If you know anything about St. Timothy’s building you know that over a year ago we installed a new digital sign. One of the few mistakes we made in our late 1990s building campaign was the sign. Not only did we replace our old wooden sign with another wooden sign, but we also didn’t build it high enough for anyone to see.
At the time of that building campaign a member of the building committee suggested that we install a sign that could actually communicate something, but the general consensus was that such a sign wouldn’t be very tasteful. How Episcopalian! Why let anyone know that you exist and what you are about, especially if it might appear a bit tacky! In addition, given that our building was below street level, surrounded by trees, and not well lit, it was a wonder that anyone knew we existed at all. I began to truly recognize how invisible we were when we advertised our two “Fall Fests.” When I invited others to come to Fall Fest at St. Timothy’s, they often said, “Sounds fun. Where is St. Timothy’s?" I discovered that even people who had driven past our building for years didn’t know the location of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.
Thanks to our new sign those days are over; people not only know the location of St. Timothy’s, but more importantly they know what we believe. They now what we are about because our extraordinary Communications Committee decided early on to use the sign to focus on our core message: God loves you—no exceptions! Love your neighbor—no exceptions!
I am finding that focusing on the message is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to church signs. Most signs that I see tend to communicate two things: parish events—most targeted to people who are already members of that church; or they communicates reasons why the person reading the sign should want to be part of their community. The latter is often done through self-promoting messages that talk about how much that church is growing, the implication being that you don’t want to miss out on being part of a successful endeavor. In most of these cases, I come away having no clue what that church’s mission really is. Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that these churches don’t have a mission; I just wouldn’t know it from the sign.
Our sign is doing is just the opposite. Every newcomer who joins us for worship mentions the message on the sign. Whenever I do a wedding, guests mention the sign. Last week a member of a neighboring congregation, who drives by our digital sign on a regular basis, left a voicemail saying, “I hope you never take down the message ‘God loves you—no exceptions!’” Two weeks before that I met a member of the Milford Mosque, who lives in our neighborhood. When he found out that I was the Rector of St. Timothy’, he said, “So you are at the church with the sign that says “Love your neighbor—no exceptions! I want you to know that I took a photograph of that sign to show the people at my Mosque!”
Our sign is a gift to the community because it communicates Good News. Of course, the church doesn’t need a digital sign to communicate this Good News. Every member of the church can be such a sign. Our words and our deeds can let people know in no uncertain terms that God really does love us—no exceptions! And that our mission is to love our neighbors—no exceptions—as well. What will you communicate to others today?