Taking Church to a Tattoo Parlor
United Methodists often see the church’s logo, a cross and flame, on signs or church materials. But some Florida congregants have decided to wear their link to the denomination on their sleeves, or at least really near their sleeves. These people of faith were inspired by their unconventional pastor to share an outward sign of their internal convictions.
(Locator: Wildwood, Florida)
(Sound during church service) “Take out your technological devices, post a tweet, snap a picture.”
It is immediately obvious that Michael Beck isn’t the conventional image of a minister. There are his tattoos, including the cross and flame of United Methodism.
(Music during service) “I want to see you.”
There is his preaching shoeless, because he considers any pulpit- no matter how informal- hallowed ground.
(Sermon during service) “Our eyes don’t tell us everything there is to know about reality, amen?”
And, there is his previous life, which- like his Bible- is an open book.
The Rev. Michael Beck, Wildwood United Methodist Church: “I guess most pastors don’t have criminal records. 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 United Methodist Church is not surprised when Pastor Beck says things like this:
(Beck preaches) “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.” (laughter)
That’s not just a joke.
A Wildwood Bible study group convenes in a tattoo parlor in nearby Ocala.
(Group discussion) “When you get to Leviticus, that starts to change.”
Most participants already have religious symbolism inked on their bodies. Some are adding more today.
(Michelle Taylor, getting tattoo) “Because I need a reminder to walk my faith.”
The Rev. Michael Beck: “What if we could get tattoos that glorify God and that are spiritually meaningful?”
Nicole Pennington, Wildwood United Methodist Church: “For me having a tattoo that’s visible is a conversation starter.”
(Voice of Krista Olson) “In the past I never felt like I fit in, I never felt like I belonged.”
Krista Olson echoes the feelings of other new members at Michael Beck’s church.
Krista Olson, Wildwood United Methodist 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 is tattooing a cross over scars across her wrist, from a very dark time in her life.
Kjersti Hunterman, Wildwood United Methodist Church: “God never wastes a hurt. 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.”
The Rev. Michael Beck: “I’ve learned that it’s actually not my righteousness that attracts people to God. It’s my brokenness. They say ‘Hey, if this guy can turn his life around then I can.’
(Hunterman shows off tattoo) “Oh, girl, that is gorgeous.”
When Pastor Beck came to Wildwood only 30 to 40 people were attending the church, and almost no children.
The Rev. Michael Beck: “A church without the laughter of children is a church without a future, right?”
Three years later membership has more than tripled- including many young families, at a service designed with them in mind.
(Music- kids dancing)
(Voice of the Rev. Michael Beck) “Most denominations would not even take a chance on a person like me. 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, they embraced me.”
At Wildwood United Methodist, Rev. Beck facilitates an addiction recovery program, a prison ministry, and a food pantry that serves more than 150 families. Learn more.
This story was first posted on January 9, 2015.
Media contact is Fran Walsh, at 615-742-5458.