|The Edmonton Journal|
EDMONTON - The one-sentence sermon usually found on the sign in front of McDougall United Church was replaced last week with something less preachy but just as pithy: "Go Oilers Go."
Church signs cheering on the Oilers have been popping up all over the city this playoff season. It's "godvertising" with a hockey twist, and it's all part of the effort to fill church pews.
"We are living in a society where only 30 per cent of people participate in organized religion more than once or twice a month," said Rev. John Henry Weinlick of the downtown McDougall church.
"We're competing with everybody else out there, and coming up Bellamy Hill, thousands of people see our sign. We're unashamedly using it for that. We need to get people's attention."
Weinlick said signs offer churches a chance to engage with the community, and hockey allows the church to express civic pride.
Some church signs engage with the public using humorous messages. Some are sentimental. And some are like a stern grandparent, warning you to do unto others as you would have them do unto you -- or else.
"The church is confused about their role in society, and you can see that even in the signs," said Sam Drew, pastor at Evangelical Covenant church at 85th Street and 82nd Avenue.
"Some just want to generate interest. Some want to generate a sense of community, and you get the Oilers signs. Some still see themselves as a position of authority, and so you get the sterner messages."
Drew said he, too,refers to hockey in sermons. "I use hockey examples in sermons because it's relevant to Canadians. To not reference hockey would be inefficient."
Some churches avoid the politics of sports and anything else that requires choosing sides. Associate pastor Mike Perschon from the Holyrood Mennonite Church said he wouldn't use his church's sign to cheer for the Oilers."I saw a sign in front of a church in the west end that said, 'Pray for the Oilers,' and I thought, well, someone is also praying for the Flames, or Detroit, or whoever," Perschon said.
"I wasn't aware that God had favourites."
Regardless of the tone of the church sign, the underlying purpose is
the same: to inspire interest in the church.
"The sign is saying, 'Check us out,' " Perschon said. "I don't think many people would want to admit to that. They would say church signs have a higher calling, but at the end of the day, it's a marketing strategy."
So do signs actually get people into church?
Weinlick said they do, sometimes. Once a month, McDougall holds a healing service that is advertised on the sign, and it brings in new people every time. The church also advertises special sermons or events. Several churches in the city have advertised sermons discussing The Da Vinci Code.
While the sign may not get people in the door, it does inspire interest.
Rev. Clay Kuhn of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in Banff changed his sign from "Go Flames Go" to "God Forgive Us. Go Oilers" when Calgary lost.
"People who had ignored our sign forever are noticing it now," Kuhn said.
Kuhn said he always strives for funny signs. "Jesus was a master of humour," he said.
"Shouldn't I follow the master?"