Local man starts church congregation ministering to motorcycle riders
When he was younger, Bill Kleckner rode with a motorcycle gang in Texas. Now a born-again Christian, Kleckner still feels a connection to the biking community. He is organizing a church for bikers in Hagerstown. (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer / November 16, 2012)
"I don't know what a real father is. My father was in the penitentiary when I was young. Mom was involved in an affair and married a younger man. So my grandma pretty much raised my siblings and I," he said. "And I wasn't a good father, because I didn't know how to be a good father."
But Kleckner has seen good examples of family, too — in churches, such as Bridge of Life, the congregation in which he's active now.
And in the motorcycle gang he used to ride with.
"I was a member of a 1-percenter biker group," he said. "The 99 percent were good people — recreational (motorcycle) riders. The 1 percent were the ones that never fit in society. A lot of those groups have done some really bad things, but when you get to the individuals themselves, they are benevolent. They'd take the shirt off their back to give it to you. Within the community, it's a brotherhood. It's a family."
Now, Kleckner, 54, of Hagerstown, is close to realizing a long-held dream of his — to develop a church for area bikers. He has seen first-hand the unmet needs among the biker community.
"My true heart is to start a biker church," he said. "I don't have to preach. I could care less if I never stand in a pulpit. I like the one on one."
Light in the darkness
Kleckner and his wife, Diane, moved to Hagerstown a dozen years ago. They grew up in Perry County, Pa., and, after moving around the country while Kleckner pursued his career in the auto-repair industry, decided to settle close to home and to be closer to her parents.
Right away, the Kleckners joined Life House Church Bethel in Hagerstown, and Bill got involved in a group that wanted to minister to area bikers. The group joined Honorbound Motor Ministries, a national Christian biker group, and started attending biker rallies.
Kleckner said the group realized he was a former biker, and looked to his guidance. But when Kleckner wanted to meet bikers on their turf, some group members balked.
"We would go to bars, because that's where bikers hang out," he said. "But the first time I took the group to a bar, they were like, 'We can't be here.'"
Kleckner said the Christian message is for everybody, even people in bars. After all, the Bible says Jesus was criticized by religious leaders for spending time with drunkards and prostitutes.
"Jesus wouldn't hang out with the religious people. He hung out with people like bikers," Kleckner said. "I love being out there with the lost people — being the light in the midst of darkness. They're comfortable coming to me and asking for help."
A rough history
Kleckner's background is not typical of most Christians. He's now an ordained minister, but he started out without any religion in his life.
"God never showed up in my childhood anywhere. At least, I didn't see him," he said. "When I went into the military, I told them I was atheist."
Kleckner said he was uncontrollable as a child. His father went to prison when Kleckner was 6. When he was 12, Kleckner poached wild game to help feed the family. He first drank alcohol at 12 or 13. He quit school at 16 after a couple weeks in ninth grade. He had a violent temper, stole a car and got involved in the juvenile justice system.
Then, at 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.