Motorcycle seats doubled as pews as more than 30 riders gathered for the First Annual Blessing of the Bikes Saturday morning at the Payson United Methodist Church.
During the ceremony, Rev. David Rennick bestowed a blessing upon each rider and his or her bike.
"May God bless you and keep you safe as you ride," said Rennick, cupping fragrant smoke from burning sage and lifting it to the shoulder of each person as they rode past in single file. "May you encounter the Divine in your travels, in the freedom of the open road, the fellowship of other riders and in each person you meet."
Similar blessing services are held nationwide, said Brad Bolt, education ministries director for the Payson United Methodist Church.
"People who ride motorcycles don't need to be ashamed of that in a church setting," Bolt said. "In our church, it is OK if you're not wearing your three-piece suit on Sunday morning."
The event also seeks to dispel negative stereotypes that emerged in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Bolt said.
"People say motorcyclists use drugs, drink alcohol excessively and are involved in violence or are unsafe," Bolt said. "Are there some of those components in the motorcycle community? Sure, but that's the case with every part of the population."
Ed "Hollywood" Holyoak, Rim Country district manager for the Modified Motorcycle Association of America, a motorcycle rights organization, said motorcycle riding is the highlight of his life.
"I just went over and knelt down by myself to have a moment with me and the Lord," said Holyoak, a Christian who has been riding on and off since he was 9 years old. "This is my church, if you will. This is the way I feel at one with everything."
Becca "Vine" Holyoak said she volunteers with the MMA up to 80 hours per week.
"We stress safety, education and awareness," said Becca, who has been riding her own bike for five years. "I enjoy volunteering and the outcome makes me so happy."
During motorcycle riding, the focus is on nature or a spiritual sense of connection with creation, said Bolt, who owns a Honda Shadow.
"You won't be thinking about the future or the past, work or problems at home," Bolt said. "You think about what you're doing right now, which can be very therapeutic in many ways."
The openness of the experience and camaraderie with other riders make motorcycle riding worthwhile, said Ruth Fulton, a member of Riders of the Purple Sage. The group, started by Bolt, consists of church members and friends who embark on weekend motorcycle trips around Arizona.
"I had horses for 30 years and when I lost my last one, I decided to go with a different kind of horsepower," said Fulton, pointing to her ‘01 Harley-Davidson Softail Springer. "Riding horses helped me in the learning process because I had the balance down. I just love it."
A strong bond exists between all motorcycle riders, regardless of the brand of bike they ride, said Glenn Dekeno, who flashes the peace sign as he passes other riders on the highway.
"If you see another motorcycle broken down on the side of the road, you are compelled to go see if they need help," said Dekeno, 70. "It's not like that with cars."
Dekeno's wife, Karen, jumps on his motorcycle, a dark green, classic Harley-Davidson. She wears a black cap decorated with yellow crosses and the words, "Ride with God." Later, leather-clad riders gathered at the Mogollon Rim for a final prayer. Standing in a circle with heads bowed, their voices rose in unison to "Amazing Grace."