Holy Rollers
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Holy Rollers

The third annual Blessing of the Bicycles married religion, environmentalism, and free bike maintenance.

Reverends Hans van Nie and Vicki Obedkoff talk to a parishioner at the 2012 Blessing of the Bicycles.

Roughly 50 cyclists brought their bicycles through the doors of Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church on Sunday, for the third annual Blessing of the Bicycles.

While attendees did ask for certain holy protection for certain parts of their bicycles—brakes were a popular choice—Reverend Hans van Nie, one of the two reverends involved in the ceremony, told us that the blessing is meant to be more of a celebration of cycling rather than a safeguard against the dangers of the road.

“This is a moment of thanksgiving,” he said. “The sense of blessing is tied to the joy of it all…. It’s not that it’s kind of a magic thing where we’re asking for some sort of special thing.”

Reverend Vicki Obedkoff, who was also involved in the blessing—a ceremony that involves both prayer and a sort of bike baptism, in which the bike is sprinkled with water—explains that the idea came from some parishioners after they heard about similar events on the West Coast. “We partner up with people in our building, and I went online and saw some lovely liturgies from San Francisco and Seattle and adapted them a bit,” she said. “[I added] some particular prayers about our particular situation, things like Bikes on Bloor and wanting more lanes.”

Van Nie says that the event also blends nicely with the United Church’s broader commitment to social justice.

“We also see this as kind of a political statement,” he said. “[Showing] solidarity with people who have concerns around bicycle safety, the use of pedal power instead of gas guzzlers, et cetera. We’ve kind of tailored the liturgy in that direction.”

Among those who brought their trusty two-wheelers in for a blessing was 83-year-old Catherine Marsh. She’s been riding the same Raleigh for 40 years, and felt that a blessing could help keep her safe while riding the bike that is her primary mode of transportation.

“I could sure use a blessing with all these crazy drivers around,” she said. “A little blessing never hurt anybody.”

Catherine Marsh gets a tune-up from Bike Pirates volunteer Jeffrey Bercarich.

Jeffrey Bercarich, a volunteer mechanic with Bike Pirates, also came by the ceremony, offering free maintenance on the sidewalk outside the church. Although Bercarich isn’t a believer, he understands why people would want to have their bikes blessed. “I can understand people’s sensibility in acquiring that trust for the streets,” he said. “Because you’re not always in control. You can only control so much.”

He opted to help out at the blessing because it fits into Bike Pirates’ mandate to help make cycling more accessible. “It’s a good way to get people understanding that bicycles need work, as well as their soul,” he said.

According to Obedkoff, the blessing acknowledges, more than anything, the special relationship that cyclists have with their bikes: “It’s like affirming this new creature, the trusty steed of the bike.”

Photos by Chris Dart.