Headbanging. Jet-black eyeliner. Guitar shredding. Screaming. These are things you aren’t likely to expect from a Christian worship service.

Let Despair Sanctuary, a church program in Brooklyn, New York, where worshippers give their despair and weariness away to God, defy your expectations.

Despair Sanctuary just passed its two-year anniversary in May and has been highly successful so far, according to Harper’s Bazaar.

Can heavy metal music be sacred?

Despair Sanctuary churchgoers think heavy metal music can be sacred. Visitors enjoy a unique blend of heavy metal music and acts of worship, according to Harper’s Bazaar.

Heavy-duty music equipment surrounds an altar from which preachers teach from the scriptures and instruct worshippers to release their negative emotions and lean in to God.

The songs mixed into the worship service typically reference God or notions of sacrifice, adversity and surrender. They’re meant to help worshippers embrace how they feel before ultimately letting go, according to Harper’s Bazaar.

“How do we trust the system when each day reveals more of its evils?” asked Jack Holloway, an elder at the congregation, from the pulpit, the article noted. “At the root of despair is a refusal to accept things the way that they are. This place can bear the weight of your burdens. ... No one needs you to be optimistic right now.”

“No one needs you to be optimistic right now” is a prevalent theme at Despair Sanctuary, according to Harper’s Bazaar.

Visitors are welcomed however they are, shared Cheri Kroon, a leader of the program. No one is pushed to be hopeful if they are not ready for that yet. That is not the purpose of Despair Sanctuary: Rather, the purpose of Despair Sanctuary is to remind worshippers that they are loved and understood as they are.

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“Let’s suspend that hope (of things getting better). Let’s not put that on anybody,” said Kroon to Harper’s Bazaar. “Yeah, this moment in our world needs that.”

Unsurprisingly, Despair Sanctuary attracts a different crowd than traditional services. People of all colors and ages, wearing dreadlocks or sleeves of tattoos, men and women, longtime metalheads, longtime Christians or both or neither come to take part.

Heavy metal songs about faith

Looking for your own faith-based headbanging experience?

Here are some heavy metal songs with themes about God or reflection.

  • “After Forever”: This Black Sabbath classic delves into questions about faith and the existence of God. Its lyrics motivate listeners to think about their beliefs and then challenges them to stand up for their faith in Christ.
  • “The Wish”: This track by Trouble blends heavy riffs with spiritual longing. The singer of “The Wish” asks God to intervene in his life.
  • “Land of Sunshine”: This song by Faith No More is philosophical. Unlike the name of the band, the song does express faithful emotions and asks listeners to consider just what they believe about God.
  • “Snakes of Christ”: The band Danzig shares a critical take on organized religion in “Snakes of Christ.” Listeners are asked to consider the roots of their faith and contemplate their devotion to God.
  • “Devour”: While not overtly religious, this song by Shinedown is about inner struggle, release and relief. It resonates with Despair Sanctuary’s worship sessions.
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