When you come to the Seven Cities Church of VA you quickly realize you are not in a normal, everyday church. You see leather, tattoos, beards and bikers. You feel like you entered into a biker bar, but it’s Sunday morning and everyone is sober.
Other individuals are wearing sweatshirts, T-shirts and cowboy boots while reading from the Bible.
Think of them as holy rollers – on Harleys.
Seven Cities Biker Church began in Virginia Beach and moved to Chesapeake a few years ago and then COVID hit and they closed down.
Currently, Rusty Rawls, the pastor, is hoping to reopen a once-troubled nightclub area in the heart of Great Bridge into a new home for his two-wheeled group of church misfits.
“It’s a biker bar for Jesus where they can come obtain the Holy Spirit of God,” Rawls stated.
At this bar, coffee urns have replaced beer kegs. Offerings are taken up in a boot, not a traditional offering plate. And your Sunday “best” is all leather, tattoos and blue jeans.
A cross in the lobby reflects the society. Rawls’ wife, Chris, made it with old metal pipes. The lobby is repainted white and also black with corroded orange trim.
The church was reborn as Seven Cities Biker Church.
“Praise God he’s offered us a place where individuals can come who do not feel like they can fit anywhere else,” Rawls stated to the 50 or so people that participated in the service.
Rawls understood the former home of Blakely’s Nightclub was the place to broaden his church when he initially laid eyes on its huge parking area – perfect for spin-outs and great deal of motorcycles.
Blakely’s closed down years back after surrendering its alcohol licenses. City officials blamed the club for becoming a sanctuary for criminal activity and also a noise complaints.
The area has an 11,321-square-foot building, sufficient to hold several hundred people, and it’s on the primary thoroughfare of Battlefield Blvd.
“Father, God, we thank you for this inaugural day,” Rawls stated in a preaching. “This is a structure that was used for evil. You’ve taken this structure and also turned it right into a house of worship.”
Services had been held in Virginia Beach at Spirit Haven Hall on Aragona Blvd for four hours on Sundays and 2 hours on Wednesdays until the last service there earlier.
“It’s almost like we’re beginning the church again,” Rawls said. “We just know God’s mosting likely to do advantages below.”
Rawls learnt about the brand-new structure from one of his churchgoers participants: Curtis “Gorilla” Wolfarth, who understands the proprietor of the building.
A lease hasn’t been formally signed, but Linda Overton, the assistant for building proprietor Bailey Parker III, stated the two “have a gents’s contract” and also they really hope the church will make its home there.
“We’ve got a good connection with them,” she stated of Rawls as well as Wolfarth.
Austin Blevins, 25, who stays in the apartment next to the church, stated he and a buddy were drinking on a porch when church members called up to them and also asked whether they understood an electrician. Blevins and his friend are both electricians, so they helped the church.
And after that Blevins went to Sunday’s service. It had been 6 months because he would certainly been to a church.
“It’s like a church for individuals that do not get involved church,” he claimed. “This church discovered me.”
Charles “Easy” Staples, 67, claimed he was shocked by the church’s variety when he discovered of it a year ago. The Norfolk homeowner has actually done missionary work in other countries, and now he assists spread the Word to bikers.
“It was out of my comfort area,” stated Staples, who is black. “Bicycle rider bars were not friendly places for black individuals. God has actually extracted that from me and also moved me to higher levels of understanding as well as freedom.”
For Rawls, motorcycles are a vehicles for getting the message out concerning God.
“Allow’s take the love of the bikes we have and also let us be his hands and feet,” Rawls claimed in Sunday’s preaching.
Seven Cities Church is a marriage of Rawls’ passions: bikes and Jesus. Rawls has actually been riding motorcycles since he was 9, and also he received Jesus in his 30s.
He began the initial Freedom Biker Church in Raleigh with Mike Beasley in 2006.
Beasley and also Rawls found out that many motorcyclists didn’t fit at typical churches.
“They weren’t accepting of them ’cause of just how they dressed,” said Rawls, a 47-year-old Ahoskie, N.C., native. “They ran out their element. They didn’t chat like them. They really did not dress like them. So they didn’t feel comfortable there.”
Today, there are 13 bicycle rider churches associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Rawls utilized to be a Nags Head policeman, Dare Area sheriff’s deputy and also, later on, a private investigator.
Rawls enjoyed his job, but he really felt a pull to offer God.
“He called me to the ministry.”
When Rawls’ child, Max, relocated to the area in 2009 to head to school, Rawls’ following calling started to become clear.
” We maintained seeing all the bikes below around,” he stated.
Rawls did his research as well as discovered there were 30,000 registered motorbikes locally.
When he approached Beasley concerning the suggestion of a church in Hampton Roads,” ‘Rusty,’ he claimed, ‘I have actually been praying 2 years for you.’ ”
Rawls prepares to set up pool tables as well as additionally use the structure as a recreation center.
“This is God’s doing, as well as we’re going along for the flight,” he said.
Resting at the end of a big parking lot, the Chesapeake church births reminders of its previous life as a bar and a hip-hop club. The fellowship and eating location at the front feature high- as well as low-top tables in addition to a bar, where numerous coffee makers rather than alcohol containers are shown. Sunday services are held in the former dance hall– a two-story cave with mirrored walls, a disc jockey booth, reduced lights and also a booming sound system.
The bell appears like the one that is sounded by the owner of a brand-new bike at a Harley-Davidson shop, Mr. Rawls claimed. The bike is like those that congregants rev to admire a participant’s baptism– an event executed in a galvanized horse trough.
On one wall surface, written in big block letters, is a paraphrase of John 8:36: “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
7 Cities hosts several church occasions and solutions throughout the year, including a family meal after the last Sunday service of every month.
Cars and vehicles filled up about half of the whole lot this past Sunday, as well as concerning 2 dozen dazzling bikes were parked in the fire lane before the reduced building.
Prior to each service, members and visitors are welcomed to “hang out” and after that join a prayer circle in the car park.
Pastor Jeremy Scott’s flourishing voice greeted the group. He wore a black natural leather vest, a T-shirt, denims as well as a bandanna that covered a lot of his head– however not his half-dollar-size earrings.
“Great to see you today,” he screamed, his chin covered by a graying red beard. “If you have anything holding you back today, let it loose. Place it inside the circle and leave it right here.”
After a series of prolonged worship songs done by a guitarist and a drummer, Pastor Rawls launched into his preaching. For an hour, he regaled the congregation with self-deprecating wit, personal anecdotes and a fatherly guarantee that it was not too late discover Jesus.
Laughter, claps and also yells of “Amen” punctuated his talk. When folks stepped forward to call the freedom bell and rededicate themselves to God, the praise was thunderous.
Feeling comfy and also welcome is why the church exists, Mr. Rawls said.
Some “old school bikers” that tried to connect with a local church found it challenging to overcome expectations of appearance and didn’t fit in with that spiritual community.
“A lot of were told to leave the outside after that return,” the pastor claimed. “But these guys enjoyed the liberty of the open road and wished to still ride their bikes. They’re looking for love and approval. It’s not our work to tidy ’em. It’s our job to get ’em in the baptistry as well as allow God do the rest.”