SPENCERPORT — Several leather-clad bikers roared down Route 31 May 10 toward Trinity Lutheran Church, where a road-side sign proclaimed, "Welcome bikers." The cyclists parked their bikes behind the church, where a tent had been set up and refreshment spread out, and took turns admiring each other’s rides.
The motorcyclists had gathered at the church for the Second-Annual Blessing of the Motorcycles presented by Spencerport Ecumenical Ministries, which is supported by 10 churches in the Spencerport area, including St. John the Evangelist Parish.
"There’s a real need for motorcycle blessings because of the danger of the sport and the injuries, so as Christians we believe it’s good to ask (for) God’s blessings," said Craig Stratton, a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist and one of the event’s organizers. "Hopefully we’ll pray for the people now and we won’t have to pray for them when we’re in the hospital."
Stratton knows about hospital visits — and about bikers, for that matter. A former motorcyclist himself, Stratton founded Biker Down NY five years ago after witnessing a serious motorcycle accident in Stafford, N.Y. After visiting the injured biker in the hospital and praying with the man, Stratton began seeking out other injured motorcyclists to minister to. Soon injured bikers and their families were coming to him, asking him to visit and pray with them.
Stratton enjoyed working in the hospital so much that he eventually took a clinical-pastoral education class and is now a chaplain at Rochester’s Strong Memorial and Highland hospitals. He’s also training to be ordained next spring as a permanent deacon, a vocation to which he was led to by his hospital work, he said.
Stratton also gathers the names of injured bikers and posts prayer requests for those people on his ministry’s Web site, http://home.rochester.rr.com/bikerdown, where he also maintains a list of people who’ve died from accident-related injuries in the past five years.
St. John the Evangelist hosted last year’s blessing of the bikes, and Stratton and members of the ecumenical group anticipate the group’s 10 churches will take turns hosting it. In the future, they might even expand the event, promoting attendance it in western Monroe-County areas outside of Spencerport, Stratton said.
The bikers who gathered for the blessing on the sunny Saturday morning of May 10 were joined by several former riders and bike aficionados as well as one young man who brought a three-wheeled Honda all-terrain vehicle. The program began with a social hour from 10 until 11 a.m., when Stratton introduced Father Lance Gonyo, pastor at St. John the Evangelist, and the Rev. Keith Knupp, pastor at Trinity Lutheran.
"Holy Father, we thank you for this beautiful day. We thank you for motorcyclists and the freedoms they have in exercising their recreation this way. We ask you to continue to bless them," Stratton said.
Before asking God to bless those who use and enjoy bikes and trikes, the Rev. Knupp noted that God has enabled humans to create highways and great and beautiful things, including motorcycles, that help us cross the mountains and great distances that sometimes separate us.
"Whether they travel for business or pleasure, let them always find Christ to be their companion for their journey," he prayed on behalf of the cyclists.
"May the Lord be the guide of your journeys, so that you may travel in peace," he added, addressing the riders, who stood in a line beside their vehicles.
"We will just go through and bless each bike and then we’ll bless you, the drivers, too, and ask that you have a safe season," Father Gonyo explained.
Father Gonyo walked along the row, sprinkling holy water on each vehicle and pausing to lay his hands in blessing on each bike or trike and its rider. The Rev. Knupp followed suit, placing his hands on each rider’s shoulder and bowing his head for a few words of prayer with each.
The blessing itself was brief but valuable, said rider Ben Knupp, son of the Rev. Knupp. Ben Knupp traveled from Cleveland, Ohio, to take part in the blessing and celebrate Mother’s Day with his family.
"I think things like this are definitely worthwhile," he said. "On a bike you need every little bit of help you can get."
Fellow bikers Lisa Peters and Lynn Gursslin, both members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, said they enjoyed meeting and supporting other bikers at the blessing.
"That’s our main thing, is being amongst other bikers and getting more acquainted with them," Gursslin said.
Stratton said he hopes the blessing and prayers will help keep the bikers safe as they enjoy their sport, both on the highway and off.
"It’s important to be safe, and we think prayer is an important part of that," he said.