Crucifixes, lines of scripture and other religious iconography have long been subjects for tattoo artists, even as some traditions have frowned on the practice.
But now the faithful looking to get inked can do so with a side of sermon. The Bridge church in Flint, Mich., has opened a tattoo parlor inside its doors, part of its mission to offer a nonconventional approach to worship for community members.
Rev. Steve Bentley founded The Bridge in 2008 for "people who have never felt comfortable at a traditional house of worship," the Flint Journal reports. In addition to the tattoo parlor, the church offers space for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, as well as wrestling and auto repair.
Bentley told the Journal The Bridge aims to reach people who might otherwise see religion as irrelevant, as well as respect aspects of culture not usually associated with church-going.
"You can get a tattoo in a clean environment. You can do it while still sticking to your moral code," he said.
The in-house tattoo parlor, called Serenity Tattoo, employes two artists, both of whom are members of the church.
Ryan Brown, one of the artists, told the Journal having the business inside the church allows for "a safe, positive environment," for a practice that has often been associated with drugs or gang violence.
Serenity Tattoo is licensed by Genesee County, and open Monday-Saturday. Its artists won't give tattoos "that glorify drugs, gangs or the Devil," according to the Journal.
As novel as a holy tattoo parlor might seem, Bentley and the tattoo artists at The Bridge aren't the only ones offering permanent prayer.
A pastor at a multi-denominational church in Greer, S.C., caught some flack in 2010 for his own Trinity Tattoo parlor.
"Cursing, drugs and vulgar tattoos aren't allowed," according to a WYFF TV report, but a North Carolina group protested the shop as a violation of what they consider a biblical ban on tattoos.
"For years they were told if you get a tattoo you'll go to hell," said Jamie Bertolini, the tattoo parlor owner and pastor of Greer Mill Church. "I have yet to find any scripture that points to that direction."
Tattoo opponents who say the practice violates scripture point to Leviticus 19:28. The King James version of the Bible says: "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD," though other translations substitute "tattoos" for "marks."
Like The Bridge, Greer Mill Church presents itself as a place of worship for those cast out from or uncomfortable with other churches.