Highway to… Heaven?

First Heavy Metal Church of Christ rocks stereotypes

By Tim Walker

Photo: Pastor Brian Smith stands outside of his church, The Heavy Metal Church of Christ; photo: Tim Walker

Church? Me, go to church?

“But I haven’t been inside a church in years,” I explained to my editor. “If they have a baptismal font, the water may boil away. The stained glass may crack. Angels cry. I can’t be responsible for all that.”

But local pastor Brian Smith, the minister behind the First Heavy Metal Church of Christ, is used to reactions like mine. In fact, he welcomes them with wide-open, heavily-tattooed arms.

“I’m not trying to take Christians away from anyone else’s church,” Smith says with a laugh. “Those people are already saved. I want to reach out to the people who have always felt they wouldn’t be welcomed at any church. Because God loves them just as much. If I want to fish, I’m not going to an aquarium. Those fish have already been caught. I want to go where the other fish are.”

With its black church bus, suit of armor down in front and LED-lit pulpit decorated in metal, Pastor Smith’s church is certainly not what most people expect when they walk into a house of the Lord—and that’s exactly how he likes it.

“I used to be a desk jockey… a business guy,” the ebullient 43-year-old says. “But even so, I was always a believer. I didn’t come from a home that went to church every week. So pretty much, even though I’ve always loved the Lord my entire life—and very passionately too—I’ve still spent most of my life chasing my tail in the desert.

“In addition to my day job, I was the lead singer in a local heavy metal cover band called Saint Hellion,” Pastor Smith continues. “It was all secular music: We’d do covers of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, etc. I loved what I was doing, and if you looked at my life from a ‘worldly’ point of view, I was a successful man. I had a motorcycle, a home, a good job with a nice income, and I got to be a rock star on the weekends. But I was still, as I said, chasing my tail in the desert.”

“This,” he motions around him at the church as he speaks, “is certainly not something I wanted. I got the call from the Lord, and this is what He has chosen for me to do. And I resisted … This is not the path I would have picked for myself. I’m not always comfortable preaching on Sundays—as a matter of fact, there are plenty of days when I really dread it. But this is what God has planned for me.”

Far from just a gimmick, the First Heavy Metal Church of Christ is a “real church,” and this is something Pastor Smith stresses in conversation. When asked if his ministry, church or congregation might sometimes get unfairly judged by other Christians, he agrees this has happened in the past.

“But we don’t let that bother us,” he says. “We’re non-denominational, and our doors are open to everyone who loves the Lord. We are not a ‘biker church,’ as some people have labeled us. We have Sunday school at our church, and there are special rooms here for teens and for children. We have 400-500 people in our congregation, and we have different musicians each week perform at our services. One week, you may hear a heavy metal band from Cincinnati; the next, it may be a local bluegrass gospel outfit.”

Weekly services at the church are held at noon on Sundays, to facilitate participation from those who may have stayed up a bit too late or partied a bit too hard the night before. Pastor Smith encourages his flock to come “dressed as you are.”
“I conduct my services in jeans and a mechanic’s shirt. Sometimes I’ll wear an Iron Maiden T-shirt. I won’t say you can’t dress up in a suit for church here… but you might feel a bit out of place.”

His ever-present smile disappears for a moment.

“I look back on my life and experiences, and I am certain that Christians have turned more people away from God than they ever brought to Him,” he says. “There are two types of people I am trying to reach here: people who believe everything they need to be a follower of Christ but, for one reason or another, have not asked him into their lives; and people who have, at some point, accepted Christ into their hearts but then turned from him due to bad experiences in their lives. People may see us as rebellious, and maybe we are, but we are all here for the same reason.”

Then the smile returns, bright as ever. “I am a rebel,” he says. “A rebel for Christ.”

The First Heavy Metal Church of Christ is located at the old Grafton Kennedy Elementary School, 2655 Wagner Ford Rd. in Dayton. For more information or to reach Pastor Brian Smith, please go to heavymetalchurch.com, find them on Facebook or call 937.776.4281. 
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@daytoncitypaper.com.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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