I was there the Easter Sunday when Moose McCloud walked into the Holy Redeemer Blessed Church of the Pentecost. The congregation had just started the first hymn when the turbulent rumble of a motorcycle pulled into the parking lot. The noise effectively drowned out the chorus – “My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day…” Voices risen in attempt to overcome the motorcycle thunder quickly fell silent.
The ladies were dressed in their finest chiffon dresses; each one accessorized by a Sunday hat, size dictated by the social status of the woman wearing it. The men, wearing the suit they would one day be buried in, exchanged curious glances as the main door slowly opened and a familiar big biker stepped into the sanctuary.
I didn’t know much about Moose, except that he was Viet Nam vet and kept mostly to himself. He was a persistent loner. His mother had been a long time member of our church and always said her son would come home after she died. I don’t guess anyone really believed her until today.
Every head in the place turned as if connected to the same swivel, eyes fixed on the newcomer, wondering what would happen next. His long silver hair fell past his shoulders. He wore a black leather vest over a clean blue jean shirt. He wore as much jewelry as any woman in the sanctuary. Dark tattoos decorated both arms down to his thick wrists. You could hear the tinkle of small chains dangling from his boots, a testament to the silence of the congregation. He made his way to the front row and found an empty seat near the aisle. He didn’t say a word.
The preacher cleared his throat and picked up the hymn where they last left off. The previous enthusiasm for song had left the congregation. Moose did not join in, he just sat there, eyes focused on the stained glass behind the pulpit.
It was a typical Easter sermon – all about the crucifixion and the resurrection. On Easters past, church members could get quite animated and liberal with “Amens” and “Hallelujahs,” but not that day. Brother Carter preached to the crowd, but kept his eyes on Moose. And when he was done he made the alter call with the organ playing softly in the background. Moose stood and stepped forward. The music trailed off to silence. He reached out and shook the nervous preacher’s hand.
Moose turned slowly to face the congregation. It was the first time I got a good look at his face. The march of time, the sun and wind, had carved tiny lines across his tanned cheeks. Tear drops collected at the corners of his deep blue eyes. In a soft voice he said, “Most of you know who I am, but you don’t know me.” He paused briefly to pull a kerchief from his back pocket to wick the tears from his eyes. “I promised Mama I would come back to church after she died and try to be a better person. I hope you can find it in your heart to let me stay here.”
A hush fell on the heels of his words and for what seemed like an eternity nobody moved. A slight gasp was heard from one of the elders as Abegail Crumpler slowly worked to the aisle, her large hat scrapping faces along the way. She struggled to the front using a wooden cane for support. Moose didn’t move, he just scanned the sanctuary behind her.
Abby was dwarfed by the towering biker, her eyes barely chest level as she stopped in front of him. She took his hand, looked up into his eyes and said, “John, you mother was part of our family. Of course you can stay.”
He smiled and said, “Thank you, Miss Crumpler. And, you can call me Moose.”
“Your mother called you John and around here, that’s what you’ll be called.”
One by one, members of the congregation stepped forward to welcome John McCloud into the church family – most of them anyway. A few chose to slip out the back door before the service was over. Some returned – some didn’t.
So here we are, a year later getting ready for another Easter service, and I can say with much confidence that John McCloud hasn’t really changed one bit. He is still one of the kindest, good-hearted men to ever grace the doors of the Holy Redeemer Blessed Church. But we’ve all changed for having him here. We’ve learned you can’t judge a man’s heart by the length of his hair or the clothes on his back.
Despite some members drifting away when Moose walked in, new faces have replaced them. The spiritual gains outweigh the physical losses. Out front there’s a new sign that reads, “Motorcycle Parking Only.” A dozen two-wheeled machines line up side-by-side, polished chrome reflecting the bright colors of chiffon dresses and Easter hats as the women walk past.