The First Heavy Metal Church of Christ
It’s been a while since I’ve been on the blog scene, and I apologize to anyone who is kind enough to check this out regularly for new content. I don’t have any good excuses, except that I wasn’t holding myself accountable to what I had promised to do last December. That being said, I’m still really interested in this topic. I now accept that my focus for this venture will be entirely set in the scope of Christianity. I wanted to explore other religions as well, but I:
1) Don’t have the appropriate contacts to do so at this time
2) There is so much within the realm of Christianity that can be broken down and discussed, that it still doesn’t seem like a “narrow” focus
Between the last time I posted and now, I went to King Avenue United Methodist a second time. I didn’t intentionally go to the same church twice, but I forget that I had visited that specific church before (whoops, guess who doesn’t check her own blog before she goes to new church). I stayed for the sermon, which I enjoyed, and realized maybe my “accidental” visit was possibly meant-to-be. Going to that church brings me peace, it’s close, the people I interact with there are always nice to me. I could see myself going there regularly once this whole blog adventure is over.
So, now that we’ve done the housekeeping, I get to tell you all about the most interesting church I have had the opportunity to visit this year: The First Heavy Metal Church of Christ (FHMCC) in Dayton, OH. I drove a full hour to get to this place because my curiosity was piqued by the buzz surrounding this church. A friend of mine (Allison, shouts out) sent me a link to an article talking about this “first” heavy metal church in the Midwest, and the concept seemed wild.
They aren’t the first church to base their worship around a style of music. The Solid Rock Church near Lebanon, OH, which once featured the famed touchdown Jesus statue (R.I.P.) and currently home to the beloved five-dollar-footlong Jesus statue, has based their worship around rock music. I remember seeing commercials for their church on TV when I was growing up. They honestly terrified me. Lots of enthusiastic singing and praise.
Young, hip worship bands can be found in almost every modern “contemporary” church. Every service I’ve attended this year has had a musical element, sometimes just a simple choir, but usually some guy in a beanie and his five Christian bros singing the same Hillsong refrain to you for longer than is comfortable. The church service recipe is: three songs to start, announcements, song during collection, sermon, exit song.
FHMCC wasn’t very different in structure from these other churches. Music was still very much woven into the service: prayer to start, then three songs, then a song during collection, then a sermon (a very, very long sermon), and then another few songs. But, I will say, I expected the music to be more metal. It sounded something along the lines of Lady Antebellum, which is soulful country. I wanted Iron Maiden, I wanted Slasher songs about Jesus! It was like a Hillsong song but with electric guitars instead of acoustic. So, that was a little disappointing.
Other pieces of the Heavy Metal aesthetic weren’t lacking, though. Lots of men in biker shirts, skulls and crossbones, long grizzly beards, and plenty of leather. The pamphlet featured white Jesus on a motorcycle. There was a merch stand where you could buy your own FHMCC t-shirt. A woman ahead of my friend in line at the bathroom was downing a bottle of mountain dew before the service. It was a very no-frills crowd.
Their schtick is that they accept these “misfits” that other Christians would turn their noses up at. They say they are open to bikers, rockers, addicts, sex workers, etc. And that sounds really cool! All the misfit toys have a home at FHMCC.
Except… it became apparent rather quickly that this “welcoming” attitude didn’t necessarily translate into long-term acceptance of people that don’t fit the Christian mold. Anyone from any walk of life is welcome, but once you’re in the door you better start cleaning up. Their motto is “God will fix you along the way” with church. I don’t hate that as a concept, but I think some of the most damaging things religion can do to people is tell them they need to change who they are fundamentally to be loved and accepted by God. The sermon I heard while I was there condemned a long list of things: sex before marriage, alcohol, not reading your bible every day, not thinking about the lord every moment of conscious thought, and so on. It focused on unrealistic ideals for the Christian person (especially the Christian rocker/biker/sex worker). Sure, they can listen to Marilyn Manson and wear chains but they better do so while walking the very narrow Christian path.
The sermon featured a lot of repetition and hand-raising as an attempt at audience engagement. Pastor Brian would ask “how many of you have ever..?” and wait for a handful of us to raise our hands before going on. He’d say phrases like “you need to have a passion for Christ, can everybody say ‘passion’?” and wait for us to repeat him. It felt like a school lesson. It was a lot of commanding us to do what the bible says and scolding us for not doing it. Sermons like that, the ones that focus on shaming people for not being enough for God, just don’t sit well with me. Theoretically, yes, we are all unworthy of God’s love and salvation. But do I have to feel like shit about it every minute? There was also a larger emphasis on Satan than I had experienced at any other church so far. Satan was named as the force responsible for several of evils in the world: abortion, perverted sexuality (a veiled term for our LGBTQ friends?), and Christians that are too “worldy.”
Funnily enough, I had actually avoided going to a Baptist church I found online a few weeks ago because their “about us” page didn’t sit right with me. Well, I tell you what, I think that Baptist church might have been a more fulfilling experience than FHMCC. At least they were very up front about what they believed. FHMCC lured me in with white Jesus on a motorcycle and then turned on me very quickly.
As always, I will throw out the disclaimer that just because this church didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean they aren’t a good church. A lot of people who feel like misfits have found a home there. The people at the church have organized several recurring volunteer opportunities that will draw over 40 members. They recently organized a motorcycle ride to honor veterans. They’re making a splash in the otherwise very uniform Christian scene. I just also think their misfit attitude doesn’t extend as far as I, personally, might like it to. That’s ok! That’s why we have so many church options to choose from.
Thanks again for reading! I will be out of town the next few weekends but I will be back in October for another fun-filled church adventure update and maybe some spicy new content.