YOU could call it divine intervention.
Father Nick Jennings was looking to improve his motorbike riding skills when he bumped into an advanced examiner at a funeral.
The encounter was the start of his involvement with the Boundary 500 – a group of motorcyclists who stage a series of sponsored rides in England and abroad.
Father Nick said: “I passed my test when all you had to do was make sure you didn’t run over the examiner when he jumped out in front of you.”
He decided to take an advanced motorcycle course and was introduced to examiner – and Boundary 500 founding member – Brian Laverick at a funeral he was conducting.
Father Nick, 49, said: “I said would you like a pint and he said ‘no, I would like you to join the Boundary 500’.”
That was in 2007 and Father Nick has never looked back since.
The Boundary 500 raises thousands of pounds a year for the Great North Air Ambulance service which relies entirely on public donations.
The charity’s flagship fundraiser is a 500-mile ride across the area the air ambulances covers.
Father Nick has also taken part in the Boundary Marathon, an epic 2,800-mile ride around the coast of England, Scotland and Wales.
And last summer Father Nick and fellow Boundary 500 member Graham Carter raised £2,600 for the air ambulance when they rode through five countries in Europe in the Boundary International.
In just 18 days they free-wheeled their way through Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy and France.
Father Nick, the new parish priest for St Cuthbert’s and St Mary’s churches, in Hartlepool, said: “Some of the sights of the Alps, you just had to stop and look because it was lovely but other places you just got glances.”
The 3,200-mile journey saw them ride through all weathers including snow in Austria and sweltering temperatures in the South of France a few days later.
His passion for motorbikes goes back more than 30 years. His grandmother helped him buy his first bike, a Honda CB100N, at 18.
That interest never waned, even when he turned his back on a career as a pharmacist to enter the church at 29.
He said: “I just felt God was calling me and wanted me to do something. I joked with my congregation that I used to be a drug dealer – only a legal one!”
Father Nick has had four machines but was forced to take a break from biking when he spent six years in Kenya doing missionary work.
But his interest was re ignited when he helped a friend run in a Yamaha motorbike he had bought in Africa.
“By the time I came back I thought I’ve got to get myself another bike,” he said.
The Boundary 500 has between 200 and 300 active members, most of them based in the North-East.
They come from all walks of life including policemen, firemen, shop workers, lorry drivers, and of course a priest.
Father Nick said: “I saw the air ambulance fly over Hartlepool twice in the last few days and when I was in Stockton the other day, it flew into the University Hospital of North Tees and you know you are keeping it in the air for a few hours a day.”
At Christmas, dozens of Boundary members don Father Christmas costumes and deck their motorbikes in festive decorations for the Santa Run.
They ride around Teesside collecting money for Zoe’s Place baby hospice near Middlesbrough.
Father Nick added: “The thing I enjoy about it most is that I am riding with a purpose. I must have raised well over £10,000 over the last four or five years.
“It is good to think I have raised far more money than what I paid for my motorbike so it’s not just an idle or selfish hobby, there is a benefit to it.”
And his parishioners are always willing to help.
“The folk in the parishes are very supportive,” he said.
For more information about the Boundary 500 see their website www.boundary500.co.uk