Differences shouldn’t be feared

Published 2:29 pm Wednesday, June 26, 2024

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Including touch-ups and additions, I’ve sat in a tattoo artist’s chair over 20 times. I rarely wear long-sleeved shirts, so you can see some of my collection if we ever meet. I use that word intentionally: collection. As a lover of tattoos, I’m also a lover of art. I thus collect art from artists all over the world. The difference between me and a collector of oil paintings is that I always have my art collection with me and never run out of things to look at.

Not everybody appreciates tattoos, nor does everybody understand why people get them. It’s easy when you see somebody like me, covered in tattoos, to make assumptions about the content of their character. There’s still a bit of a stigma out there that suggests, to some, that only lower-class or rough people get tattoos.

My father used to be one of those people. That’s why I waited to get my first tattoo on the day of my 18th birthday when my parents were in Scotland. There wasn’t much he could do on the other side of the globe! He wasn’t pleased initially, but he eventually came around and has now gone to the shop with me several times. He hasn’t yet got his own tattoo, but I’m working on him.

Over time, that stigma has lessened. 40 years ago, somebody who looked like me would never have been called to be the pastor of St. Peter’s. Actually, no church would have hired me. But here we are, in 2024, and a metalhead, tattooed comic book nerd has been welcomed by a church that is always looking for new ways to welcome everybody into our fold. And we mean that: everybody. This is a place where everybody can have a seat at the table, where all can meet God in an oasis of love.

Difference isn’t something we fear at St. Peter’s. I’m as different as they come, but I have never once felt like folks have used my tattoos as a reason to dislike me. Difference shows up in lots of ways. Skin color. Language. Sexual and gender identity.

At St. Peter’s, we are working to ensure that difference isn’t just welcomed but celebrated. I was astounded when the Episcopal Church Women, a fellowship group at our church, asked me to speak about my tattoos. They listened to the stories of where, when, and why I got each piece. They asked rich questions and made me feel so warmly embraced. My difference wasn’t a barrier to connection but was the very thing that enabled connection. It was beautiful, and I can’t thank them enough.

That’s the kind of church we aspire to be and the kind of world we want to build. As a church, we follow Jesus of Nazareth, who welcomed the outcast and the saint and called them equal. As a church, we strive for a more just world where all feel tolerated, welcomed, and valued. If the world has beaten you up, or you feel overwhelmed by the waves and storms in your life, St. Peter’s can be a haven for you. If you’ve found yourself on the margins of church or life in general, come here and be welcomed into our midst. No tattoos are required!

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.