Bike Ministry on a roll at Sarah Jane Johnson UMC
August 28, 2023 / By Rev. Carolyn Stow, pastor at Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church
"Rosalynne riding her new bike yesterday! Already riding by herself!!! Thank you all so much!! You've made our kiddo supper happy and proud of herself," wrote one mom whose daughter received a new bicycle during a recent family bike giveaway at Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City.
That was the text message with a short video waiting for me after church. The 36-second clip ends with Rosalynne’s smiling face telling me that she feels ready for second grade now. I met her the day before at one of Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial UMC’s Bike Giveaway Days. She was test-riding a bike that was far too small for her. She had never ridden without training wheels and the bigger bikes were just too big for them. We looked at several choices in her size, but she wouldn’t agree to any of them – even that one that lit up her eyes when she saw it. When her folks felt comfortable leaving her with me to go check out some bikes for themselves, we talked. I let her know that Officer Peets from the Johnson City Police Department’s Bike Patrol Unit was onsite and ready to give riding lessons to anyone who asked. Rosalynne and her family got more than some bicycles, helmets, and locks that day.
The Bike Ministry grew from a summer youth outreach effort 16-years ago that included workshops where participants worked on their own bikes, side-by-side with volunteers from the Southern Tier Bike Club, gaining repair and regular maintenance skills. While many were reached and served that summer, church and bike club leadership saw first-hand just how many children are without bikes. In talking with folks from other outreach ministries, they learned about the benefits bikes would be for some adults too. Augie Mueller, president of the bike club and a master at reconditioning bicycles, was excited to “get bikes under butts” and got others excited too. He put together a team to collect donated bikes and refurbish them to be given out during the first Bike Day during the summer of 2008.
Augie has since retired from his leadership position in the bike club and from The Bike Ministry. There’s still a dedicated group of volunteers who we call “Augie’s Angels” led by church member Dave Belknap, or as he is known on Tuesday nights, Bike Guy. Dave has succeeded in revitalizing the ministry as we emerged from the pandemic. We needed to restore our stock of repaired bikes because, while we were in times of quarantine, the cellar where they were housed was looted. We moved what few bikes were left to rooms in the church and started giving out repaired bikes through individual appointments, which we still do. Last spring, Dave coordinated his first Bike Day - we’ve had four so far.
Last fall, he brought back the repair part of the ministry. Most Tuesday nights he can be found in the bike repair shop, which once housed arts and crafts. Dave and a few other of Augie’s Angels open their shop to anyone who brings a bike in need. One such person, Tom, is a regular visitor. We at church have known Tom through our other outreach ministries and he was very excited to get some help with his bike. Tom makes most needed repairs himself but sometimes gets to a point that he can’t figure out how to finish a repair, so he asks the Bike Guy. Dave explains the mechanics and Tom moves forward. Dave and Tom have bonded through their shared interest in things mechanical and Tom seems to have found a comfort zone in the repair shop where he leaves his anxiety at the door and puts all his energy and focus into repairs. Dave explains, “Tom has an interest in mechanical things and seems to slow down to attend to a detail here and there. There’s something about using his mind and hands simultaneously, that helps him focus a bit more and learn.” Tom is very grateful because as he explains, “It helps me keep from smoking and drinking and bugging my neighbors. I need to have something to do with my hands – it’s a coping skill.”
And there’s Ali, who we were introduced to by the Rev. Joyce Allen, Pastor at Ogden-Hillcrest UMC. Their community of faith has been ministering to Ali, helping her better meet her adult responsibilities. Rev. Allen asked me over lunch one day if our program had any bikes with pedal brakes and she shared a little of how Ali’s struggles with Cerebral Palsy include weakening strength in her hands. Ali works in housekeeping at a local hospital while raising her eleven-month-old son as a single parent. When Augie’s Angels found out, they built a bicycle to meet her unique needs. She has now cut her commute to and from work in half, saving five hours each week in childcare costs. She can also run errands, grocery shop, and make it to appointments with less demand on her body. Rev. Allen expressed gratitude, “I love how the Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial UMC is there to help everyone, even other church's members, when they need it.”
Expressions of gratitude like these are only a small part of what fuels the Bike Ministry – the smiles we see on so many faces, the opportunities created for family togetherness, the helping hand to increased independence, and knowing we are loving our neighbors is what it’s all about. Bike Guy, sees the Bike Ministry as a “community that includes those who donate bikes and resources, Augie’s Angels, and those who receive the bikes, with the church at the center.”