Sometimes stories are about how everything comes together. Other times, it’s how it all falls apart. Hopefully there’s still room in the middle.
Disclaimer: There’s going to be reference to religion throughout this post. Above all else, I do NOT want this to devolve into hate or name calling. If you want to load your gun to take shots at a side, you may be able to find some ammo here, sure. But, that is DEFINITELY not my intent. We have enough soundbytes and tweets floating around the interwebs at this point to keep the war against people’s beliefs going for longer than I’ll live. So- if you’re going to skim or take things out of context, you might want to stop reading and go click on some top 10 reasons why you’re right or “They” are wrong. That’s fine. Honestly. If you want to see what a goat thinks (it’s in the web address along with “surly” and “speed”, and “wordpress” at this point too), you’re welcome to read on. After all it is 2015, the Year of the Goat.
Also, if after reading the whole thing, you’d like to discuss my observations and experiences further, I’d welcome the discussion. However, I’d prefer to do it face to face. We could involve coffee, but I’ll let you know now that Decaf is against my religion. I like to think Hate is too.
Sometime in late 2006, we saw a long standing event here in Butler, PA come to an end. It was a free bike giveaway that was part of the Island Community Day in the summer. Annually, 100+ bikes were fixed up and put back into the community. I took part for a few years up to that point as one of the main mechanics. It was great in that it got bikes into the community. It wasn’t so great in that the work was focused among a few people who would fix the bikes, transport them, and distribute them. Some of the free bike recipients were grateful and enjoyed and used the bikes for a long time. Others treated it as we often treat free stuff: the bikes were disposable. A flat? Ditch it in the weeds. Then, the local Police would find the bikes, store them while the owner was sought (they were considered potentially stolen property), and when no owner was found, they would be released back into circulation through the annual bike giveaway.
Circumstances were such that 2006 was the last Community Day. It wasn’t due to lack of bikes, but other factors. They’re not relevant to this story.
People were initially upset that this event came to an end. After all, kids got bikes and this was good, right?
Being that I was spending around 100hrs or so each year volunteering for the project I wasn’t disappointed in seeing it come to an end. The idea was wonderful, free bikes for all. The problem was in the division of labor. There needed to be a bigger buy-in on the recipient’s end.
So in 2007 we started the Fixed Gear Community Bicycle Collective. (OK, I’ll have to confess most of the “we” was me. I did have some definite support however, from Jeff Rapp, the owner of Rapp’s Bicycle Center, who had been the driving force of the Community Day Giveaway for years. Jeff Rapp is an amazingly generous human. I’ll have to tell more of those stories in the future.)
Coincidentally- then again, maybe not (you decide)- that was the year the community bike shop conference (BikeBike!) was held in Pittsburgh- a nice bike ride away.
At BikeBike! I learned a lot about what happens all around the country (and throughout the rest of the world as well) regarding bike shops that are non-profits, or in many cases, pretty much no-profits. While the demographics of the attendees ranged wildly, the love of people and bikes wasn’t. The community of leaders believed (and most likely still do) that the world would be a better place if more people were on bikes. And by more people, that means, anybody who is able to ride regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion.
By the end of the conference, the Fixed Gear Community Bicycle Collective really had gained an organizational focus. We would welcome everyone. We would help them fix their bike- for free. If they needed a bike, we could help find one that would fit them and they could have it- AFTER they helped us fix it up. We would also welcome them to join the party and learn how to fix bikes themselves. And so the cycle would go.
When we organized, we needed space for the bikes and tools. It was essential that the space be in a downtown location for easy accessibility by people of all socioeconomic statuses. (Note: I’ve always seen bikes as potential class equalizers. They’re a cheap, efficient, and relatively safe form of transportation for pretty much anyone who can walk, unlike automobiles which cost a lot more (as just a starting point). Stick with me here, I’m not going anti-car, I’m voting pro-bike. Big difference.)
I thought a logical choice for a collective to happen would be a church. After all, a church should be a pillar in the community where good things that benefit all people of their community happen. At least that’s what I get out of reading what people wrote a couple of thousand years ago about that guy Jesus. He seemed to be all about loving those around him, even those whom he didn’t approve of their lifestyle. He didn’t necessarily condone their actions, but he didn’t immediately condemn the person either.
So, we operated out of a church for a couple of years. Unfortunately, the church that we started at did not have a lot of extra space. We needed more than they could provide so we moved operations to another church. They gave us this space:
Thanks to the generosity of individuals making donations (some monetary, but mostly of parts), we were able to function for 4 years out of this location- without taking any money from the church budget. Each summer we were more and more successful, both number wise, and people wise. Our collection of participants included people from many socioeconomic backgrounds and with many different religious beliefs. And we did a lot of good fixing bikes with people. It got to the point where in a 2 hour session we’d typically help 5-10 people with their mechanical needs.
