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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Signs of faith

I pass by a lot of churches in my travels around Lower, Slower Delaware.  While there are lots of little Methodist and Baptist Churches here, with an occasional medium sized Episcopal and Lutheran church, a few Church of God in Christ's and large Roman Catholic churches, the majority are non-denominational, evangelical, as well as Pentecostal and Charismatic. 

Without even seeing the church building or reading the denomination on the sign, you can pretty much guess the denomination by looking at the sign.

For the most part, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal Church have very tastefully painted wood signs with the name of the church carved into the wood, highlighted in gold or a color that coordinates with the background color.  It says "permanence" and "order" and "style".  It also immediately communicates a level of income and class status.

The Methodist and Baptist Churches say something very different with their signs, which are, more often than not, those manufactured signs with the letters behind a glass case.  

They often have the name of the church written along the top - which may or may not be illuminated - and often the denominational logo or a cross or a bible - just so there's no question.

The glass enclosed part contains the times of Sunday worship and Church School, along with any other weekday events like bible study. The part that changes is the "message", usually the sermon title or a pithy, often funny, spiritual message - like: "To Err is Human. To Arrrrh is Pirate". Or: "Honk If You Love Jesus. Text If You Want To Meet Him." Or: "Sign Maker On Vacation. Come Inside For Message." Or - the not-so-funny-and-just-a-tad-threatening: "Many Who Seek God At The Eleventh Hour Die At 10:30".

I look forward to seeing the sermon titles - which are mostly a Methodist thing, but some Baptist churches have them, too.

There's a Methodist Church at the top of my street that previews the sermon title every Thursday. I can hardly wait to drive by to see what the sign says.

The few I remember reading and thinking, "I'd like to hear that sermon" include: "Hiding In Plain Sight". And: "Resurrection: Trick or Treat? You Decide". Or (my personal favorite from last Christmas) "Who's Your Daddy?".

Then, we get to churches that are either converted prefab houses or sad little shacks in great disrepair or concrete buildings with fallen gutters and rust stains down the side of the building.

They have names like: "Church of the Greater Prophecy." Or:  "Church of Deliverance." Or: "All Walks of Life Church of God in Christ." Or: "Bible-Believing Pentecostal Church." Or, simply: "Try Jesus."

Most of these also have the name of the pastor in large print. Some of the ones I remember are "Pastor Butch Hastings," "Pastor Leon Wiley, Chief Servant," and "Prophet Buella Means, Founder".  

These are the churches with signs in front that don't try to be clever or funny. There's usually a quote right out of scripture or, perhaps, just the book, chapter and verse. I often get 'Siri' on my iPhone to help me look them up. 

Like: John 3:16 (of course). Or: Matthew 10:28 (Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.). Or: Luke 4:12 (Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.).

I went by one church today which I've passed several times but hadn't read the sign. This day, however, I was behind a truck hauling some farm equipment which was moving Veeerrry Sloooowly.

It's an old sign, one side sinking because the wood is rotting.  It certainly looks as if the church has been closed - or, at least, there isn't a congregation that has worshiped there in a while. Interestingly enough, there is no pastor's name anywhere on the church or the sign, which obviously hasn't been changed in a long time. Indeed, a few of the letters have slipped a bit and some are missing. Which lead to this unintentionally humorous message.
Faith Without Work_
I s _ _ ed.
Poor Ed, right? No faith. No wonder he has no work.

Or, is it that, when he lost his job, he lost his faith, too?

As I thought about it, I wondered if the church hadn't closed because it didn't have a mission - a way to put their faith to work. Might the sign have been prophetic?

Perhaps it was the 'parting shot' of a pastor who had tried to move the congregation from a "rural country club at prayer" to a church in service to the community? Was this a "message from the grave" of a church that had died?

Intentionally or not, church signs send interesting messages about their congregations and faith life - perhaps even some messages they didn't want to send or even know they were sending.

I've always found Episcopal Church signs that say thing like "8 AM H.E. I   10 AM H.E.II  Fifth Sunday MP I" to be fascinating examples of churches sending loud and clear messages that, if you can read and understand that sign, then, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." If not, perhaps you shouldn't bother.

If you are a member of a church, perhaps you haven't thought much about your sign. What it says about you. Whether or not it really is a "sign" of your faith.

Whether you know it or not, other people think about that sign in front of your church. Probably more people than you realize. Perhaps more people than there are people in your church.

Which, when you think about it, might just be the most important message your sign is giving you. 


Anonymous said...

Yup. Love to read the funny signs but I don't go into these churches. It is evidence to me that the pastor/minister is a bit too full of himself. I have not seen one of these churches have a woman as pastor/minister; but, I may have missed it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Maria. A few of them do, in fact. Large egos, unfortunately, are not limited to men in black. Some of us play the game and follow the boys. And, some of us don't - even some of the boys. Good and bad in all.

Matthew said...

My church now has home made sign, both general welcoming sign on the street and one with more detail on the property. I'm not sure who made them, but long ago and they are showing signs of wear so it seems that the church is dying. We recently had a conversation about replacing them and whether or not to go with the generic blue and white episcopal signs on the church web site (that say the Episcopal Church welcomes you) or have another one (two I guess) custom built. Questions of identity were part of that dialogue. I suspect we'll have an artist do a new one.

JCF said...

I bet the uninitiated think that Episcopal parish has "Hell" at 10AM! O_o

Speaking of Hell: ugh, those "Turn or Burn" "Fire Insurance" signs (that may or may not be attached to a particular church): they either attract the fearful (to make them as Fear&Loathing Fundies as themselves) *OR* (increasingly) they DRIVE AWAY people from having anything to do w/ *anything or anyone* "Christian" whatsoever. Seriously, I'd love to SUE the Christianists who put them up (for defamation of Jesus and the Gospel).

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I think the conversation is as important as the sign. Keep the conversation going and a sign that is truly reflective will become a reality. Good luck.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - I never saw HE II as HELL but you're absolutely right. LOL. AS for the other signs, well, I try to laugh at them, when they don't make me cry.

MarkBrunson said...

Every Friday I pass several "funny" church signs - and, if it weren't for meditation and medication, I would stop, slam open the preacher's door and say, "Oh. My. God. Stop. You are not clever."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - some of these signs elicit the same response from me. Ugh. I want to scream, "Stop! You are trying too hard. And, it shows!"