Billie Sylvian (left) with the author. Photo by Ashton Hertz
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
âJesus, you are the ultimate alternative person. You are a creative alien who created us in your image,â said Billie Sylvian, founder of the Asylum association. “Thank you for sharing with us.”
I was seated at a table in an 18th century sacristy in central London, surrounded by goths, punks and metalheads. We discussed life, death and faith while eating chips and cookies. Christian industrial metal music, namely Dust circle– played at low volume in the background while leafing through a copy of the New Age Bible.
Asylum is a registered charity and Christian group specially created for the alternative community of London. Their promotional poster, hung just off Denmark Street in Soho, reads: “Asylum Fellowship. Sharing the love of Christ with Goths, Metallers, Punks, etc.” They host a weekly Bible study on Sundays, a monthly club night (“The Crypt”) specializing in Christian rock, metal and industrial music, and monthly “worship parties”, where members are invited to share items. or music that helps them praise them – a kind of spiritual demonstration.
âI started Asylum because to me it sounded like something God really wanted to happen,â Billie explained after the Asylum reunion, over a cup of tea in a busy cafe. “I felt like Jesus was asking me to go join these people.”
Asylum started with a small group of Gothic devotees who hung flyers outside of concerts and alternative venues in London, and grew from there. “The flyers had designs on them, like, ‘Jesus died for punks and steelworkers too ‘ and, ‘Jesus loves the Goths, ‘” Billie explains. “People’s responses would be either interest and they would come back and ask us about it, or outright hostility, where they would rip the flyer in our face. Most people were interested, however.”
On Asylum’s website, they state, âWe are aware that many subcultures have been deeply hurt by the callous, critical and hypocritical actions of some Christians. We are doing our best to repair some of this damage (even if we make mistakes because we are human!) And I hope that with your help we will be successful. When I ask Billie what they mean by that, she says, “God isn’t interested in clothes, he’s interested in people’s hearts.”
By the late 1990s, Billie and her cohort had gathered a group of like-minded people, and Asylum began hosting weekly meetings at The Intrepid Fox, a now-closed rock bar in Soho.
Some members of the fraternity had belonged to different religious groups before finding asylum. Craig, a train conductor from South Africa, told me about his past as a Satanist. âIt was a very dark time in my life that I tried to block out,â he explained, as we sat in a Mexican restaurant and waited to order food. “It was a very terrifying and scary part of my life, when now my life is the opposite.”
Craig went on to explain that he made a blood pact – signing a contract with his own blood – as a teenager. “It got very horrible, to the point that I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so scared.” His rescue came in the form of a Christian Death Metal tape that a friend had brought him to listen to. “I wanted to kill himâhow dare he cheat on me like that?-but yet something happened … I needed to make a decision. “
After meeting various members of Asylum, it became clear that many have different beliefs from each other. Some are religious, some are not, which, as I have seen in person, helps spark many rich discussions.
âAt a very dark time in my life, my partner, Adam – whom I knew from live role-playing – introduced me to Asylum,â Paul explained in a library in Borehamwood, England. Paul is a former serviceman, works for the NHS and has attended asylum meetings for years. He now identifies as “goth agnostic”. I asked what keeps her interest in the group, if it doesn’t have to do with praising the Lord. “Their thoughts and their openness,” he replied.
We spoke for two hours and Paul spoke about his struggles with depression, loneliness and the discrimination he faces in the area where he lives. As he accompanied me to the station, I was shocked to see locals insulting him in the street for the way he was dressed, even in not particularly strange Gothic clothes. Paul remained silent and continued to walk. I asked him how he was feeling. After a pause, he replied, âSad and uncomfortable.
Others, like Paul, attend weekly Bible studies although they do not identify as Christians. âI see it more as a social thing,â said Julian, a regular at the asylum who can usually be seen with a bandana and goatee. “I see myself as someone who has very Christian values ââwithout being a Christian.” As a child he was an altar boy, but now, as he approaches sixty, he identifies primarily as a pagan.
Jon Horne is another of the original members of Asylum. After moving to London in 1992 to study theology, he ran a fanzine in his spare time that covered Christian death metal, grindcore and industrial music. When he met Billie, they joined forces. âWe had all been burned by the traditional church in one way or another,â Jon explained to me over a beer on a Saturday afternoon. “It’s essentially Phariseism, where things are twisted to moralism.” He went on to explain that he always attends church outside the asylum, although he commented that the style of music there “isn’t really my thing.”
Like the other members, Jon was extremely open, explaining that he and his wife lost their three children in 2015. His firstborn, Daniel, contracted meningitis B at the age of 15 months and died less 12 hours after feeling the first symptom. Later that same year, after his wife became pregnant again, her waters broke at 21 weeks and soon after, the twins she was carrying were stillborn. I asked him how these tragedies fit in with his faith and his worldview.
âObviously after that we talked to God a lotâ¦ but the Christian faith has a place for that. A place to lament and to struggle with God. , he explained, looking out the window. “After that all these shock metal bands lose their effect because they are nothing compared to real horror.”
Archangel De La Vallette, a dentist who makes fangs for London’s “vampire community” alongside his more regular dental work, has been involved in the scholarship since the early 2000s and personified the welcoming nature of Asylum when ‘he invited me to his apartment one. winter evening for pizza and champagne.
âI was really happy to walk away from the Pope because I felt like he was hijacking Christianity,â he said of his younger years as a Catholic. âI didn’t meet any Christians on the alternative scene until I started going to the asylum. When I got there we had some common points of view. and we shared our faith, which was really cool. “
A song that was performed at one of Asylum’s monthly “worship parties”.
For veteran members like Jon and Billie, Asylum reaffirms their faith and helps them with their praise, as they explore their spirituality with like-minded individuals. For others, like Paul and Julian, it just seems to provide a safe and friendly space to relax. A place where they can discuss life on a deeper level without fear of judgment or ridicule. With such uncertainty and chaos in the atheist world, it makes sense that people are drawn to groups like this, looking for answers that cannot be found elsewhere. I know because it’s the same compulsion that drove me to knock on Asylum’s door.
âAsylum goes to the whole alternative community and says, ‘If you believe in God or Allah, or if you are a witch, or even if you don’t believe in anything, it doesn’t matter’â, Paul explained. “We’re here to chat and listen, and that’s what makes Asylum unique.”
During my time with the fellowship, I felt like I was part of something quietly revolutionary. A group representing a connection and an openness that is both mystical and very human. Maybe I felt this way because I had been experiencing religion since inside instead of looking curiously from a distance. The Asylum group reframed religion and spirituality, making them more accessible and inclusive than any church I had witnessed before.
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