June 24, 2016
Driving around Medford, you’re as likely to see lawn signs proudly display “I LOVE MY CHURCH” as you are the next presidential candidate in the election season. This past May, St. Mary of the Lakes Catholic Church and School in Medford, NJ began encouraging parishioners to take the lawn signs as a show of their love and support of their parish. The signs have been a hit both in the parish, as well as helping draw local unchurched Catholics back to Mass.
Father Dan Swift, Pastor of St Mary’s since November of 2015, carried the tradition from his previous assignment at St. Benedict Parish in Holmdel, NJ, and now says you can’t drive through a neighborhood around town without seeing a sign. This repetition creates a message that the church is a positive and respected presence in the local community.
St. Mary of the Lakes purchased the signs, which they freely distributed to those who wanted them after Masses. There was an initial investment in the project materials- the plastic printed signs and metal stakes- but many have participated in the outreach and evangelization initiative.
The signs have worked, encouraging Catholics to return to church when they recognize St. Mary of the Lakes as a place that parishioners really care about. Father Dan sees this as an easy, non-offensive or confrontational way of sharing their church with the local community. The effort is simple enough, but deciding to put a sign in the yard for public display does make a statement, and contributes to a renewed sense of personal ownership of the church. Even many of the parish children and school attendees have gotten into the spirit of the display.
Father Dan relates how one resident of the community did arrange to come talk with him and lodge a complaint that religious beliefs were supposed to be “private.” But for the most part, the yard signs have been nothing but a kindhearted addition to most homes, especially coming in the middle of a stressful and contentious election cycle littered with campaign signs and negative commercials.
The small piece of lawn advertising has encouraged a small step forward for parishioners in their personal responsibility in evangelizing.
By: Evan Ponton, Assistant to the Pastor, Church of the Nativity, Timonium, MD