Christian ink -- Study group feels welcome in tattoo parlor


United Methodists often see the Church’s logo, a cross and flame, on signs or church materials. But some in Wildwood, Fla., have decided to wear their link to the denomination on their sleeves, or at least really near their sleeves.

They were inspired by their unconventional pastor to share an outward sign of their internal convictions: tattoos.

It is immediately obvious that Michael Beck isn’t the conventional image of a minister. There are his tattoos, including the UM cross and flame.

There is his preaching shoeless, because he considers any pulpit — no matter how informal — hallowed ground.

And there is his previous life, which — like his Bible — is an open book.

"I guess most pastors don’t have criminal records," Rev. Beck said. "I was born addicted; my mother abandoned me at birth. I had some United Methodist pastors early in my life start stepping in and mentoring me, but I made some wrong decisions and I ended up an alcoholic, a drug addict.

"But I knew when there was nothing left to do that I could go back to the church. God took a mess and made a message."

So the congregation at Wildwood UMC is not surprised when Beck says things such as:

"We’re waiting expectantly for Jesus to return, maybe today, amen? I don’t know, but I want to be in a tattoo parlor studying the Bible when he comes back."

That’s not just a joke. A Wildwood Bible study group convenes in a tattoo parlor in nearby Ocala. 
Most of the study participants already have religious symbolism inked on their bodies. Some are adding more.

For me," said Nicole Pennington, "having a tattoo that’s visible is a conversation starter."

Krista Olson added, "In the past I never felt like I fit in, I never felt like I belonged." She echoes the feelings of other new members at the church.

"There are so many young people out there right now, that you mention the word ‘church’ and they’re just, like, ‘Wow, no way.’ So when someone sees my tattoos I want to let them know that they’re welcome."

Kjersti Hunterman requested a tattoo of a cross over scars on her wrist, from a very dark time in her life.

"God never wastes a hurt," she said, "and this is a hurt that’s not wasted if I can share with other people what I’ve been through and how He brought me through."

Beck said his own brokenness is what attracts people to his ministry. "They say, ‘Hey, if this guy can turn his life around, then I can.’"

When he came to Wildwood only 30 to 40 people were attending the church, and almost no children. Three years later, membership has more than tripled and includes many young families.

"Most denominations would not even take a chance on a person like me," Beck said. "I’ve had a divorce, I have a criminal record. But The United Methodist Church, in our grace-centered understanding that God can use broken people and transform them, embraced me."

— from "Taking Church to a Tattoo Parlor," by UMTV


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