Q: I'm Catholic and I've noticed that no established mainstream Catholic churches, synagogues or mosques put those catchy signs out front the way many Protestant churches do. Why is that? These signs always give me a smile and might even bring people in to hear the sermon. — F., via firstname.lastname@example.org
A: You're right. The only sign outside my synagogue has its name and phone number on it and some plants around it. I've always wanted to add this message: "Temple Beth Torah: God and Gellman are both here ... what else do you want!"
Seriously, though, I'm ambivalent about church signs. On one hand, I admire their insouciance. They remind us all that religion need not be grim and scolding, but can embrace wit as well as wisdom. They let people know the minister's sermon topic for Sunday, and include the service times. I like all that.
On the other hand, church signs with funny slogans strike me as just one step removed from the ads on the windows of burger joints telling you to buy one, get one free. They can be seen as degrading to the stature of religion. On the largest moral stage, they raise the question of how we "sell" religion in a country where everything is for sale. There's something, well, classy, about a house of worship with nothing on its sign but the name. Such places convey this powerful wordless message:
"We don't need a catchy sign out front because you know what happens here. You know in your soul that you need what happens here, even though our secular culture tells you that you don't need it at all. Come in. Come home, and find in this place the better angels of your nature waiting for you, along with a community who will embrace you and help you to be saved. If you want advertising slogans filled with yucks, watch TV. If you want a life filled with virtue, come watch what happens here and come pray with us."
In any event, your question sent me back to a charming e-mail sent to me and to a select group of thousands by J. It included photos of some great church signs. I include the messages below. Dear readers, your homework for this week is to send me your opinions about church signs and the texts of your favorites. I'll pass them along in a future column.
"Keep using my name in vain and I'll make rush hour longer — God" — First Reformed Church of Bethlehem (founded 1763)
"There are some questions that can't be answered by Google." — Claude Presbyterian Church
"Honk if you love jesus, text while driving if you want to meet him" — Stonebridge Church of God
"Thou shalt not steal the copper from the AC unit. Please call 227-4110." — Ray of Hope Community Church
"Read the Bible. It's user friendly, plus we offer tech support here on Sundays at 10:30." — unknown church but posted on theCHIVE.com
"Church parking. Trespassers will be baptised." — Christian Fellowship Church
"Who's your daddy?" — First Baptist Church
"Whoever is praying for snow, please stop." — South End Baptist Church (on a sign half buried in snow)
"To be almost saved is to be totally lost." — anonymous
"How do we make holy water? We boil the hell out of it!" — The First Church of Awesome Works
"What is missing from ch--ch? U R" — River Falls Baptist Church
"Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and the snake didn't have a leg to stand on." — anonymous
"Every day above ground is a good one." — Church of God of Prophecy
And then there are these suggestions for new church signs:
The best vitamin for a Christian is B1.
Try our Sundays. They're better than Baskin-Robbins'.
You aren't too bad to come in. You aren't too good to stay out.
Can't sleep? Try counting your blessings.
Try Jesus. If you don't like him, the devil will always take you back.
Life is hard. Afterlife is harder.
Aspire to inspire before you expire.
Where will you be sitting in eternity? Smoking or non-smoking?
Under the same management for 2,000 years.
(Send QUESTIONS ONLY to The God Squad via email at email@example.com.)