Leather and Grace

Bikers in leather jackets cluster in a circle outside Coconuts Comedy Club. Heads bent, eyes closed, they stand shoulder to shoulder in prayer as a flock of motorcycles fills the parking lot. The prayer ends, and each extends an arm toward the center of the circle, their tattoos blending into a patch of blue ink. "One, two, three, saloon," they cry, raising their hands to the heavens. Then they head inside the comedy club to join the rest of Salvation Saloon's congregation for church services. The Salvation Saloon, a mainly biker church that gathers for fellowship each Sunday in Clearwater, shatters the bad-boy biker stereotype, proving that religious services don't always need to be traditional. Paul White of Palm Harbor believes the Salvation Saloon was a vision God sent him at a young age. The 47-year-old founder and pastor of the ministry never felt he fit in at conventional, mainstream churches. In 2004 White, a biker himself, started traveling to bars across Florida on Sunday mornings to spread the Gospel to bikers searching for a place to belong.

"If they weren't going to go to a traditional church, then we felt like, well, we'll take it to them," White said.

A comedian joined the outreach, breaking the ice for even the most apprehensive bikers. It wasn't long before the ministry took root. Two years later, the Salvation Saloon began holding weekly services.

Shelly Robinson of Largo has been riding her Yamaha motorcycle to the services for about a year. A friend handed her a church flier when she was going through a divorce. Robinson, 49, enjoys the non-denominational, nontraditional services.

"The word is the same," she said, "but the delivery system is different."

On a recent Sunday morning at Coconuts Comedy Club, the Salvation Saloon is packed. People in leather vests and blue jeans hug one another warmly and slide behind the bar tables facing the wooden stage where a worship band, the Posse, is warming up.

The Posse kicks off the service with a handful of songs. White strums on an electric guitar next to a beefy man in a leather vest puffing into a harmonica. People wave their arms in the air as rock and blues fill the room.

White understands not everyone is accepting of the church. He has heard of other churches that criticize the Salvation Saloon, yet have never been to a service.

"I think they just look at the name sometimes and assume that we're this creepy church that meets in a bar and that we're drinking as we're worshiping God," he said. "That's a misconception. There's no drinking allowed at our services."

The Saloonatics, as they call themselves, have expanded to nearly 150 members. The oldest is nearing her 100th birthday; the youngest is in diapers.

Through word of mouth, more nonbikers have joined the Salvation Saloon. White estimates that the church is composed of 60 percent bikers and 40 percent nonbikers.

"It's really turned into something that appeals to everybody," White said.

Carl DiVito, 58, doesn't own a motorcycle but joins his fellow Saloonatics for service each Sunday.

"They believe in take you as you are," said the Clearwater resident.

Halfway through the service a motorcycle helmet is passed around for the collection.

All eyes are on White as he hops onto a bar stool to preach.

"We're kind of like the Blues Brothers," he says to the congregation in a thick Boston accent. "We're all on a mission from God."

Bill Walch of New Port Richey is just one of Salvation Saloon's staff members on a mission. The tattooed 54-year-old travels with the church's prison ministry, telling his story of redemption to inmates. Walch, like many of the staff, has done prison time and found a home at Salvation Saloon.

"The love I felt when I walked in was so thick I could cut it with a knife," Walch said.

The service ends with a prayer. Some Saloonatics mingle over coffee. Others, seated on their Harleys, embrace before they part ways for the week.

"I think they just look at the name sometimes and assume that we're this creepy church that meets in a bar and that we're drinking as we're worshipping God. That's a misconception. There's no drinking allowed at our services."

Pastor Paul White

My experience was very rewarding

My experience mentoring weekly with the Ring of Champions was very rewarding. I witnessed a young man with a bad attitude about himself gradually gain hope and confidence for the future as we visited about God's love and plan for him over seven months.

Steven Fieldcamp

 

 

 

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Greetings from “Champions For Today”

"Champions For Today" is representing the preventative arm of Bill Glass Champions For Life in youth programs in schools bringing a message of hope. The Lord continues to open doors into our nation’s schools for our former professional athletes to address students with a faith-based message based on our own life experiences.

We had volunteers sponsoring our programs in their local areas who are veterans with “Champions For Today” as well as those from eight cities who were rookies! In total, our numbers were the largest for any school year to date since our inception in 1993.

Brazil, Jamaica and South Africa were our international outreaches recently.

We were blessed to be part of an outreach to young people in the hurricane-ravaged Gulfport & Biloxi, MS. schools. Through the years and throughout the globe, our message has remained consistent in an ever-changing world. Young people are looking for answers and hope. We count it a privilege to be a vehicle God uses to communicate His unchanging and unconditional love.

   
National Director of Champions for Today, 

Mike McCoy

 

Tanya Crevier

Tanya played college and professional basketball and was named Female Athlete of the Year as a Four Letter Winner at South Dakota State University.  She was inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame and the FCA Hall of Fame. She is in the Guinness Book of Records – World Record Holder for spinning 13 basketballs simultaneously.

 

Tanya CrevierTanya Crevier

 

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