Highway to heaven

ON a Sunday morning, you're unlikely to find Maryann and John Pool in any of Bendigo's many pews.

Leather-clad, wind in their hair and beard, the roar of motorbikes in their ears and the open road out in front, the two ministers take a different approach to spreading the Christian message.

The Strathfieldsaye bikers take to the road each weekend to meet with others in regional Victoria's biking community as part of their new church, Full Throttle Ministries.

"In October last year, God called us out of mainstream church," Maryann said. "A lot of people in the biker community don't feel comfortable in a mainstream church. Most would never think to set foot in church. With us it doesn't matter how many tattoos you have or what you look like."

The Pools started to convert a shed on their 40 hectare property between Strathfieldsaye and Eppalock into their own chapel and have held services each Friday night since April.

The congregation ranges between five and 10, and Maryann is realistic that building up the church will take time.

"It's all about building relationships at this stage," she said. "We know most people aren't completely comfortable around bikers and probably aren't going to go on rides each weekend.

"They might look big, rough and tough and the biker community just has a really bad name in general, but they donate more to charity than almost any other group."

The couple are one of dozens of groups seeking to create alternatives to traditional church in Australia in recent decades. The Pools believe fellowship can take place anywhere in which people are carrying out their message from the Bible, whether it's at the front bar of a pub, at a gathering in a public park or even on the back of their bikes in a carpark. 

Full Throttle Ministries' converted shed does have a large wooden cross on the wall, but the services are informal.

"We do bible study as well each Wednesday night, which we call Nuts and Bolts," Maryann said. 

"The word from the Bible holds us together in the same way nuts and bolts hold a motorcycle together. 

"We came up with the name Full Throttle because we're full throttle for Jesus. We're 100 per cent for Jesus."

Like a number of other biker groups, they focus on supporting children facing hardship. They volunteer their support to Destiny Rescue and the Prison Fellowship, helping to distribute presents and care to children across Victoria.

"The children of people who are incarcerated are often the forgotten victims of crime," Maryann said.

"If we don't look after the children, what kind of adults are we?"

This commitment was underscored by their attendance at last weekend's fundraising event in Newbridge for the Zayden Veal-Whitting memorial playground. Maryann has also connected with Machine Gun Preacher Sam Childers, a former bikie gang member who has now devoted his life to defending and liberating African orphans, child soldiers and sex slaves.

Childers will come to Bendigo next Sunday evening to deliver his message at Victory Church, a message Maryann saw as completely relevant to Full Throttle Ministries' mission focus.

The church remains in the fledgling stage, located on a rural property with a handful of regular attendees, but their biker-focused message of freedom, truth, honour and respect is quickly making its way down the regional Victorian highways.

Editor's note: A reference to the '1%' of bikers made in the original version of this story was incorrect. Neither Maryann or John Pool made any statement about '1%' of bikers or the God Squad.

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