When Jesus Christ sent out his disciples to spread his teachings in what the Bible calls the Great Commission, they might not have envisioned going out on motorcycles to do it.
But, that is exactly what the Rev. DeDe Duncan-Probe — the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, the first woman to hold that position — does and what she will do next weekend when she participates in the annual Blessing of the Bikes at Christ Episcopal Church in Jordan.
The event is slated to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 13 at the church, 25 N. Main St., Jordan, with a brief worship service in which the bishop will bless the riders and their motorcycles. Then, she will join them on her black Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S — a birthday gift from her husband, she said — and take part in the one-hour ride before returning to the church.
Riders are expected back at the church by 12:30 p.m. for a barbecue lunch, and all bikers, family and friends, and motorcycle enthusiasts are invited to participate in the family-friendly event. There is no charge, but donations are welcome. People may call the church office at (315) 689-3141 for more information.
"We often separate out faith from every other aspect of God," Duncan-Probe said, noting she sees the event as a ministry opportunity as much as a leisure activity. "People who ride motorcycles, there's all types, and it's a great commonality, so I'm glad to have the opportunity to pray with people who I wouldn't otherwise get to see and make connections with people. ... It's a good opportunity to expand people's ability to connect with the church."
The bishop said her motorcycle license was actually the first license she held, obtaining it when she was 15 years old. Her father and brothers got interested in riding and owning motorcycles, but her father did not want her riding on the back of one — so he had her get her own license instead.
"I actually did not want to get my license it turns out. I was a little bit afraid of them, but he insisted I get my license so that I would not be on the back," Duncan-Probe said. "It turns out it was a great thing because riding a motorcycle has a very spiritual aspect for me. It's something that is very centering."
She rode motorcycles on and off for most of life since then, with a span of about 15 years where she did not ride at all. Years went by, she said, and then living in Virginia at the time, she heard the Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride — which demonstrates on behalf of prisoners of war and missing in action — go by and "just felt that yearning to ride again."
Still, the bishop said, it is not something that she talks about often — "I don't know of many bishops who ride motorcycles, to be honest," she said — and it was always something she did just on her own as part of her own re-centering.
It was during a walkabout with the diocese during Duncan-Proble's interview process that her hobby came up when she was asked what she does to keep herself spiritually centered. She said she mentioned "the usual things," such as retreats and praying, but then talked about being out in nature kayaking or riding her motorcycle.
Then, shortly after getting her new Harley last year, Duncan-Probe said she was on her way to the dealership to have a new piece installed when she inadvertently ended up in a parade of motorcycles that turned out to be a similar blessing event.
When she became bishop and found out that she could participate in such a ride in her own diocese, Duncan-Probe said she jumped at the chance, noting the Rev. Joseph Bergin, Christ Episcopal's priest, gave the blessing before last year's ride.
Duncan-Probe said she will not only bless the motorcycles but take part in the ride — as long as it doesn't rain.
"I'm not your typical motorcycle rider. I go the speed limit. I don't ride unless I have on my full gear. I'm very, very safety conscious," she said. "I don't fit at all with motorcycle culture, and yet they welcomed me with open arms and it was such a gift of grace for me."
Another gift of grace for the new bishop has the experience learning "what it means to love God and serve one another" in her first five months in the role.
"I'm learning a lot about how the church can empower faith and places where the faith can do a better job of empowering people's faith and ministry and then also just learning a lot about ministry as a whole," Duncan-Probe said. "I've been inspired by the ministries, the parishes where faithful people are gathering together and accepting one another and loving one another despite our differences."
Since becoming bishop five months ago, Duncan-Probe noted that she comes into her position at a time when the world seems to be more and more divided, yet she feels blessed to be involved in a denomination that is crossing divisions and seeking reconciliation.
"Right now in the world, there's so much division and so much hostility with people who don't agree with us or look like us," she said. "Part of the work of Episcopal Church is welcoming all people and coming together across those places of division and seeking to serve Christ and all people."
And it is a work that the bishop hopes to extend to those who attend the Blessing of the Bikes event and a message she hopes that they hear.
"Each person is a blessed child of God, and there's a place in the church for them," Duncan-Probe said. "God loves us as we are. We don't have to change to be loved by God. We're loved as we are. ... One thing I hope people experience, those who attend the bike blessing, is a sense of acceptance, that God cares about them wherever they may be, on a motorcycle or at the office or wherever life may take them."
Journal Editor Jonathan Monfiletto can be reached at email@example.com or (315) 283-1615. Follow him on Twitter @WOC_Monfiletto.
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