Asking his congregation to get permanent tattoos as a part of their Lenten observances may be one of the craziest things Ecclesia pastor Chris Seay has done at his artsy, pop-culture-savvy church in Houston.
Seay and Ecclesia’s artist-in-residence, Scott Erickson, initially hoped to find 10 people to get inked with designs representing the Stations of the Cross, 10 moments that illustrate the story of Jesus’ death.
The idea wasn’t so crazy to the Ecclesia community, because more than 75 of them answered Seay’s call and have been tattooed with Erickson’s custom-designed images of birds, hands, roses, trees and short phrases written in the traditional, Sailor Jerry-style tattoo text.
The tattoos will comprise an art exhibit for Lent, Stations on Skin, which opens today.
“Being in Montrose, which is considered basically the artist capital of Houston, it makes sense to represent (the story of Jesus) visually,” said Ecclesia staff member Wayne Brown, who got his first tattoo, a black-and-gray open palm with the words “We are healed,” to represent the seventh station, when Jesus is nailed to the cross.
The designs use new typical religious images — no giant wooden crosses or depictions of Jesus’ face. Instead, Erickson used Russian prison tattoos and Sailor Jerry tattoos as inspiration, hoping the designs would prompt questions and give Christians the opportunity to explain the meaning behind the artwork on their arms, shoulders, feet and backs.
“I totally think the cross is important, but as a symbol, it doesn’t inspire thought anymore. It’s become decorative,” said Erickson. Instead, he incorporated more subtle Christian symbols — such as the goldfinch, which traditionally represents Christ at the Passion — and Latin phrases.
“Protestantism has a very undeveloped visual culture,” he said. “The Stations of the Cross, that’s a really intense story. There’s no room for fluffy lambs and shininess there.”
Like some other Baptist and evangelical churches that have adapted traditionally Catholic practices for Lent — which began Wednesday — and Easter, Ecclesia has put on interactive, experiential and art-driven Stations of the Cross exhibits for the past few years.