Fort Meade Bike Fest Revs Into Town For Second Year
by James Coulter
When Travis Risner and his biker buddies pull up to a bar on their motorcycles, they appear like any other biker there. They dress like every other biker, and they even have a few drinks like any biker.
This makes it all the more surprising when the people they talk with discover they’re not like every other biker: they’re a Christian motorcycle ministry.
“It is surprising to see how many people are surprised when you sit in a bar and you’re talking with them and you tell them you are part of a Christian motorcycle ministry,” Risner said. “It is always neat to engage people to meet their stories and make them think about who God is and how awesome his love is for us.”
Risner serves as the pastor for First Church of Fort Meade. When he’s not behind the pulpit preaching the Sunday sermon, he’s behind the handlebars of his motorcycle, traveling with his members to local bars and bike events to help share the good news with fellow bikers.
Their motorcycle ministry, Sons of God, was started nearly a year ago, and currently has ten members that meet at least once a month. Many of these members are from the church, while others are from other churches outside of the area, some as far as Lake Wales, Wauchula, and Auburndale.
No matter how far they drive in from, their mission is always the same: to share their love of biking and use that love to help reach the gospel to other bikers. As their mission statement says, their goal is to point the direction to “the road back home.”
Risner believes in extending the concept of church outside the church walls and reaching out to other people in the community, especially people who would otherwise be overlooked by the world at large. God does not judge others, so neither does he, he explained.
“A church is not a building, it is who we are as a kingdom, and this is what we do, to love the community and love people and love people part of God,” he said. “We are trying to be a church that engages the culture and reaches out to people who may not relate to church. We are a different type of church. We are a church where you can come and be what God made you to be, and that is why we are here, that is why we do this thing.”
For the past year, his church has been reaching out to the biker community, as well as the community in general, through their annual Fort Meade Bike Fest, which was hosted last Saturday.
Dale Roberts, who oversees the church’s motorcycle ministry, as well as the annual bikefest, believes in their mission to reach out to others who would otherwise not be reached, and feels that this event offers such an opportunity.
“The way our ministry is…we have a cross on our back, but we will sit down at a bar and have a good conversation among friends and let people look at us and try not to judge us and we show them we are not judging them, we want that acceptance of open feelings and love,” he said.
Roberts got started with the church by helping to run sound and play bass. He and the pastor decided to use their love of biking to create their new ministry, Sons of Glory, which in turn inspired the annual bikefest.
The first year the event was hosted drew in at least 600 people, many on their bikes, of course. This year’s event more the doubled the size of the event with more vendors and two live bands.
Attending the event were several local organizations and businesses selling food and other merchandise. The local veteran’s association sold hot dogs and hamburgers, Got Candy sold their famous frozen cheesecakes on a stick, and other local vendors sold everything from jewelry to crafts.
Danny Garrett, owner of Wind Wings, attended the event for the first time this year to promote his product, which serves almost as “air conditioning” for cyclists. The business had been around since 1986, and he took ownership in 2014. This was his first event he attended within Polk County, having previously attended other bike events elsewhere.
“The best thing we like about it is that it offers the highest quality product in the market,” Garrett said.
The very first Fort Meade Bike Fest was hosted to honor and support local veterans. This year’s event was to support the community as a whole, bringing people together for food, music, and an overall love of cycling.
“We want the community to come together and just see that the church and church motorcycle ministry we have here,” Roberts said. “We don’t judge, we accept, and our mission statement is to lead people to the road back home. And that is what we want to do today, we are just trying to get people in and let them hear the word of God.”
Roberts hopes to continue his event for many years to come, and while he hopes that it continues to grow, he hopes that it will never outgrow their original intent.
“Our expectations are to grow but not to grow past God,” he said. “We want every step we do to be God driven. Our goal is that if we reach one person at this event, then what we do at this event is well worth every bit of it.”