Requiem for a biker

Published March 2, 2010

david anderson /

The funeral home parking lot contained more motorbikes than the local Harley-Davidson dealership. That was appropriate. The funeral was for a biker in his early 30s who had dropped dead of a heart attack as he left a bar in the city.

He was loved and respected in the biker community, but he was also loved and respected by his more conventional family and friends. How was the church going to meet the needs of these two diverse groups and bridge the gap between them? As one of the more staid church friends of his family said afterwards, “I wondered how you were going to pull that one off.”

Well, it went something like this. On the casket was a biker’s helmet. By the side of the casket was a lawn chair with a fishing rod propped against it and a six-pack of beer in a cooler in front of it. His fellow bikers were the pallbearers. They sat in the front seats on one side of the chapel while family members took the front seats on the other side.

The funeral service followed the rite in The Book of Alternative Services. The music included traditional hymns. It also included music with words such as, We are not here for a long time, but a good time and All the women I have loved. The sermon acknowledged good things in the man’s life-good deeds, good relationships-and had a positive and scriptural resurrection message.

Afterwards, family members expressed their gratitude for the way things were handled. So did the bikers! They were most appreciative of the inclusion of what was important to them and of the resurrection hope, which they clearly understood. Few of them were practising Christians, but they had a deep spirituality and were able to connect with what the church was doing.

Family and friends were surprised that the funeral had both traditional church content alongside symbols of the biker lifestyle. And they were comforted and pleased.

The bikers were surprised that the funeral had symbols of their biker lifestyle alongside traditional church content. And they were comforted and pleased.

In the eyes of both groups, the church had been sensitive enough to meet people where they were and to minister to their needs. In the eyes of both groups, their opinion of the church was greatly enhanced.  But should this not be the way the church reaches out, always?

Jesus always meets people right where they are, bridges the gaps caused by diversity, ministers to human needs as they actually exist, and leads people closer to God. Is the church flexible enough to do the same?

In one community, the church got it right when it recognized two kinds of spirituality, two kinds of love, and then made room for both of them.

That’s how the church can-and did-pull it off.

The Rev. Patrick Tomalin, with his wife, the Ven. Dianne Tomalin, served Trinity Anglican/Lutheran Church in Port Alberni, B.C., where they now live in retirement.


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