Pastor seeks tattoo parlor to bring church as people get tattoos


ALLENTOWN, Pa., (AP) – Instead of waiting and hoping for more parishioners to show up in a time of declining church attendance, a pastor in Allentown plans to bring prayer and study to the Bible to the community – through local tattoo shops.

“People don’t come to churches,” Reverend Kathryn Dinkelacker-Swan of Emmanuel United Methodist Church said in a recent telephone interview. “There is a trauma in the church – people don’t feel comfortable with all churches, liturgies and prayers.

“I feel like the church is not confined to the walls of a building, and I can take the church anywhere,” she continued. “The love of God is everywhere.

By bringing her work directly to residents, she hopes to meet people where they are, reaching those who would probably never set foot in a traditional church – all while getting tattoos.

Now the 31-year-old pastor just has to find a tattoo shop in town ready to host what she calls a “low-key Bible study,” with parishioners getting tattoos and sharing their faith and experiences. with God.

“We believe that everyone deserves to hear healing and the word of God, and you shouldn’t have to walk into a church for that,” she said, explaining that it’s part of the Fresh Expressions movement. in the church, which aims to bring leaders into businesses with their followers. “It’s mostly us who go to communities, to really know everything about the community – you can’t just set yourself up in a community that you don’t know anything that you don’t really understand.

“It’s about, as a pastor, where our passions are and how we can reach people in different ways. “

Fewer people are going to church than ever before.

Last year, just 47% of Americans reported belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque, up from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999, according to the results of a Gallup poll released in March. The membership of the American Church was 73% when the polling company first measured it in 1937 and remained close to 70% for the next six decades, before starting a steady decline at the turn. of the 21st century.

The decline in church membership, the organization argues, stems from an increase in the number of residents who express no religious preferences in parallel with the population change. As young people get older, they are less likely to have the same religious affiliations and fervor as their parents and grandparents.

At the same time, the number of people with tattoos is increasing.

The results of an Ipsos poll released in 2019 showed that 30% of Americans have at least one tattoo, an increase from 21% in 2012. Forty percent of 18 to 34 year olds and 36% of 35 to 54 year olds have at least one tattoo. while the same is true for only 16% of those 55 and over.

“I feel like you can heal by getting a tattoo and sharing our stories,” Dinkelacker-Swan said. “And as a great conversation starter like, ‘Oh, that tattoo, where did you get it? And you just say, ‘Oh, to church.’ “

Dinkelacker-Swan, who describes herself as “obviously very progressive,” started at Emmanuel UM in June 2019, changing careers after spending seven years as a social worker and dropping out of medical school, where she studied to become forensic. Adopted from Romania, she grew up in a Methodist church, a traditional Protestant sect.

“I think the church needs to move forward, as time does,” she said. “And I think a lot of people are excluded from the church, and I think we have to be the change.”

And Dinkelacker-Swan is very open with her parishioners about her own mental health issues, which included hospitalizations, suicide attempts and more than two decades of self-harm – she even calls herself “the borderline pastor” in an attempt. to break the stigma around mental health.

She has more than a dozen tattoos herself, with plans for more, explaining that part of her job is to shatter stereotypes of religious leaders as strictly older white men.

“When I go up to the pulpit and have tattoos on my arms and everything, I think it opens my eyes,” she said. “And honestly, my congregation has learned to love me. They said they weren’t expecting a tattooed pastor woman, but the fact that I can show up when they need to – it breaks down barriers and shows that we can do things that you don’t. need to be an old white man to follow through the book that is so old fashioned.

The goal, she said, is to find a tattoo shop ready to allow a group of parishioners to sit in a hall or waiting room, talking about God while some get tattoos.

“It’s not meant to be full of liturgies and prayers,” she said. “I think it would be perfect and ideal if we could find a tattoo spot that we were willing to work with us and really talk about your faith and your life.”

Sharing her passion for God and tattoos with the community could help forge new bonds with residents, she said, spreading a message of unity and hope.

“You don’t have to be alone,” Dinkelacker-Swan said. “So if I can share my story and give hope, that’s all I can do. That’s all I want.”


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