Preacher, 81, uses motorcycle in outreach
By Brian Koonce
MARQUAND – When Alvin Mathes’ doctor performed the 81-year-old preacher’s annual physical, he reported the pastor of Big Creek Baptist Church had the heart of a 40-year-old. What he didn’t notice, however, is that Mathes also has the heart of a pastor – and a biker.
Mathes is in his fourth year as pastor of Big Creek, and even though he has nearly 20 years on the oldest person in the pews on Sunday, he’s still going as strong and as loud as the brand new Yamaha V-Star 1100 Classic he rides to church every week.
Actually, this is Mathes’ 13th year as pastor of Big Creek, but it’s kind of a long story.
On Easter Sunday in 1953, Mathes was just a 26-year-old man begrudgingly attending church with his wife, Alma. He wasn’t thrilled about being at Second Baptist, Fredericktown, that day.
“I had no intentions of making a decision,” he said. “But the Lord got ahold of me and next thing I knew I was making a profession of faith.”
The next thing he knew he was being baptized in the frigid waters of the Castor River, and his clothes were just about frozen to his body. Not long after that, the pastor walked up to him and confirmed what God had been calling Mathes to do.
“They had put me to work teaching and leading the Royal Ambassadors (RAs),” he said. “Then one Sunday morning the pastor came up to me and said I was going to preach next Sunday. ‘I am?’ I asked. ‘Yeah.’ I guess the Lord had a plan for me.”
It was just the first of many, many Sundays.
Second Baptist called for Mathes’ ordination and in 1956, Big Creek called him to be their pastor. He served there nine years. After that, he preached at First Baptist, Marquand, for four years, then Little White Water Baptist church in Patton for 10 and Bethlehem in Crosstown for 23 years.
By the time the early 1990s rolled around, it was time for a normal person to retire, but Alvin, Alma and their twin bikes weren’t ready to retire. He preached at Coldwater Baptist Church for four years before coming back to the place where his ministry began. It wasn’t a moment too soon, either. Big Creek needed the energy of a man like Mathes.
“They were down to three people in attendance,” he said. “Now we’re up to 25 or 30 people on Sunday and we’re baptizing people again. It’s not me, it’s the people.”
Although Mathes is significantly older and wiser than when he first came to Big Creek, the church membership has rolled over completely. Those who attended the first go-around have either passed away or are in nursing homes. The current congregation is a vibrant and relatively young congregation. They’d have to be if they’re going to keep up with their pastor.
“That’s what we’re really building on is the younger families,” Mathes said. “Right now we have a youth department that is popping at the seams and we’re starting a young marrieds class on Tuesday nights.”
Mathes credits “common horse sense” as his secret to staying young, but it’s hard not to think the motorcycle doesn’t play some small role.
Mathes has been riding for more than 40 years. He and Alma rode their Harleys across the country, cruising from Texas to Niagara Falls and all through Canada. When she had a stroke several years ago and moved into a nursing home, he quit riding. Then, this year he decided he wouldn’t mind pounding the pavement a little bit more and that’s when he came home with the V-twin Yamaha.
“That thing works good,” Mathes said. “I ride it to church and it’s a good conversation starter. People want to know what kind it is and what it’ll do. I use that as leverage to get a conversation about Jesus started. I can reach people you’re not usually going to find in a church.”
Mathes is also a member of Riders for the Son, a Christian motorcycle club, although preaching on Sundays does keep him from going on the longer weekend rides. From his first Harley-Davidson Electroglide Full Dress to his new ride, he has never had an accident. That doesn’t mean everything else in his life and ministry has been as smooth.
“I think any pastor that stays at it any length of time sometimes feels like saying, ‘What’s the use? Nobody is listening,’” he said. “But the best way in the world to get inspired is to get out into your people and find out their needs. I’ve felt a little burned out once in awhile, but God’s grace will see you through.”
It’s that grace that is Mathes favorite sermon topic, even after 55 years of ministry.
“I love to preach out of Romans and Ephesians and talk about the mercy of God,” he said, “of how He dealt with people with grace. Just like Paul said, ‘by the grace of God, I am what I am.’”
With God’s grace, Mathes intends to keep on preaching – and riding. Big Creek may be his first and most recent pastorate, but it may not be his last.
“As long as I’m able to go, I’m going to be preaching somewhere, even if it’s on the street corner,” he said. “As long as I have my faculties, and am able to recall things, I will glory in the pulpit.”
So when is he going to retire?
“I tell my church I’m going for 105, at least.”