Material History of American Religion Project

Church sign humor

What is missing from ch ch? URHumor is a 20th-century addition to the visual world of American religion. Whereas signs outside a church in the 19th century told passersby what type of worship occurred inside the building, in the 20th-century churches began to use signs with movable letters to convey a message. The first messages were still in informational nature--who the pastor was, when services met, and what text would be preached on during the coming Sunday, together with, in some churches, a title for the minister's sermon. As advertising and car culture both grew in their social impact throughout the 20th-century, commercial advertisers used signs to to glean the attention of potential consumers. From the barns whose roofs read Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco about cheap cigarettes to a series of small humorous signs adding up to a pitch for Burma Shave, the American landscape was fast becoming a place where people with something to sell used entertaining words and images to gather an audience. By mid-century American Protestant churches were using their signs to make clever word plays designed to entice people into attending their fellowships. The featured object of the month is a church sign with one of the most popular word plays of all-time. It reads, "WHAT IS MISSING FROM CH CH? UR" the opposite side of the same sign, also shown, has a more contemporary plea for church attendance: "NOW TAKING RESERVATIONS, SMOKING OR NON-SMOKING." In this case, the messages were featured on the sign of a Baptist Church in River Falls, Alabama in September 1999. Now taking reservations--smoking or no-smoking

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