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Inside the Asylum: St Giles church throws open doors to subcultures

Church-based group is for those who do not feel accepted in the mainstream

05 October, 2018 — By Brittany O'Neill

‘It’s not just the usual stuff’ 

Every Sunday, St Giles Church throws open its vestry doors to the capital’s underground sub- cultures – they call it the Asylum.

The charity-run event aims to break down misconceptions about Christianity through discussion and music.

Its founder, Billie Sylvain, set up the community at the church for those who do not feel accepted in the mainstream.

She said: “They could be goths or people into metal or punk, bikers or… they might not be alternative to look at, but they might be alternative on the inside, they could have an alternative heart or for whatever reason don’t fit into the mainstream.”

Although she often chooses to wear gothic- style clothing, Billie considers herself as “hybrid”, because she does not limit herself to one particular sub- culture.

She said: “A lot of churches that I went to paid so much attention to the clothes that I was wearing.

“Prisons aren’t exactly overflowing with people that are goths or punks which is showing that it doesn’t matter what you wear – it matters what is in our heart, but because us humans are so fixated on that, we bring it into our following of Christ.”

Hybrid Billie Sylvain (with blue hair)

Her inspiration to set up a community where anyone is welcome to take part without fear that they will be judged began when she suffered a “tough” time at a Catholic school. “I have experienced it my whole life – people that are obnoxious and rude and saying ‘go to hell’ or calling gay people ‘perverts’. I have had Christians who would not accept me as a Christian because of my dress sense and obviously unaware that God says he doesn’t look at outward appearance – he looks at the heart.”

Asylum started in the late 1990s when Billie and a few other people designed leaflets and began handing them out at the end of gigs in Soho.

The music nights are billed as showcasing music that is “not the usual stuff heard repeatedly in most mainstream clubs … but there will be old faves thrown in like WASP, Megadeth, King’s X, Alice Cooper etc.”

Asylum was set up as a place for people to safely practise their relationship with God and also to break down negative barriers between Christians and the general public. Its website states: “We are not religious … we are spiritual, Christ- centred open minded and respectful of everyone’s beliefs. We are aware that many in the sub-cultures have been deeply hurt by the insensitive, judgmental and hypocritical actions of some Christians. We are trying our best to undo some of that damage.

“We’ve no interest in judging people or forcing anything down anyone’s throats. Everyone is welcome.”

Billie said: “It is no wonder that people think badly of Christians sometimes because they don’t always act in a Christ-like way… I have seen churches evolve… but there is still a long way to go.

“We actually get a lot of non-Christians that come to our events and don’t fully realise what we are doing”, she added. “We don’t march up to people or anything like that.”

l Asylum is at 60 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LG, asylumlondon.com

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