I had an interesting encounter today with a woman named Gail who lives in Hingham (she wouldn’t give me her last name). She interrupted me during a meeting (“I just need a minute of your time”) to tell me how displeased she was with the sign on the front lawn of the church highlighting our Saturday 5 pm service. She tried her hardest to muster a conciliatory tone (“I don’t mean to be disrespectful” and “I’ve always so admired your church; it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in Hingham”).
But…there’s always a BUT. After trying to get me to tell her that it was just temporary and I’d be taking it down any moment, she pulled out the firepower: “It looks like a used car lot.” I responded with “That’s the point” and she left.
Now, I don’t think it actually looks like a used car lot. If you’re going to give me that complaint, just check out First Baptist down the street around their fall (or spring — can’t remember) fair. They actually hang those multi-colored plastic flags above their lawn. I think our S.W.5 sign is clever, rather discreet church marketing (evangelism!) for a growing contemporary, informal out-of-the-box service (averaging about 35 this fall and trending upwards).
I posted a brief version of this encounter on Facebook and got some great responses. Lent Madness Celebrity Blogger Heidi Shott said my post sounded like the start to a limerick. This naturally moved Lent Madness Poet Laureate Mary Cox to respond with one:
A woman from Hingham named Gail
proclaimed St. John’s banner a “fail”
it’s just SO indiscreet,
right out there at the street,
like an ad for what’s free — or on sale.
As the Rev. Maxwell Grant (a Congregational pastor in Greenwich, CT) put it in a reply to my post, “Please have the courtesy to keep your church lovely, unobtrusive, and irrelevant…thanks.” And isn’t that the prevailing cultural attitude? People don’t mind pretty churches in their midst as long as they keep the lawn mowed, don’t block my driveway on Sunday morning, do the occasional food drive, and don’t ever invite me to participate in your community. They like Christians to be seen but not heard.
Well, I apologize but that’s not how we do things around here. We really do believe what we say in the ancient Creeds and what we hear of Jesus through Scripture. We’re called to share this Good News with which we have been entrusted not hoard it. And so I’m sorry if you don’t like our sign (don’t push me, Gail, or I’ll invest in some neon) but it’s not going anywhere.
What I really should have done was invite her to attend the service next Saturday. Maybe she really was searching for something deeper. Perhaps the sign wasn’t so much an affront to her aesthetic sensibilities in driving down Main Street as much as a symbol of brokenness in her life as she seeks something that transcends the visible world.
Then again, maybe she just abhors the London Underground.