We also had a lot of fun spending time together as well.
Then it all came to a screeching halt when the church decided to tear down the building we were using:
It wasn’t that it was in disrepair. It was decided that the expense of the utilities was greater than the benefit of the space. So, our bikes and tools were moved to a storage spot in the main building and the house and garage were torn down (see the image at the top of the post).
In 2013 I was told that the church planned on building a shed for Fixed Gear operations. We waited. Then in 2014 I was told to pack up my stuff and get it out of the church. There would be no space. A short time later the church announced a $3.5 million dollar campaign for building projects. I’m not against those projects, but I’m having a hard time figuring out how a group that helped the community at no cost to the church whatsoever (except for the space) was told to leave.
Let me be clear: I am not bitter. I’m not harboring a grudge. If anything, I’m sad.
I do have a core set of beliefs. We all do. Since they’re my beliefs, I would like to think I’m right as well. After all, who wants to believe in something false?
One of my core beliefs is that we’re all citizens of earth (at least at this point) and we NEED to make the world a better place for as many of us as possible. I’ll throw the word love somewhere in there for sure. If that’s too vague, how about the concept of “Let’s be a bit less selfish and think of how our actions impact others and then do what’s best for ALL of us.”
Do the right thing. Do it all the time.
Once we get towards the details of beliefs and religion and such, I differ from a lot of my friends. And I’m totally fine with that. As long as we’re making the world a better place together I don’t really care about some of the points of their faith.
If someone is to have a religious belief system, it should cause them to act in a way that would benefit others- not just those who believe the same thing as they do.
If someone identifies themselves as an Athiest, I’m OK with that too- as long as their actions are working towards the benefit of mankind.
I know some wonderful people who I consider friends that are Athiests, Buddhists, Agnostics, Jewish, Christians, and some other places inbetween. I hope if they read this they still consider me a friend as well. I’m the same person I was before I wrote today, and I’ll be the same person after. Right now, I’m just disclosing some information to tell the story.
Now back to the Fixed Gear Community Bicycle Collective and the church story:
The church, as a whole, never understood what we did. We fixed bikes (typically on Mondays). The we in this instance was much, much more than myself. It was the nice cross section of our local community. Unfortunately, churches have more of a habit of functioning as fraternities or
sororities than they do as parts of a community.
There isn’t inherently anything wrong with taking care of your own and having a brotherhood or sisterhood relationship. Humans need fellowship. We are social creatures.
Churches do a great job of fellowshipping amongst themselves through church services, classes, studies, and groups. They also do quite well with physical and financial resources that support these ends.
For the most part they fall horribly short in getting out into the community. Take a look at the nice buildings, and then check to see what percentage of the time they get used for non-directly religious related purposes. It’s not wrong that they are used for religious purposes, after all, that’s part of an organization being an organization. It’s the percentage of the time that’s the problem.
Lack of human resources isn’t often the issue as well. People spend a lot of time with church-y activities to hang out with others of their same beliefs. Again, nothing wrong with fellowship. However, if you only spend time with people of your own persuasion, you’ll get a false sense of composition of the 7 billion inhabitants of this planet.
When a church does attempt to go beyond its doors, it’s often labelled as a “ministry” or an “outreach”.
Might as well put the Greek letters on your chest and show your true colors. The problem with “ministry” and “outreach” is that it identifies you as part of a group and separate from those around you. You get to “help others less fortunate” rather than live life as part of the community of humans on planet earth. For the most part, they’re cop out words to avoid getting real.
Of course, as with many things, there are exceptions to this, but they are just that- exceptions.
A few months back I was having a conversation with some friends where one mentioned that he had a friend who was an Athiest, yet joined a new church every year for 2 reasons:
1. For fellowship.
2. To see if there really was a church worth joining.
I think churches have tremendous potential. They typically have a great set of resources, both physically and financially. Having resources is good. Using them wisely for the greater good of EVERYONE is excellent.
Unfortunately, in my experience, the resources are far too often consumed in being a church rather than doing good in the community at large.
In spite of being kicked out of a church, the Fixed Gear Community Bicycle Collective will return for 2015. We’re working with a long time friend of the collective on a space. Actually, as soon as we were told to move our stuff out of the church, this person stepped in with a moving truck and storage space while we prep the new space.
I’m sad that the church never understood that we didn’t have to be a “ministry”. We were much more than that.
Bikes are a way of life.