up to the Church of the Nazarene in Grove City for Biker Sunday, where 1,800 other bikers met to worship God and hear a former Hells Angels biker club member speak.
Many intelligence agencies name Hells Angels as one of the “big four” motorcycle clubs involved with dealing drugs, weapons trafficking and extortion; however, members of Hells Angels insist they are only motorcycle enthusiasts and not involved in organized crime.
The general biker community brands members of motorcycle clubs like Hells Angels “one-percenters” because they estimate only 1 percent of bikers in the greater community actually commit crimes.
But on that day, the former outlaw visited the church to renounce his days as a Hells Angels member and reassure the biker community that it’s OK to ride motorcycles and love Jesus at the same time.
Richard “Loco” Dayton, a member of Rushing Wind for more than six years, admits he used to be an outlaw biker too, until he became tired of the lifestyle. Then he found God.
“It changed my life,” says Dayton, who lost his left leg in a flat-track motorcycle race in 1979. “[Rushing Wind] even got me baptized.” He laughs as he tells the story of how his prosthetic leg bobbed up and down while Pastor Mike held him under water.
“After attending [Biker Sunday], I thought ‘what a wonderful thing to bring to the city of Zanesville—to reach out to the biker community with God’s word,’” Pastor Mike says.
Shortly after visiting the Church of the Nazarene, Pastor Mike joined Bikers for Christ—a motorcycle ministry charter dedicated to bringing the gospel to motorcyclists, veterans and “any others who may not fit into the ‘norms of society,’” according to its website. Pastor Mike rode with the group for 14 years while acting as a music director for a local church.
“All of those things, as well as the relationships you build up with the folks in the motorcycle community, led to the birthing of Rushing Wind Biker Church,” Pastor Mike says.
And since the church was born in 2010, Rushing Wind parishioners have fostered relationships of their own. Their bond is almost palpable as they sing along to “Sweet Home Hallelujah,” the Rushing Wind Band’s version of “Sweet Home Alabama,” while Pastor Mike riffs on his electric guitar.
While many Rushing Wind members stay for the music and the message, several found the church through outreach programs.
Bubba Clam, who prefers to go by his pseudonym because very few people know his real name, is a towering man of 6’5” with a dark goatee, a shiny, bald head and a compassionate demeanor.
He discovered Rushing Wind when he was visiting Ohio from California with his wife, Tracy, for her daughter’s birthday. He was staying with Tracy’s family for about a week, so he wanted to find something to occupy his down time.
As a Bikers for Christ member, he checked online for local events and stumbled across Rushing Wind’s annual BikerFest.
Held annually on the second weekend of June, BikerFest draws nearly 1,000 motorcyclists from across the country for music, friends and the Gospel. No matter a person’s religion or club affiliation, Rushing Wind welcomes everyone.
“It’s important that we get the motorcycle community together and just forget about the name on your back,” Pastor Mike says. “We like to set some things aside that cause a separation and ride together, worship together, witness together and so on.”
Once Bubba was medically discharged from the Marines after breaking a rib and puncturing a lung in Afghanistan, and Tracy was discharged from rehab, they decided to permanently move to Ohio to be near Tracy’s daughter. Because of his time at BikerFest a few years earlier, Bubba decided he wanted to move to Zanesville specifically for Rushing Wind Biker Church.
“With everyone I know being in California, I wanted to be attached to a family,” Bubba says. “Some churches only gather once a week, but we take care of one another here. It’s more than just a church—it’s a family.”
Members of Rushing Wind often reach out to local biker bars, clubs and other Christian churches of varying faith alignments. They also partner with Bill Glass Behind the Walls, a national organization dedicated to sharing the word of God with prisoners.
Once a year, the bikers of Rushing Wind ride their motorcycles out to either Belmont or Noble correctional institutions to meet with inmates who may want to know more about God or just have a little break in their routine. The Rushing Wind bikers line their motorcycles up side by side in the yard; the prisoners are asked to look but not touch.
“My Harley-Davidson is my pulpit,” Pastor Mike jokes. “The inmates come over to the bike, they ask about it, they might ask about your tattoos, and you’ll be able to explain what they mean, and it opens the door to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Mike has a few tattoos himself: the one on the outside of his upper left arm is a treble clef cutout with an image of Jesus’ face set inside that seems to sing along as he strums his guitar. Tonight, Michael preaches from Philippians chapters 1, 2 and 3 which feature the letter apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi while he was on house arrest.
“The sermon tonight is to encourage them—a lot of the people who come here are felons; they’re either going to prison or they’ve been out of prison, but you know what, they served their time, they’re here, and we want to minister to them,” Michael says. “They may fit in a little bit better here at Rushing Wind Biker Church because we welcome them as they are.”
The Rushing Wind Band plays one last song for the road as the misfit parishioners file out of the main hall, past the pool table and out through the double doors. The sun has set, and it’s time to go home. Well, for most of them anyway. Bubba and a few others ride to the Denny’s up the street to break bread instead. They’ll see each other again tomorrow.
By Amanda Weisbrod