Tattoos, leather jackets and motorcycles may not be the traditional image of the church in Scotland.
Pastor of the Victory Biker Church in Macduff, Gordon Welsh, didn’t always want to be a minister as he felt he “couldn’t find a church to settle with”.
Two years ago, however, he decided to step forward himself and formed a ministry called Christ Misfits for “those who didn’t identify with the suit and tie image of a Christian”.
In January last year, this evolved to become the Victory Biker Church and he is now appealing for more people to consider joining.
It is based on examples in America and Mr Welsh had contacted a member overseas before starting the church in the north-east.
He said: “The story of how I came to start out is that I had a bad experience with a lot of churches because I am covered in tattoos, because I have my hair a little bit different, I ride a motorcycle, and I am a bit rough round the edges.
“I didn’t really feel accepted in the church and couldn’t really feel like the church catered for my kind of needs.
“I went from church to church trying to find that and I found there was nobody that really catered for the bikers, the rockers, the punks, the goths or even anybody that was slightly different.”
Starting small but with arms open to everyone
The small congregation in Macduff is made up of seven members, with the youngest being 18 and the oldest is 70-years-old.
The non-denominational church offers “an environment free of judgement”, challenges stereotypes of Christians and bikers and provides a “voice for people who maybe can’t speak up for themselves”.
The popular American drama Sons of Anarchy has been “an obstacle” for the church but it has also “drawn people” towards the pastor.
What makes a minister?
Mr Welsh said: “I’m covered in tattoos and apart from “preacher” up the side of my arm none of them are religious.
“The common question when you first meet someone is what do you do for a living.
“I say I’m training to be a hairdresser which is what I do on the side of running the church.
“That raises questions because I don’t look like a hairdresser either and they’ll ask if I’ve always done that.
“I’ll say well actually no, what I do on the side of that is that I’m a pastor.
“I always get the same answer back, “aye, like a church pastor?
“They’ll then say I don’t look like a minister.
“What I say to that is, ‘well, five minutes ago I didn’t look like a hairdresser but you’ve accepted that, so what’s the problem with accepting I’m a minister’.”
The 26-year-old stressed the church is “not a motorcycle club”.
“It’s run by bikers, but it’s not exclusive to bikers,” he said.
“We’re not a motorcycle club by any manner of means – there’s enough of them out there for people to enjoy.
“We cater for different people, depending on who comes along. We’ve got a range of ages and cultures.”
Helping those battling addiction
The church also offers support for those battling mental health problems or addiction.
Mr Welsh said: “A lot of people have come to me have come from backgrounds of abuse or addiction and of problems with the police and they’ve turned their lives around through the help and support we offer.
“What we try and do is not take you off drugs and find what people call a positive addiction, we try and break that addiction.
“We help break that habit. We have a two step programme, the first step is admitting you have a problem the second thing is fixing that problem.”
The help offered isn’t exclusive to those with drug or alcohol issues.
Mr Welsh added “A lot of addiction programmes only deal with drugs and alcohol.
“We are open to any kind of addiction. One of the addictions we helped overcome lately was an addiction to sugar.
“If you go and apply to any rehabilitation with that, they’re going to laugh you out the door.”
The church has been “slow off the ground” due to government coronavirus restrictions, but Mr Welsh said: “The message we want to put across is we don’t care who you are or where you’ve been.
“We’re more interested in where you’re going.”
Church services are currently online due to Covid restrictions but those interested are encouraged to get in touch.
For more information or to receive support, call 07759 637066 or visit the Victory Biker Church Scotland Facebook page.