Biker priest puts his faith in Victoria

Alastair McCollum loves Harleys, slings beers and likes to listen to Ozzy Osbourne after a long day at work.

He’s also the newest rector at St. John the Divine Anglican Church on Quadra Street.

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For the 44-year-old transplant from Devon, England, breaking stereotypes is an important part of connecting with his Anglican community.

“In my youth, the local clergyman was not popular, because he was considered a bit censorious and a bit superior and a bit thou-shalt-not,” he said.

“I’m very pleased to say that the clergy I know are nothing like that. And I think nearly every clergyperson I know breaks the stereotype beautifully.”

Some might see a conflict between clerical duties and McCollum’s participation in a reality series called Save Our Boozer, in which he and others undertook to revitalize a local pub. In McCollum’s eyes, the town was missing a centre for community that only a pub could fill. And the presenter, he said, had some tips for the pub that he found applicable to the church.

“He was a great sort of help just in saying, ‘You can’t really do things as pubs used to do things.’ It’s a bit like the church, really: You can’t do things just as they used to be. We need to think about engaging more.”

There are certainly some clergy members out there who would decline to preside over the funeral for a member of the bike club Satan’s Slaves. But not McCollum, who spoke with delight about how the hymns were replaced with heavy metal.

“We had Disturbed, one of my favourites,” he said.

While McCollum is clear he has never encouraged or participated in illegal activities associated with the “one per cent” sect of criminal bikers, he said there’s a lot the church can learn from the loyalty he saw at the Satan’s Slave funeral.

“I said, the church could do with a bit of this, this absolute commitment to one another,” he said.

McCollum knew “nothing at all,” about Victoria when a potential job opportunity presented itself.

He was only six months into a new position as dean of 26 parishes and planned to settle in Devon with his wife, Jo, and their two children, 8 and 11.

But after researching the church — specifically its more progressive actions and outreach initiatives — he felt compelled to relocate.

And when he moved to Victoria at the beginning of July, McCollum found a likeminded friend in Christ Church Cathedral’s Rev. Scott McLeod, who also owns a motorbike, has multiple piercings and between 17 and 19 tattoos (he can’t remember exactly how many).

“There’s definitely some for whom it sort of confirms their suspicions that everything is going to hell in a handbasket,” said McLeod, 35.

But McLeod said he has never felt insulted by the hostility — and it has made him more conscientious of the way he engages with people.

“I definitely know what it’s like to be the book judged by its cover,” he said. “It’s led me to be very wary of making assumptions about other people.”

For both, inclusivity is at the centre of their duties.

“Quite seriously, we can’t live in an ivory tower or consider ourselves superior, partly because that’s not doing the church any good. But even more seriously, that’s not what Christian faith is,” McCollum said.

Jesus was not judgmental, but inclusive and welcoming, he said.

“For me, it all comes back to community.”

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