Churches are increasingly using changeable letter signs at roadside to get out the Word. Apparently, it pays to advertise, even if your message is divine. In the same bold block lettering commonly used by repair garages, dry cleaners and other commercial enterprises, these houses of worship are competing for the attention of motorists.
Typically lighthearted, yet with a serious twist, such messages as “God Loves You Whether You Like it or Not,” proclaimed by the Evangelical Free Church of Westfield, Massachusetts, certainly gives passersby something to ruminate about whether they like it or not. “In Many Tongues, But One Message” read a poignant sign recently displayed at the United Church of Chester, Connecticut. This simple, somewhat cryptic phrase simultaneously seemed to express a complex world of universality, tolerance and welcome. It gave me a measure of comfort as I drove past, even though I have no intention of ever stopping in for Sunday worship.
The devout seem to have an inordinate fondness for puns, at least as indicated by signs along the road. It’s hard not to smile (and groan a bit) when a Methodist church announces in a kind of holy weather report that “God Reigns, Son Shines.” On a hot summer day, it’s difficult not to appreciate letters that read “The Church is Prayer Conditioned.” No doubt the services at the Baptist Fellowship of Columbia, Connecticut are way cool.
Church signs run from the tongue-in-cheek clever to the deeply serious. “God Is Like Allstate, You’re In Good Hands” broadcasts a recent sign at the Memorial United Methodist Church in Avon, Connecticut. At the Falls Village Congregational Church last year, the public was urged to “Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly.” Who doesn’t long for such words to be acted upon? The world would be a much better place.
Faith often originates in doubt. In that regard, the glad tidings outside the Congregational Church in Norfolk, Connecticut might be among the most useful, if not admirable of roadside church messages. “To Be Sure: Doubts Always Welcome,” it declares.
At least since Noah saw the rainbow as a token of the Almighty’s covenant not to flood the earth again, people have looked for signs to confirm their faith or give direction. As much as I delight in roadside church signs, they have not much altered my skeptical frame of mind. However, I recently drove past a billboard that was a revelation. Situated at the edge of a woodland, it was far from any church. In bold black letters on a white background was the phrase “Be Grateful.” So arresting was this simple phrase that I had to stop a moment and think. It seemed that gratitude might be the most powerful yet underrated of human attitudes. If we were more grateful for the people, things and opportunities around us peaceful, and rewarding lives would certainly be more likely.
“You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements,” wrote Scottish novelist Norman Douglas. Flashy ads that we typically see for detergents, cars, and pharmaceuticals are a far cry from our highest ideals. But at the edge of the pavement not far away, a church is making a pitch with a more meaningful message.