A Christian news site published a blog last month about rock star Alice Cooper, the performer known for his outlandish costumes, demonic makeup and huge snakes during performances.
“He has been called the godfather of shock-rock, mixing elements of horror movies into acts that have included an unpalatable array of guillotines, fake blood, baby dolls and boa constrictors,” Mark Ellis wrote in a God Reports blog for The Christian Post.
Then Ellis sprung some news on his readers that might be more shocking about Cooper than black-and-red striped pants and a leather pants and his trademark devilish grimace.
“Yet many would be surprised to learn of his Christian roots and his homecoming to the faith after sowing his oats as the ultimate prodigal.”
That may come as a revelation to many, but not to the folks at First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.
On a Sunday morning in February 2015, Senior Minister Barry Howard, who was in the building but not preaching that day, began to receive text messages and in-person alerts that Cooper and his wife, Sheryl, were seated in the sanctuary (center section, toward the back).
Howard, who didn’t get a chance to meet the singer, said he later learned Cooper had been on his way from a gig in Texas to another in Orlando. He did more digging and learned Cooper had grown up a pastor’s kid and had done mission work on Native American reservations in Arizona.
He also discovered that Cooper’s Christian faith is a mature one that includes regular church attendance and teaching Sunday school.
Cooper and his wife, the daughter of a Baptist minister, launched a Christian youth center in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Howard said he was so moved by Cooper’s story that he decided wrote a column about the rocker’s visit for Baptist News Global.
“It was rather inspiring to learn that Alice Cooper prioritizes a time for worship during his busy travel schedule,” Howard wrote in the March 9, 2015 column.
But it was also inspiring, Howard said in the blog and in an interview on Friday, that his church responded with calm and respect to the presence of a global celebrity in their midst.
The Coopers had been greeted, on arrival and as they left, in the same way any other guests would be, Howard said. There were handshakes and well wishes and invitations to return whenever passing through again.
“They were just itching to get out their cameras and say ‘hey, can I get an autograph,’ but something deep down said ‘we just need to let him worship,’” he said. “I thought it was a deep sign of maturity.”
The congregation has had practice with other celebrities, mostly politicians from Pensacola or stumping in the city during election seasons, Howard said.
It’s ingrained in First Baptist culture that rock-star status ends at the door on Sunday mornings, he said.
“When we come to worship, we stand on level ground before the Cross of Jesus Christ,” Howard said.
“Whether it’s Alice Cooper or Alice the homeless person, when we come together for worship we … don’t show preference to any individual.”