- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) - Some people spent the first warm weekend of the year at the beach, listening to the tranquil sound of the waves rolling in.

Others - such as those who filled the Ocean Beach Park parking lot Sunday - elected instead to spend a sunny spring afternoon surrounded by the roar of engines.

Hundreds of motorcycles swarmed to Ocean Beach for the annual blessing of the bikes, conducted by Rev. Michel Belt of St. James Episcopal Church.

This is the eighth year the New London Motorcycle Club has held the event, which includes live music, food and vendors selling T-shirts and artwork. The $5-per-bike admission charge supports the New London Covenant Shelter and the Waterford Country School.

“I love it, it’s a lot of fun,” said Margo Rossiter from behind a bike windshield dripping with holy water. She braved a cold early morning ride from Coventry to have her bike blessed for the second year in a row.

Motorcyclists entertained themselves by weaving through orange traffic cones, and visitors-most dressed in black leather-surveyed the items on sale at vendor booths, such as pictures of skulls set against bright yellow, blue or green backgrounds.

Next to the vendors, two St. James parishioners wore white robes, causing them to stand out among the sea of black.

Motorcycles seem to “run a little better with prayer,” said Ron Steed, one of the St. James’ parishioners.

Although he responded to one man’s request to bless his Corvette, he and fellow parishioner Grace Barnum weren’t at the event to help bless vehicles. They were making themselves available in case anyone needed a prayer or just wanted to talk.

St. James participates in other community-oriented events by blessing animals and offering “Ashes to Go” outside Union Station on Ash Wednesday. These types of events offer a different way to engage with the public and sometimes bring new people into the church, said Steed.

“These days, if you’re waiting for people to come into a church like St. James, you’ll be waiting a long time,” he said, explaining that the building could seem quite imposing and that many people today weren’t raised in church.

At an event like the blessing of the bikes or “Ashes to Go,” someone who may have been thinking about making changes in their spiritual life may interact with St. James parishioners and decide to take action, said Steed.

But he and Barnum emphasized that they don’t attend events to evangelize.

Their purpose is “just being where people are,” said Barnum.

Across the lot from the Barnum and Steed, representatives of the Full Throttle Biker Church in Groton, grinned at friends and fellow church members.

Melissa Miles, a deacon at Seaport Community Church, said Full Throttle is an offshoot of her church geared toward bikers.

Services include a half-hour of Christian rock, a half-hour of preaching and two hours of “really good food,” explained Miles. The church has a whole host of events planned for the summer, including a pig roast, steak dinner and poker run.

Miles said she’s ridden bikes but wouldn’t consider herself a biker. But she loves being involved with Full Throttle.

“We welcome everybody,” said Miles, explaining that the church attracts “yuppie” bikers, who might ride on weekends and work at Pfizer during the week, as well as the bikers who have experienced “rough times and rough lives.”

“You meet the people from all walks of life,” she said, watching Belt make the sign of the cross over a line of Harley-Davidsons. “The bikers are the most interesting and fun group of people.”

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