Curtis Jamieson looks likes the perfect biker cliché: His hair is pulled back into a long ponytail that runs past his shoulders, he's wearing a slightly intimidating leather vest adorned with multiple patches over his heavily tattooed body as he stands next to a dozen or more motorcycles.
But Jamieson is much more than just a biker, because Christian symbols leap out from the patches on his vest and the motorcycles he's standing next to are in the parking lot of the South Walton First Baptist Church, which chartered a local chapter of the Heaven's Saints Motorcycle Ministry on Sunday.
"We (bikers) aren't as wild and crazy as the world thinks we are," said Jamieson, a Phenix City, Ala., resident and the international president of the ministry. "It's easy for people to judge us on our appearance."
Founded in 1979, the Heaven's Saints Motorcycle Ministry was formed to spread the world of the Lord, without excluding anyone because of physical appearance.
The founder of HSMM, Barry Mayson, was a former member of the notorious Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, until he found strength in religion and escaped that life after fellow bikers ordered Mayson to "eliminate" members of a rival gang on the East Coast.
"The only way out is death," is reportedly the No. 1 rule of the Hell's Angels organization, so Mayson's decision to leave the club was an extremely dangerous one. Although members of the gang sent hit men after him, Mayson was successful in starting his new life and motorcycle ministry.
Although Mayson passed away in 2007, the ministry continues to grow. Today, the HSMM has more than 30 chapters throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and Ireland — with it's newest chapter officially opening in Santa Rosa Beach this past Sunday.
The newly formed Walton County chapter of the Heaven's Saints Motorcycle Ministry is led by ministry president, Dr. Walter Campbell, the pastor of The South Walton First Baptist Church in Santa Rosa Beach and vice-president, Robert Happoldt, pastor and ministry leader of Heaven's Way Biker Church in Cottondale.
The goal of the ministry is to spread the word of God — to everyone.
"We have zero tolerance for judgment in our ministry," said Happoldt. "If you don't feel welcomed here, then there's really something wrong."
"Bikers, pirates and highwaymen — all are welcome to be a part of the HSMM," joked Campbell.
To learn more about the Heaven's Saints Motorcycle Ministry, visit heavenssaints.com.
The South Walton Baptist Church holds bible study classes every Sunday at 10 a.m. for people of all ages, and services are at 11 a.m.
"You can preach the word of God from wherever you are — out of a Cadillac or from a Harley Davidson," said Jamieson.
For more information regarding the Heaven's Saints Motorcycle Ministry visit heavenssaints.com. For more information about the local, Walton County, chapter call 685-0684 or email Walt Campbell at email@example.com.