Eug Breinig, a well-loved pastor who started This Ain't Your Mama's Church almost five years ago, died Sunday of cancer. He was 64.
Breinig started his church, which catered to bikers, with about 50 members. By the end of his life, Breinig was pastoring to more than 300 people Saturday evenings at Christian Life Center in Merced.
In April, Breinig was diagnosed with cancer. But giving up was the last thing he would do, his wife, Gwen, said.
"He knew God would either heal him here or there," Gwen Breinig said. "Even in his last days, when the doctor would say we might want to think about hospice, Eug said no, he didn't want to throw in the towel."
Breinig's bigger-than-life personality brought people from all walks of life into his ministry. Rebecca Johnson joined his church almost a year ago, after her brother was killed.
"My son told me my brother had been going to Eug's church, so I decided to go," Johnson said. "Eug had a way of giving people what they needed to hear, a way of helping them make a better life for themselves."
Suzie Coonce was also a member of Breinig's church. She and her husband had heard about a church that was full of other motorcycle riders, and decided to give it a try. "Eug had the ability to bring God into your life in a noninvasive way," Coonce said. "He was so accepting -- he made God real."
Breinig had started his church after hearing bikers tell him how their mothers had to drag them to church. He told his wife he wanted to start a church where no one would have to worry about being pulled by their ears. Breinig wanted a church where people could worship without being judged by what they wore or their tattoos.
"He served people no matter who they were," Gwen said. "He was totally non-judgmental."
Breinig had also served as chaplain for the Police Department and for Merced College's Blue Devils football team. "If people needed him to help, he did," his wife said. "He believed in God's saving grace, and he was saved."
Johnson said Breinig had a passion to help everyone, and she said he helped not only her, but also helped her son and her sister. "It's unfortunate we lost him, but it's fortunate we had him for the time we did."
Breinig is survived by his wife of 29 years, Gwen, and five children.
A celebration of Breinig's life will be held Saturday at 6 p.m. at Christian Life Center, 610 E. Olive Ave. in Merced. A benefit to help pay for medical expenses will be held Aug. 27 at the Merced Fish and Game Club at Lake Yosemite. For more information on the benefit, call (209) 388-1076.