“Limitations only exist if you let them,” read one earlier this month. “Never iron a four-leaf clover because you don’t want to press your luck,” read another. The point, says the Rev. Debbie Scott, is to provoke, not preach.
Not so around Easter.
Thursday night, in preparation for Good Friday and Easter services, a custodian put up: “What happened early Easter morning?” a reference to the mystery and drama of Jesus’s resurrection.
For a nation increasingly fleeing traditional religious practice and belief, Easter isn’t a day to push the envelope. It’s a time when pastors who enjoy putting a clever or edgy sentence on their church signs proceed with caution.
Seven Locks Baptist Church in Rockville went from “iPad, iPod, iPray” earlier in March to “Because he lives I can face tomorrow.” Emmanuel Baptist Church in Manassas replaces its sayings with service times. Even Madison Avenue Baptist, a Midtown Manhattan congregation with a professional comedian for a pastor, a Good Friday service staged as a country music revue and a sign popular with tourists for its irreverent, secular vibe, goes traditional on Easter.
“Christmas and Easter are two of the rare occasions when I’m overtly religious. I mean, these [holiday] stories are the foundation of the church,” said Brian Crowson, the New York City church’s parish administrator and sign-picker.
In past Easters, Crowson has chosen: “He has risen,” and “He is born.” On Friday, he opened the sign box and removed a seasonal, if not spiritual, message attributed to Albert Einstein: “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” In its place he put: “Easter says: You can put truth in a grave but it won’t stay there.”
If advertising is more traditional around Easter, it’s also regarded as more crucial by pastors whose pews are emptying and who hope to give the unchurched a transcendent experience.
Stewart Church Signs, one of the country’s most prominent suppliers of signs to houses of worship, says sales and upgrades boom early each year for the Easter run-up. Churches add small yard signs to scatter on nearby roads and trade up for an LED sign with a digital display. Generally, Stewart spokeswoman Stacy Strom said, churches are becoming more experimental with the messages they feature on their signs “due to hard economic times and declining numbers of Americans attending churches. Most churches are in the position that they need to grow their congregation.”
But at Easter, she said, they stay classic.