The Wings of Eagles ride along Route 31 enroute to Johnstown.
Dan and Mary Bates in Johnstown with the Wings of Eagles motorcycle ministry for the Thunder in the Valley motorcycle rally.
By Margaret Smykla
During the Wings of Eagles motorcycle ministry's ride May 18, a mother at McConnells Mill State Park in Lawrence County asked if she could take her daughter's graduation picture sitting on a bike.
The mother asked ministry co-founder, Tom Sutton, who, after the picture was taken, handed the mother and daughter Bibles he carries on rides.
"If the door opens, we step in as best we can," the Bethel Park man said.
Another ride is scheduled for 8:45 a.m. Thursday, when bikers will leave the parking lot of the ministry church, South Hills Assembly, 2725 Bethel Church Road in Bethel Park.
The ride will be a 50-mile round trip to Greene County using back roads and stopping for breakfast.
"As long as you have a bike and want to ride, we don't turn anyone away," said Mr. Sutton, 57, an electrician.
Among the core group of seven riders -- most of whom are church members -- is Mary Bates, who grew up riding motorcycles with her brothers.
In 2007, she purchased her own Harley-Davidson. Besides the relaxation of cruising the open road, the attorney said she treasures its religious aspect.
"It is an opportunity to meet different people and tell them about Jesus Christ," she said.
"Hopefully, they can see his light through us," she said.
Four years ago when she first met Dan Bates, the man who would be her husband, he did not ride bikes.
But that soon changed.
"Iwas not going to sit at home while she was riding," he said.
The Upper St. Clair man, 49, who works in marketing, took lessons and got a license.
After the couple married, he bought his own Harley-Davidson and now rides with the group, which has about 20 riders.
"It allowed me to very quickly embrace a group of people who are all God-loving," he said.
The ministry schedules about nine rides a season, which runs from April to October. But lots of impromptu rides also occur.
In its 11th year, the group took its name from Isaiah 40:31: "but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
Mr. Sutton, whose wife, Pat Sutton, is one of the church's pastors, said when he learns of a church or community member's need, he contacts Wings members for help.
Riders support causes with time and money.
"It's like a family," Mrs. Bates said.
The newest rider making his debut Thursday will be Robert Dennard, also a church pastor, who admitted he has talked about getting a motorcycle for the past 10 years.
When a donated one became available, the Bethel Park man jumped at the chance to ride and to become part of the ministry.
"Anytime folks can get together in the name of Jesus and glorify him -- by riding together, sharing his name, helping others, getting others interested in the church -- that is a good group," he said.
Mr. Sutton said the ministry's works are often as simple as giving thanks for nature's wonders.
"If we are riding by a beautiful site, we will often stop and look and marvel at what God has done," he said.