Christ in the Mosh Pit: Brazil’s Metanóia Church Sings Praises in Heavy Metal
Rockin’ in Rio? The Metanóia Church gets the assignment — and takes it up a notch by dedicating rock n’ roll culture to their Christian faith.
Rock n’ roll and heavy metal are usually the furthest things one would associate with Christianity; some might even associate it directly with occultism and other opposing beliefs. But the church, located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, prides itself on this unorthodox approach.
Even its communal events are unapologetically dark. Aside from the usual sacraments, the church promotes gatherings called “Blood Fest,” “Into the Infernal,” and “Night of the Massacre.”
The place is decked in death metal references, giving it a dark gothic feel through spiders, blades and daggers, skulls, and even black crucifixes. Where one might expect to find a line singing praise to the heavens, a banner reads: “Jesus is the Lord of the Underground.”
Despite the roughened exterior, the church is deeply devoted. The word metanóia itself, which originates from Greek, means “the transformative change of heart” — a profound concept usually associated with wayward men and women who found their way into the light (such as the beloved St. Paul from the New Testament’s latter books).
Of course, many attendees of the chapel resonate with the concept deeply. Enok Galvão, the founding pastor of the church, told The Guardian that he had been a heavy drug user in the 70s — but it didn’t take long for the calling of faith to come to him. A lover of rock music, he decided that this would be a good avenue to spread the message of Christianity.
It might have been deemed as strange — perhaps even sacrilegious to some — but Galvão pays the critics no mind. His way of praise, he says, is just as real and moving.
“The essence of God’s word, the doctrines and the teachings, are the same as any other church. The differences are just stylistic and cultural,” he said. “We put the message of God in the music, which is a very powerful tool.”
A Congregation of Rock Enthusiasts, People of God
Galvão is not alone in this pursuit. With music being the most significant feature of the church, heavy metal bands and musicians mostly sing worship songs to fill in the role of a traditional choir.
Most of them are just like Galvão — clad in tattoos, lovers of music, witnesses to the miracle of metanóia. “For me, rock came first and then religion,” said José-Carlos Ribeira, band member and old friend to Galvão. “Enok [Galvão] took eight years to convert me. Now Jesus is the most important thing in my life.”
The novelty is the church’s most definitive factor. Praise and worship can appear quite tedious to those who don’t like to follow traditions, and that’s why Metanóia wants to step up. Many believers, musicians or not, are onboard.
“It’s the cultural offer that drew my attention,” said Taina Domingues, a teacher and regular churchgoer. She has been attending mass at Metanóia for more than a decade. “I feel comfortable here.”
Still, it’s clear that people don’t go there just for the mosh pit merrymaking, as unique as that is. After all, Metanóia is a church first and foremost; spirituality is a prerequisite to rock music, not the other way around. “We open a space for people who are rejected elsewhere,” Domingues’ partner and fellow churchgoer Everton Rodrigues said.
On the other hand, non-fans still find refuge and safety in the unlikely church. While it attracts people with more alternative lifestyles, even congregants on the more “conservative” side love the experience that Metanóia offers.
“I’m not into heavy metal,” said Vandernilda de Alexandra, a local parishioner. Described by The Guardian as “conservatively dressed,” Alexandra is loyal to Metanóia. She has been a regular there for twelve years, even with the abundance of choices of other parishes in her area. She’s more fond of ‘romantic ballads’ and festive music.
But that’s not why de Alexandra attends Mass, anyway. “I come here for spiritual nutrition,” she explained. If her twelve years of attending the Metanóia Church are any indication, then she certainly must have found it there.
A Clergy of Rock Stars
The Metanóia Church is not the only one of its kind: rock-inspired worship is an “underground” but a steady culture. Crash Church, this time in the city of Sao Paulo, is also offering the heavy metal experience in Christianity. Located in a garage, the congregation is run by Antônio Carlos Batista — another tattoo-clad pastor and lead singer of a band called Antidemon. As one might infer from the name, they make a lot of Christian music, despite the religious taboos associated with the genre.
“This is part of God’s plan to cross barriers, which had a very closed-off format and were unable to reach many aspects of society,” Batista said.
A single glance at his piercings and tattoos might elicit some disapproving looks from conservative worshippers, but Batista is profoundly committed to his faith. His tattoos, his music, and his actions have heavy Christian significance — and he flaunts them proudly.
He, Galvão, and all the members of these heavy metal parishes are doing the same thing religious traditions call for. However, their expression of spirituality is just a bit more personal. “I see no reason not to use this kind of voice for worship,” Galvão remarked. “Music is a realm of complete freedom.”
And of course, there’s more to it than just being unapologetically different or unorthodox. The way Galvão sees it, it’s a beautiful opportunity to spread faith through a culture that God himself — contrary to popular belief — had crafted.
“The language of rock reaches a lot of people,” said Galvão. “God created music and art; the devil did not create anything. One can go and make use of this culture.”