Going to church on Sundays is generally associated to a solemn esoteric experience, with a choir chanting and in some cases the scent of incense permeating the gathering. But some of the younger members of these traditional congregations find this atmosphere very boring and unappealing. Of course there are the churches, especially in some Pentecostal or Baptist ones in the US, where the whole atmosphere is very loud and upbeat. But even these types of services seemed alienating to many church goers in England, which is why they started heavy metal churches! His band, Seventh Angel, toured the world, sharing a record label with heavy metal acts Metallica and Slayer.
Now he is vicar of the Order of the Black Sheep, a church in Chesterfield. It’s part of the Church of England, but Broomhead doesn’t appear to have mellowed.
“We want it to be as uncomfortable as possible for people who’d go to an ordinary church,” he says, speaking about his new ministry.
He is not alone in his endeavour. A number of underground Christian groups are at work across the country, reaching out to people and subcultures that feel alienated by the traditional Church. The Order of the Black Sheep is based in a converted beauty salon. The walls are painted black to match its gothic logo, and a ram’s skull perches ominously on a bookshelf.
The service itself lasts just a few minutes. A short sermon about Lent is interspersed with film clips and an electro soundtrack. The congregation sink into bean bags instead of filing into pews, and afterwards bread and wine are passed around at leisure. Informality reigns. In London, another unusual group meet in the back room of a large Victorian church in Camden. The Glorious Undead are not Anglicans, but they are an official church, part of the Elim Pentecostal network.
One of the group leaders, Andy White, explains that the church had its roots in the metal scene.
“I used to be in a hardcore band back in the day. When the church started it was very much about reaching out to metalheads, but we feel that God’s widened that vision for us, so it doesn’t revolve around music anymore.” More radical than either the Glorious Undead or the Order of the Black Sheep is a third organisation known simply as Asylum.
A registered charity, but not a church, the group meets each week in the Intrepid Fox, an alternative rock and metal pub in central London. Also describing themselves as non-religious, they go further and actively reject the structure and hierarchy of the Church.
They have no single leader, or preacher, and share equally in the running of the group.
Britain Stelly, a trustee, says: “You can be honest about anything going on in your life here, having sex, being gay, doing drugs, or even being into vampires. There’s no judgement here. One Asylum member, Catherine Field, recalls her first encounter with the group. “I remember being at Sunday school wearing black lipstick and thinking ‘can I still be a Christian and be all the other things I am?’, and then I came here and realised that I can.”
As well as hosting regular club nights, the non-denominational group do outreach work and try to talk to non-Christians in alternative communities.
Many people in subcultures have been hurt by the insensitive actions of many churches, they say, adding, “We are trying our best to undo some of that damage.