Signs from above

Church mar­quees seek to at­tract souls

Ottawa Citizen - - FAITH & ETHICS - RON OROZCO

FRESNO, Cal­i­for­nia • While tech­nol­ogy is mak­ing it eas­ier to reach more peo­ple, some church of­fi­cials say they pre­fer to use mes­sages on mar­quees and sand­wich boards to en­gage the com­mu­nity.

Take the mar­quee at Har­mony Free Will Bap­tist Church in south­east Fresno, Cal­i­for­nia last week: “Noah was a faith­ful man. He set sail with 2 ter­mites.’’ Clever, don’t you think? So who comes up with these words of wis­dom? It’s not a bunch of standup comic wannabes. They’re church mem­bers who hope a lit­tle brevity light­ens the load of any­one see­ing their words.

“The world is filled with so much pain, de­struc­tion and de­pres­sion, I think the Lord wants us to laugh and smile,’’ says Tex Petersen, who cre­ates the say­ings at Har­mony Free Will Bap­tist Church with help from his wife and son.

Churches have long dis­played ba­sic in­for­ma­tion — ser­vice times, church ac­tiv­i­ties and con­tact in­for­ma­tion — in their mar­quees. The churches adding say­ings and us­ing sand­wich boards are reach­ing a wider au­di­ence, says Doree Shafrir, an Amer­i­can author and editor at Rolling Stone.

“They’re funny and a lit­tle bit alien if you’re not a reg­u­lar church­goer,’’ she wrote in a 2007 ar­ti­cle, Signs from God. “And it’s hard to tell whether they’re in­tended pri­mar­ily to amuse reg­u­lar con­gre­gants, or to at­tract soul-search­ing passersby. What­ever the in­tent, such signs have cer­tainly gained the no­tice of the sec­u­lar world at large.’’

There are many ex­am­ples around the com­mu­nity.

The sand­wich board of Church of Christ in Oakhurst, Cal­i­for­nia, last week read: “Life­guard on duty ... Ours walks on water.’’

“We’re not as high-tech as some places,’’ says the church’s pas­tor, Rev. Steve Foster. “There are times a sim­ple mes­sage is im­por­tant for the com­mu­nity to see.’’

Church of Christ has dis­played other clever mes­sages, such as “God has a big eraser’’ and the church is “Un­der the same man­age­ment for 2,000 years.’’

Church mem­bers in charge of the mes­sage-writ­ing say they’re try­ing to open doors to the com­mu­nity. They want peo­ple to see that churches can have a sense of humour while also be­ing avail­able to meet their needs.

The writ­ers say they can take only so much credit. They tap into web­sites specif­i­cally for church signs and rally fam­ily mem­bers and friends to help look for ideas. A book — Church Signs Across Amer­ica’ — also chron­i­cles say­ings. They do fol­low rules, es­pe­cially be­ing care­ful the say­ing doesn’t of­fend any­one.

Petersen, a truck me­chanic, says he searches the In­ter­net for ideas, then bounces them off his wife, Re­nee, and son, Hunter, 13, for good taste.

Friends Jan­ice Baker and Jane Ono come up with the say­ings for the mar­quee at Selma First Chris­tian Church, Dis­ci­ples of Christ.

The mar­quee this week reads: “Ex­er­cise daily, walk with Je­sus.’’

“We try our best to keep it clever, but also to keep it re­li­gious,’’ says Baker, a mas­sage ther­a­pist.

They look for op­por­tu­ni­ties to ad­dress things im­por­tant to the church and com­mu­nity.

When the deaths of two prom­i­nent Selma High stu­dent-ath­letes in a traf­fic ac­ci­dent — An­thony Caro and Jesse Lu­jan, both 17 — left the com­mu­nity shaken in July, the mar­quee read: “The com­mu­nity grieves a great loss.’’ Ev­ery­one knew. For Mother’s Day, the mar­quee read: “Flow­ers, $25. Go­ing to church with Mom, price­less.’’

“It’s a good way to com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple,’’ Baker says. “With the tough times in the world, let’s put some­thing out there that is hope­ful. It’s all about pos­i­tive things, some­thing that mo­ti­vates peo­ple to think about not just them­selves but to reach out to oth­ers.’’

CRAIG KOHLRUSS, MC­CLATCHY-TRI­BUNE NEWS

A mes­sage on the mar­quee at First Chris­tian Church, in Selma, Cal­i­for­nia.

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