The Associated Press January 6, 2012, 3:36PM ET

Pastor opens tattoo parlor inside Michigan church

A Michigan pastor who says he's doing everything he can to reach out to people who don't feel comfortable at a traditional house of worship has opened a tattoo parlor inside his church.

Rev. Steve Bentley of The Bridge, a church located inside a Flint Township shopping center, said his ministry is built on the belief that mainstream religion has become ineffective and irrelevant to most people. To that end, he opened Serenity Tattoo.

Tattoo artists Ryan Brown and Drew Blaisdell work by appointment or from noon until 8 p.m., Monday-Saturday, at the county-licensed tattoo shop that sits not far from Bentley's office as well as the watering trough that he uses for baptisms.

Bentley, who has two tattoos, said he understands some don't like the idea of Serenity Tattoo inside the church, but the pastor considers tattooing a "morally neutral" practice that he likens to getting one's ears pierced.

"We are about doing church in a different way and being relevant to people," Bentley told The Flint Journal. "You can get a tattoo in a clean environment. You can do it while still sticking to your moral code."

Brown is a recovering alcoholic who said the atmosphere inside the church building has helped to keep him focused and on the right path.

"I was running my own studio. I was just working. There wasn't much purpose in it," he said. "I was struggling with whether I could keep my studio" and stay sober.

"I prayed a lot and decided the best thing was to close it and come to the church. I figured I could have a lot more positive impact" here, Brown said.

The church owns 30,000 square feet inside the Flint-area shopping center.

Bentley said about 1,000 people call The Bridge their home church, and up to 500 in total attend his three weekend services.

The pastor makes an effort to talk to all who visit Serenity Tattoo, he said, although not all end up checking out the church.


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