Chuck Pearce is a big dude. No, seriously, the guy’s the size of a wall. Or a Smart Car.
He’s got tats. He wears black t-shirts and jean vests and shades and bandanas like a GQ model wears the trendiest hipster puffery. His greying goatee completes a look that can best be described as imposing.
It’s an image Pearce comes by honestly. He’s no poser and he’s no newcomer, and he’s had his fair share of bad times to go with the good. That he’s as passionate – and sometimes downright opinionated – about his calling in life is somehow not surprising.
That calling took him to motorcycles and a biker lifestyle at a young age and ultimately, eight years ago while confined to a jail cell, to the church. Pearce says God helped him through a particularly rough time. In return, Pearce vowed to serve him.
That he’s done, in seemingly typical Pearce fashion. By 2010 he’d already become an ordained minister. The same year, he founded this region’s first church aimed primarily at his peers – the Surrey branch of North Carolina-based "Freedom Biker Church."
Chuck Pearce at the "pulpit." (Photo: GORD GOBLE)
Outwardly, this was a heck of a feel-good story headline: "Biker turns life around, helps others do same." But as the days turned into years and even as newspaper headlines championed the entire thing, Pearce and his leadership struggled. Increasingly, they felt the church had lost its way.
"We were getting a fairly strong contingent of people from the recovery world. People that regularly attend NA meetings, AA meetings, street hustlers, and they were focusing very much on their recovery, wanting to change the church to more of a recovery focus. They were more interested in a fellowship group versus a church, and a lot of bikers stopped coming, saying we don’t want to go to a recovery church."
Worse still, funding for the endeavour was drying up.
"We started this four years ago, and after three years of being under the Freedom Church banner, the way they do things is to cut funding, and that’s what happened."
As 2014 began, Pearce found himself helming an organization that had not only lost its direction, but its money too. For lesser men, this could have spelled the end. But not this guy.
Soon enough, Pearce cut ties with the Freedom Biker Church, and in March became a volunteer pastor. An independent, if you will. He started a scrap metal business too, directing spare proceeds to his freshly renamed ministry, the "Solid Rock Biker Church."
"God has provided to us through the business. The church wouldn’t be here without it."
Chuck Pearce addresses his congregation. (Photo: GORD GOBLE)
Along with the new moniker came a refocusing. "Earlier this year, we made the decision to tell recovery members that they were entirely welcome to stay, but we’re a church. Our focus is bikers. Today we’re now far more of a biker church than we’ve ever been, and that’s given us greater acceptance in the biker community."
Indeed, looking around the church (the rented Kennedy Community Hall) on this bright October morning, there was no denying this was most definitely a biker crowd. Not the crotch-rocket kids, either, but the hardcore types that, rightly or wrongly, strike nervousness into "regular" folk.
Pearce has a plan for that too. And some of that plan was laid out before us on folding tables just outside the main hall. It was food, and lots of it.
"We’re trying to connect with the general community. They look at bikers and are intimidated. So today we’ve launched a food drive to give back to the community."
The plan hatched when Pearce spoke with a congregation member who’d lost his job and had been compelled to turn to the Surrey Food Bank. Though he eventually found another job – a better job – he’d told Pearce the resource had been invaluable.
So now, the congregation is asked to bring non-perishable items when they come to worship. The food is packaged in boxes, the boxes delivered to the Surrey Food Bank. And yet another new concept is introduced.
But as much as his church has seen change, the core ideals remain unwavering. Says Pearce, "Other bikers look at our guys, some of whom have reputations, and they say that if these guys can leave their old world behind and yet they’re still happy and they’re still bikers, maybe I should look at it."
The Solid Rock Biker Church runs every Sunday from 8AM to 12:30 p.m. at Kennedy Community Hall. Ask for Reverend Chuck.