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Iron Horse Church has grown since 2004

Black leather, long hair, boots and jeans. Biker colors earned through discipline, worn with pride. At Iron Horse Community Church on Cowan-Lorraine Road, attendees wear their Sunday best. The parking lot is lined with iron horses, a cross section of makes and models. We’re talking motorcycles here.

Early in this recent service, a thunderstorm cuts loose. A general disturbance ripples through the congregation, as helmets are retrieved from the rain, and riders wonder out loud what the journey home will be like.

Pastor Joey Hagwood has ridden motorcycles all his life, beginning on the figure-eight track his dad made for him and his brothers. Now he and his wife both ride Yamaha 1600 Roadstars. An open-faced, clean-shaven, middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair, he is easy-going, and open about the broken road that brought him to his vocation.

A brush with the law is not an uncommon thread weaving through the congregation. Hagwood’s story shares that thread. Thirty years ago, when a judge granted him freedom instead of prison, a vow to God brought about a conversion and a call to preach.

“The most powerful force in the universe is love,” he said, “and it’s unconditional love that keeps this fellowship together.”

Iron Horse Community Church was founded in 2004 with six members, in a spirit that looked beyond a person’s history and appearance, and straight to the heart.

“Every Sunday since then, we’ve had people visiting, being saved and baptized. Our mission is to reach out to the biker community and their families. We want to help these families during Christmastime. We want to help, whatever the problem may be,” Hagwood said. “We want to be there when a biker goes down. When we hear about it, we go to the hospital and visit with them. In late September, we will have a Biker Poker Run Benefit for a member waiting for a heart transplant.”

Curt Wright, a handsome man with a slow drawl and disarming smile, rides a ’95 Harley Wideglide. He eagerly shares the advent of his faith and his association with the church. “I’ll tell you exactly how it started. I was in a hospital bed, a hair’s breadth from death. At 12:15 on Sunday, the second of two blood clots traveled through my heart and lodged in my lung. Worst pain I ever felt in my life. Three of these guys from Iron Horse came to visit me the next day. They told me the church was praying for me at 12:15 Sunday, the exact minute the clot hit my heart. Had it lodged there, I’d have died. Now, wouldn’t you come here?” he asked, smiling broadly.

Asgard Curt is headed to South Dakota and the largest biker rally in the world with his friend Drummer, a bearded young man with an angelic face peering from under a felt Indiana Jones hat. Drummer is direct, but shy about the changes he’s undergoing through his association with Iron Horse.

“I’m not as judgmental, and I’m more forgiving than I used to be. I can’t say I’m perfect; I still hit bumps in the road.”

Kirk “Spider” Streetman, a member of Iron Horse, sports Ben Franklin specs and a shaved head. He believes the church is God’s will. “What I see Iron Horse doing is showing the hard-cores that Christians are not all tie-wearing, suit-wearing, I’m-better-than-you-type people. We show the church and the world that bikers can be Christians, too.”

Where differences between Iron Horse Community Church and mainstream churches end, the similarities begin. The preaching is punctuated by thunderclaps and lightning. The messages of redemption and grace are sound. Little ones squirm in the pews. Contented looks spread across the faces of the men, and “Amens” rise from their lips, for many of these bikers have already made the journey home.

Robert ‘Bubba’ Carlisle of D’Iberville, left, and Ronnie Spradlin of Biloxi pray at the conclusion of a recent Sunday-night service at Iron Horse Community Church in Gulfport. The church was formed in January 2004, hoping to reach out to bikers and their families.

A bible hitches a ride to church on its owner’s motorcycle.