PITTSBURGH — As the spiritual leader for two United Church of Christ congregations, the Rev. Richard Lindsay-Bignell found a way to combine his love of the ministry and his passion for art.
The denomination is very accepting of others, Lindsay-Bignell said.
"We say that everyone is welcome," he said. "It's one of the most liberal denominations around."
As pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Delmont and Grace United Church of Christ in Jeannette, he promotes acceptance of all congregation members — even those with tattoos.
As the artist behind Brother's Keeper Ink, Lindsay-Bignell of Harrison City specializes in religious symbol and memorial tattooing.
"I think it's a good way to do outreach," he said. "I think it's a good way to contact people who might not be that involved in the church and help people celebrate Christ."
Growing up in Northampton, England, Lindsay-Bignell loved art, namely drawing and painting. His uncle, also an artist, taught him various techniques and gave him supplies. When his family relocated to the United States, first to Alabama and then Pennsylvania, his passion continued to thrive.
At the University of Pittsburgh, he majored in art and English and later earned his master's degree in English from Penn State University. Though he pursued other interests, such as working for New Jersey's Casino Control Commission and playing electric guitar in various bands, he still enjoyed art.
Lindsay-Bignell became interested in the ministry about 15 years ago after reconnecting with a childhood friend, the Rev. Alice Lindsay-Bignell, who is now his wife. After talking about her vocation while they were dating, he felt called to enter the ministry.
He enrolled in the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained in 2009.
His passion for art came into play after meeting Lettia Suchevich, a tattoo artist and member of Alice Lindsay-Bignell's congregation at the First United Church of Christ in Millvale. Their frequent discussions of art and tattoos inspired Lindsay-Bignell to enroll in the Tattoo Learning Center in Schenectady, N.Y., about three years ago.
After receiving his certification, Lindsay-Bignell discussed his new craft with church members during their council meetings. They supported him, despite some others' beliefs that tattoos defy Christian values.
"They look to the Old Testament and say, 'You've got graven images. You're not supposed to have tattoos. It's a sign of slavery,' and stuff like that," he said. "The way I see it, if I'm doing tattoos of symbols of Christ, there's nothing demonic about that."
He has done 25 tattoos for congregation members and others, setting up shop in his clients' homes and his churches to do his work.
He specializes in memorial tattoos and often inks Christian symbols, such as crosses, angel wings and praying hands.
"To have a reminder of a loved one — it's sometimes very healing for the person," he said.
Tattoos can help people reconnect with their spirituality, Alice said.
"People are looking for symbolism," she said. "I really feel like there's so little that's permanent in the world, and we're looking for something that represents us."
Ronald Michel, 46, of Millvale met the pastor through attending his Lindsay-Bignell's wife's church. He requested a memorial tattoo to symbolize his mother, June Michel, who died suddenly of a heart attack in September.
Michel previously had gotten an anarchy symbol tattoo from Lindsay-Bignell as a tribute to his favorite television show, "Sons of Anarchy."
To memorialize Michel's mother, Lindsay-Bignell designed a red heart with angel wings attached, adding a banner with "Mom" written across it.
For Michel, the tattoo is more than just a work of art.
"(It means) a part of my mom is still with me," he said.
Lindsay-Bignell charges "typically nothing" for his tattoos, unless his clients offer payment. Any money he receives goes toward purchasing supplies.
He hopes to open a Christian tattoo shop that will double as a venue for Bible study and Christian fellowship.
"It will be oriented toward the Christian way of living," he said. "Everyone will be welcome."
Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com