NEW PALESTINE — Dressed in black leather chaps, a black leather riding jacket, biker boots and dark glasses, Mark Wesler looked more like a motorcycle gang member than a minister.
Knowing it’s never good to judge a book by it’s cover, Wesler chuckles when asked if he really is part of a biker gang.
“Why not?” Wesler wondered aloud. After all, as a pastor, he knows Jesus often placed himself in precarious, often unorthodox, surroundings.
Wesler, 63, complete with a scruffy gray beard and longer-style hair, is not a buttoned-up minister. The senior pastor at New Palestine United Methodist Church is an avid outdoorsman. He loves to get on his motorcycle, which is decked out with a leather-studded seat and loud pipes, to go cruising.
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“I remember when they first introduced him here as our pastor,” church member Brandon Rosenbaum said. “I thought, ‘Did they just say he likes to ride motorcycles?’”
Not only does Wesler like to ride, he also started a biker group called the Holy Rollers. They are a gang of neighborhood motorcycle riders who like to gather to ride whenever they can. While some of the members are church parishioners, they don’t have to be.
It’s all about the fellowship, Wesler said, getting together to enjoy the countryside.
“Regardless of religion, we like to reach out to people who have a common interest,” Wesler said. “We all just love to ride.”
Wesler, who’s been known to ride his motorcycle in January, likes to ride by himself or with a friend but mostly with a group to share the adventure. Wesler and a handful of riders went for a recent Saturday spring ride to Brookville Lake in Brookville.
Since then, Wesler has said the Holy Rollers motorcycle gang has grown to 10 bike members, and more are welcome.
Wesler bought his Roadstar motorcycle in 2007. He says it looks like a Harley and sounds like one, too.
“But it’s a lot less money,” he said with a laugh.
With a job requiring him to be a constant inspiration to church members and the community, Wesler said getting on a motorcycle gives him freedom to relax, enjoy nature and thank God.
“In the spring, I just love the smell of dirt and looking up into the sky and seeing the sun shining,” Wesler said.
Church members Brett and Katina Whalen have been riding their motorcycle for a couple of years and said the Holy Rollers is the only group they ride with.
“It’s nice to get together with people outside of the church and do something that everyone loves to do,” Katina said.
Having a pastor with a personality he’s not afraid to show is refreshing, Rosenbaum said.
“He’s kind of a dynamic character,” Rosenbaum said.
Church members who ride said they like Wesler being involved with them outside of his church duties. It shows he cares, they said, something a church leader is supposed to do.
“It’s kind of like going the extra mile,” Rosenbaum said. “It’s hard for us to do that if our pastor is not leading the effort.”
As leader of the Holy Rollers, there’s no telling where Wesler will lead the group during its summer riding adventures, but one thing is certain, Wesler said.
“We’re going to have fun whenever we can get together for a ride,” he said. “Anyone is welcome to join us.”