Open Forum: The Pastor With the Visible Tattoo
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There should be no question in the minds of my readership that I am a tattooed pastor. For many, the phrase "tattooed pastor" is an oxymoron, which is part of the reason I love having them so much.
Anyway, my tattoos are not in places that people would be able to see them unless I wanted them to. And as I think about future additions to my body art, I've considered a couple places that would be more likely to be seen if I were to wear shorts or short sleeves. This raises a dilemma for me, because while I believe that tattoos open doors for me as a pastor, I also wonder what doors would be shut with a tattoo in a more visible area.
It is interesting how people react to me. The people who know me don’t see a disconnect. Take my tattoo artist: he knows that I am minister and yet he spends hours working on my arms and doesn’t think it odd, just a little different. Most of my parishioners are the same way. They have just sort of become accustomed to all the ink. What has been interesting about that is that I have been told by some parishioners that they feel much more free to discuss some real struggles with me that they wouldn’t have brought to clergy in the past because of fear of being judged. I recently I had a long conversation with a former vice squad officer who has been going through a slow process of confessing the things that he did as part of his job. It is nice that, in some ways, the tattoos actually seem to break down some of the traditional barriers that may be erected between clergy who are often perceived as holier-than-thou and the people. What they care about is that I am there for them, that I lead faithfully, that sort of thing.
"You don't have an evil skull tattoo, do you?""Not of an evil skull, no."
Another church member got me a Miami Ink ballcap and t-shirt for Christmas this year. This was one of the "impressed acceptance" people, obviously.
First, I've been where I am for three years now, so people know me well enough to perhaps not react as strongly, if at all.
Second, would I really want to serve in a place that would have such a negative reaction to a tattoo on my arm (and that's the visible one!)?
Here's what prompted my thinking about this to begin with: picture a younger couple that has barely set foot in a church before they began hunting around for a venue for their wedding. They call me and ask if they can set something up, and I give them the lowdown about fees and required pre-marriage meetings. They're okay with that, if for no other reason than as a slightly annoying hoop they have to jump through. They've otherwise experienced the church to be a silly, irrelevant, or judgmental place. They walk in for their first session with me, and there I am in a short-sleeve shirt. As we begin talking, the groom does a double-take as he notices something on my wrist. And something about noticing this relaxes him, because it helps counter his preconceived notions about pastors and even churches.
It's also probably important to mention that I put a lot of thought into what I get. I generally go years in between ink sessions. I don't get tattoos just to get them. So if something did end up in a more visible spot, it would be something I really believe in and because I thought the placement "worked." It wouldn't be just a matter of asking what I can get on my arm so that random people think I'm cool. Know what I mean?