After exiting I-40 the drive to Vale, N.C., is anything but direct. One turn follows another on one country road after another. The scenery, though, is breathtaking.
Mountains in all their splendor loom over every curve of the highway. An occasional country store breaks the color of open pastures and green fields. Vale seems a quaint, peaceful little town; an unlikely candidate to claim a church that hosts ministries for motorcycle riders and skateboarders.
Pastor Marcus Redding and Hulls Grove Baptist Church in Vale have learned they don’t always pick the people they serve. Sometimes God brings opportunities along and it’s up to the church to be faithful and respond, even when the task is unexpected and outside the boundaries of what is familiar and comfortable.
Hulls Grove started The Way Skate Ministry about four years ago. “I thought it was crazy,” Redding said.
“I didn’t realize skateboarding was back. We’re out in the country. I thought, ‘no one is going to skate here.’”
The skate ministry began as a Bible study in Seth B.’s backyard. (Seth has since gone to an international mission field, and asked that his identity be obscurred here) Seth, a skateboarder himself and member of Hulls Grove, started doing a Bible study with a few teenagers who enjoyed skateboarding.
Seth and his dad built a half pipe ramp in the backyard and the group of teenagers at their home started increasing week after week.
Hulls Grove saw how Seth ministered to teenagers and the congregation was ready when asked to help him do even more.
The church funded the building of portable skateboard ramps and started The Way Skate Ministry, which now meets in a 5,000 square-foot building.
On Tuesday nights middle school students come out to skate and hear a Bible study. On Thursday nights students high school age and older get to skate.
“The youth are used to being rejected at school,” said Bobby Farmer, pastor of evangelism and missions at Hulls Grove.
Farmer is providing oversight to the skate ministry as Seth is now serving the Lord on the international mission field.
“They try different things not because they are against God, but to push the envelope, to see if people will really get to know them and love them. They just want to be accepted.”
Most of the youth who come to skate are local. Some are involved in church and others are not. Farmer said some of the students are agnostics or atheists. Regardless of where they come from or where they are now, the skate ministry seeks to share the gospel and the love of Jesus Christ.
Farmer has watched as youth go from questioning God and the Bible to trusting Him as personal Lord and Savior. Hulls Grove uses skateboarding as a way to extend ministry beyond their community.
Church members travel across the state, as well as to South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana and Canada, with the portable ramps, especially during the summer months, participating in block parties and special events.
“The Lord is letting us have interaction with the lost community,” Redding said.
Although The Way Skate Ministry was totally different from any kind of ministry Hulls Grove had ever done before, Redding said the congregation was onboard and supportive from the get-go.
When another unique opportunity came along more recently the church was ready to get behind it.
Greg Spurling is pastoring Freedom Biker Church in Hickory. Spurling served four years as minister of education at Hulls Grove before taking the lead at Freedom last August. The congregation meets in a warehouse building off I-40.
Freedom Biker Church began with Spurling and six other people from Hulls Grove. Now as many as 50 have come on a Sunday to worship with Freedom Biker Church. The congregation represents a wide range of ages.
Two years ago Spurling was invited on a mission trip to Canada. He joined others who decided to ride their bikes to Canada. While on that trip teammates asked him to consider starting a biker church.
“I kept telling them no. For about a year I kept telling them no,” Spurling said. “God changed my heart.”
At Freedom, “we try to be as transparent as possible,” Spurling said. “Our focus is building relationships. At some point in their lives they have been to a church and haven’t been received well.”
Not at Freedom Biker Church. All are welcome to come, as they are, to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. For more information about Freedom Biker Church of Hickory visit www.freedombikerchurchhickory.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Lilley is a writer and researcher for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)