“I started with dirt bikes, in a little cow-town back in the olden days.” Tom “Flathead” Iddings, a 61-year-old, leather-clad biker with a rugged stance and a warm smile, was 11 years old when his love of motorcycles began. In his hometown of Foxborough, Massachusetts, Tom and his friends would spend their free time riding bikes in the woods nearby. They’d return home with boots caked in mud and cheeks red from smiling all afternoon. “From then on,” he says, “I always owned motorcycles.”
But as Tom’s collection of distressed denim and do-rags grew, he slowly slipped into something unexpected — a culture drawn not only to motorcycles, but to risk and rebellion.
Tom began drinking and experimenting with drugs as a teenager. By 17, he and a close friend enlisted in the Army and found a faction that only fueled his growing addictions. Four years later, he finished his tour, got married, had his first son, and even bought a business — but the beer and cocaine followed. Tom’s addictions gradually and painfully consumed his life. He divorced his wife. He lost his home, his kids, his driver’s license. Then, the cycle repeated. He married again, had a baby again, divorced again. Eventually, Tom found himself $50,000 in debt, living off $40 a week, and moving back in with his mom. He lost everything — everything but a cherished flathead motorcycle.
It was in this season of loss that Tom’s divorce attorney, a believer, summoned the courage to invite Tom to a Bible study. Tom was known to be aggressive and intimidating — but especially towards Christians. “I was mean to Christians,” he says. “Mean, mean, mean.” Nevertheless, he had nothing left to lose and nothing to do but ride. So, Tom decided to hit the road and head to church.
What Tom came to realize in that Bible study was that God had the power to fill a void in his life that drugs, alcohol, and anger never could. He’d spent 30 years searching for satisfaction and belonging and finally found the answer where he least expected it. “Jesus completely changed me,” he says. “I became whole.” In the 30 years since, Tom has spent his time sharing this truth with the world.
BBQ and Blues
Tom’s newfound love for the Lord made an immediate and dramatic impact on his life. He turned to coffee instead of cocaine and expressed himself through tattoos instead of fist fights. Later, he met and married the love of his life, Deb, and they began to serve God together — at their church, Teen Challenge, and especially in motorcycle clubs. When Tom’s biker friends saw him, they wondered what had triggered such a drastic shift in character. Tom has always been quick to provide the answer. “I’m nobody except a guy filled with the Holy Spirit,” he grins.
Eventually, Tom and Deb received a calling from God to transition to ministry full-time. “The Lord audibly spoke to me and said, ‘Time for you to become a pastor.’” But the calling was unique. It wasn’t for a traditional church with patterned ties and potluck lunches. God was recruiting Tom and Deb to serve the addicted, the marginalized, and the bikers. “When God gave Tom the vision, it was not just for a church,” says Deb. “It was for a Gospel BBQ barn with rock and blues!” Tom adds, “We came from rough n’ tumble backgrounds, so we attract those kinds of people, and we want to continue to do that.”
On a Friday night in 2011 — April Fool’s Day — Pastor Tom and Deb officially opened Broken Chains Biker Church — and 180 people showed up.
Home in Taunton
It’s been eight years since that first service, and Tom and Deb have continued to receive overwhelming acceptance. They’ve been invited to offer “biker blessings” at various veterans’ groups, football games, and motorcycle clubs. They’ve provided NA and AA meetings for those seeking recovery from addiction. The response has been so significant that in 2018 they decided to purchase a permanent home in Taunton, Massachusetts, for their growing church family. “It just seemed like the Lord said it was time,” Tom explains. “And the town was waiting for us! City councilmen, business people…they’re just desperate for us to be who we are.”
With the support of their congregation and their community, Broken Chains Biker Church purchased St. John’s Episcopal Church in early fall of 2018. The 150-year-old chapel features American chestnut beams, stained glass windows, and a grand bell tower. Across the property sits a six-bedroom parsonage, which will serve as transitional housing for veterans struggling with challenges like PTSD and addiction.
On September 7, they gathered for their first service on the chapel lawn. “We didn’t have occupancy for the building, but we had to move by the 31st of August, so that was supposed to be the ‘soft opening,’” Tom laughs. “It turned out to be the grand opening.” Around 350 people attended the service. Their schedule included a motorcycle burnout as a “burnt offering,” familiar rock tunes modified into worship music, and “Amazing Grace” played on a bagpipe — “Dropkick Murphy’s style.”
On every Friday night in Taunton, the rich chime from St. John’s bell tower spills out the windows and collides with the throaty growl of Harleys and Hondas. Church is in session. The congregation comes dressed in leather cuts, tattooed sleeves, and large center patches that read “Broken Chains Biker Church: Mercy Sought, Blood Bought, Spirit Filled.” These aren’t your traditional “church folk.” They come from loneliness, loss, and addiction. But here in Taunton, they’ve found healing and a home.
“There’s been such an outpouring of favor in this town,” says Tom. “People who have walked away from the Lord for a long time or have never known Him are coming and are bringing their friends and family.” Deb adds, “We don’t even have to do the evangelism! God is just pulling them in!” She’s beaming — giddy with glee.
For decades, Deb and Tom have given their lives for these people. They’ve sacrificed everything to serve bikers, to guarantee that these men and women know God loves them — tattoos and all. As they gaze across the lawn at their church, their people, they know it has all been worth it. “If you’re faithful to what God’s called you to,” says Tom, “you’ll see culture change.”
Pray for BCBC
“We need finances and volunteers to train up these new disciples. That’s a big task with a limited force.”
–Pastor Tom Iddings
CEP and BCBC
CEP partnered with Broken Chains Biker Church in 2018 to help them purchase St. John’s Episcopal Church in Taunton, Massachusetts. “With the support of our congregation and Church Extension Plan, we had everything we needed in three days and closed on that property,” says Tom. “We just knew God was telling us to go, and it’s amazing the favor that we’ve had.”