(Photo: courtesy Chris Seay)
While many churches do different things to observe the season of Lent, one pastor at a Texas church is encouraging something very different: permanent tattoos.
Chris Seay, a pastor at the Ecclesia Church in Houston, Texas, called on members to get permanent tattoos that would depict designs symbolizing the crucifixion and death of Jesus. The tattoos by church members will collective be part of an art exhibit for Lent, Stations on Skin.
"This art show is something we do every year to share the story of Jesus with our city," said Seay in an interview with The Christian Post.
"This year we wanted to engage an art form that has not been embraced by the church but it is common among people in our part of the city. Next year it will be a different art form, maybe crochet."
Seay, whose church has an average weekly attendance of around 1,500 people over five weekend services, said that initially he and Ecclesia's artist-in-residence Scott Erickson were looking for ten volunteers to depict ten scenes as tattoos.
"I have seen about 50 [volunteers] so far. I spend most of my time discouraging people from getting these," said Seay.
"We are only featuring ten stations and this is designed for those who already have tattoos or have been looking for a meaningful tattoo to symbolize their faith."
According to Leviticus 19:28, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord."
When asked how he and his fellow parishioners reconcile this verse with their planned art exhibit, Seay told CP that the context of the verse is important, noting that verse 27 states that a man should not cut the hair on the sides of his head or the edge of his beard.
"The problem was not with tattoos, but with the fact that getting a tattoo or cutting your hair/beard was a symbol that identified you with the worship of pagan gods," said Seay.
"Tattoos do not carry any of that meaning in our culture and that is why we go to the barber shop and some chose to express their story with art on their skin."
As Ecclesia members get their passion-themed tattoos during Lent, other Houston churches have divergent views on the expression of faith Ecclesia worshippers are choosing.
Pastor Evan McClanahan of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houston told CP that while he likes how emergent churches like Ecclesia tries "to make Christianity a culturally relevant reality in our communities," he has issues with their methods.
"I also think of Jesus words in Matthew 6, where he tells us to fast, pray and give alms in secret so as not to be seen by others. I worry that the Church has allowed a desire to be cool to overshadow the proclamation of the Gospel and to declare what has been handed town to us," said McClanahan.
"Consider me a fuddy duddy, but I worry that endless self-expression as depicted in modern art and now in the church does not increase discipleship, but allows us to put our own spin on it."
The Very Reverend Joe D. Reynolds, Dean of Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral in Houston, however, told CP that he thought it is a "terrific" idea that reaches out to people.
"It clearly touches people and is a place of connection between their faith and the real places where they live their lives. I can't imagine labeling that as anything other than a good thing," said Reynolds.
"I would not consider a similar program at the Cathedral. We are not an emergent church, and it just wouldn't be of interest to the people here."
In addition to the tattoo exhibit, Ecclesia also celebrates Lent by eating simpler meals as a means of solidarity with the poor.