The sign isn’t exactly flashy. It stands a few feet off the ground at the edge of the church parking lot, facing the street. The electronic portion is about 2½ feet tall and 6 feet wide. Its green letters, on a black background, can at times be hard to read.
Spinelli noted that on the day the county’s investigator observed the sign, just after the June 29 derecho storm, one of the offending messages invited neighbors without power into the air-conditioned church.
On Monday, the sign’s message was, “8:30 am prayer, 9 am Sunday school, 10 am worship.”
The next day, it read, “Morning prayer, Wednesday at 6:30 am.”
The messages for which the church was cited were similarly staid.
“Welcome, come on in and beat the heat,” read the first.
“Visit us at goodshepherdva.com,” read the second.
And the third advertised a prayer group meeting: “Practicing the Presence, Thurs., July 5, 1 pm.”
The mere fact that the new sign is more noticeable than the old one — its lettering had to be changed manually — is enough to have caused a stir along wooded, winding Hunter Mill Road. The two-lane thoroughfare predates the Civil War and is officially designated a Virginia scenic byway. More than one civic group works to preserve it.
Members of the Hunters Valley Association and the Hunter Mill Defense League said the groups consider the church a good neighbor and have no plans to try to get the sign taken down, but they acknowledged they don’t especially like it either.
“It has a commercial look,” said Hull, of the defense league. The organization would have advocated a more understated sign had it been given a chance to weigh in, he said.
“Our main concern is that we don’t see a proliferation of these kinds of signs,” Bill Cramer, another member, said.
Both groups said the number of different messages displayed in a day was of no concern to them.
Church leaders never imagined the sign might cause problems and that wasn’t their intent, Spinelli said. Rather, it was the exact opposite.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” she said. “That’s what the messages are all about.”
She said the church has no desire to use flashing or scrolling text or to change the sign numerous times each day.
But there might be situations in which more than two messages make sense, she said. Say, for example, that the sign advertises a Boy Scouts meeting in the morning and the next day’s services in the afternoon. What if a neighborhood child is kidnapped later in the day or a major storm comes in? If it abided by the rules, the church wouldn’t be able to post emergency information for the community.
“We just want the freedom to post the messages we see fit,” Spinelli said.