Searching for a sign

Church marquees do more than just spread the Word

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Many Craig churches have upgraded their visibility, erecting elevated and lighted signs in front of their buildings.

But the church signs that once displayed the basic details of service times and the name of the minister now offer pithy slogans and spiritual advice.

One Craig church with a prominent location on Victory Way updates its sign once a week with Bible verses and religious quips, such as, "God accepts knee-mail," or "Exposure to the Son prevents burning."

The First Christian Church's sign has been offering these roadside messages since the mid-1990s, according to Minister Beryl Wright. Just east of a barrage of fast-food establishments and the mall, First Christian's sign stands in a vast lawn, a sharp contrast to the commercial block where it resides.

"God really blessed us with this location," Wright said. "It's a visual place."

At least one couple in the church started attending after they saw the sign. They told Wright, "If the church is like the message, we want to go there."

Wright said it wasn't originally planned as a tool to attract more parishioners, but an attempt to bring a message of hope and peace and forgiveness and healing.

"We see all kinds of negative messages," Wright said. "This is something to offer hope and encouragement. I don't think we can get too much of that."

And the vernacular language that makes up many of the messages is an attempt to set aside the stuffy church persona and level with people.

Wright talks about the King James Bible and its 17th Century English. The archaic words miss the layperson and Wright said that's not what Jesus was about.

"Jesus went out and he was relevant. We should still be relevant to our culture today and speak the same language," Wright said.

The notion is consistent with Wright's demeanor. He's a man who insists not to be called by any honorific name.

"I'm not into titles. Just call me Beryl," he said. "Titles separate us, and that's where we shouldn't be."

Many of the people who read the sign probably will never know him by either name, but some of them phone the church or send letters saying the sign has made a difference to them.

The anonymous thanks have been encouraging to the church, Wright said.

One person called to say, "Your message was just what I needed." But they declined to leave their name.

Beryl said, "God bless ya," but never found out who it was.

The task of searching out messages and changing the sign has been delegated to members of the church.

The pastor doesn't specify or even approve the sign's content. Sometimes his sermons relate to the dispatches on the sign, but Beryl said it's a coincidence.

Deacons, youth group members and others take turns finding the quotes, which they glean from Christian Web sites or books.

Clem Mascarenas worked on the sign Tuesday, adding a quote from Eric Liddell, one of the runners who inspired "Chariots of Fire."

"He ran for God, not the Olympics," Mascarenas said, speaking about Liddell's priorities.

Mascarenas and another

First Christian member have been trading sides, working alternately on the east and west faces of the sign.

Mascarenas said he's been getting his material from devotionals.

The only problem is that the board sometimes doesn't provide enough room for extended quotes or passages, so volunteers like Mascarenas have to paraphrase and condense things.

Sometimes people have to drive by twice to take in the whole message, Wright said.

This week's sign about "the meek" is a lengthy quote Mascarenas had to shorten. But it gets the point across, contrasting meekness with weakness.

The two traits often are confused, but being meek is virtuous, Wright said, and "it calls for strength and restraint."

Not all the signs are cheery and uplifting, and some are quite frank about consequences in the afterlife.

"God's word is that way, too," Wright said. "He kinda cuts to the chase, too. We don't want to

offend anyone. We want to speak the truth."

One of his favorite past messages said that reading the Bible can prevent "truth decay." It's a saying that stuck with the minister. The light-hearted slogan unearthed what he feels is a deeper need in our culture.

"Whether we know it or not, we're looking for authenticity," Wright said.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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