What does a little country church and one of the largest motorcycle events in Canada have in common? You couldn’t have one without the other. Digby Wesleyan Church in Digby, Nova Scotia, has been a part of the Wharf Rat Rally from the start and, 14 years later, is still a big part of the rally’s success.
In 2004, Peter Robertson and Alex Joannides, friends of Rev. Andrew Maves, lead pastor at Digby Wesleyan, dreamed of a bike rally in their little town of Digby. The only thing that stood in their way was the bad reputation that is sometimes associated with the motorcycle culture. In order to gain community trust, they asked the church to join them in making the bike rally a reality.
By the end of the first meeting, a group of seven men were ready to birth a motorcycle rally. Five men were from Digby Wesleyan Church: Maves, Phil Robertson, Dr. Neil Pothier, Capt. Paul Gidney and John Soles. The first Wharf Rat Rally was held in 2005 during the Canadian Labour Day and Digby Wesleyan continues to host an annual biker breakfast and blessing service.
“These guys love Jesus, they love their community and they love riding,” said Maves, pastor of Digby Wesleyan. “Why not host an event that is good for the community and gives the church a chance to share the truth of the gospel to those in attendance?”
The Saturday breakfast that accompanies the rally has become an instrument of outreach — a time where Christians invite non-Christian friends with whom they ride to experience church in a new light. The breakfast also provides an opportunity to invite those friends back to the “blessing of the bikes” service the next day.
“For some, the service has become an annual pilgrimage of sorts,” Maves said. “It’s the place where many have found Jesus and others have been challenged to let their light shine in their own communities and churches.”
At this year’s blessing service, eight people placed their faith in Christ.
Digby Wesleyan holds two services on Sunday mornings and a biker service on Tuesday evenings. The church also has a growing online audience with its podcast.
“Our Tuesday night biker service came as a result of the rally success,” said Maves, who said Sunday is a popular riding day. “Phil [Robertson] and I had a burden for the guys we rode with, wanting to give them a place to discover God and strip away some traditions about church that scared them.” Tuesday and Sunday messages are identical and what started with six attendees on Tuesday now averages 45.
God is still using the church to bless the rally and his kingdom. The church plays an important role and provides the volunteer base that allows the rally to run smoothly. This is a big feat, as the population swells from 2,000 to more than 20,000 on some rally days.
Culturally, the event is also somewhat different than what Digby is used to. A small village on Canada’s east coast, Digby survives on tourism and the fishing industry, attracting visitors with its lobster, scallops, seascapes and whale watching. Bikers join those visitors in enjoying area attractions, with the added blessing of Digby Wesleyan Church’s offering them physical and spiritual nourishment.
Photos provided by Karla Kelly