Maine church repurposes political signs into messages of hope
A United Church of Christ congregation in Maine is repurposing its community’s campaign signs — transforming the symbols of political divisiveness into messages of hope this Advent.
The idea started with the Congregational Church in Cumberland’s Vitality Team.
“Our team was reflecting and praying about how to reach out to our community both before and after the election,” said the Rev. Allison Smith, senior minister. “We have all been feeling the weight of polarization, the weariness of the separation and the worry of the pandemic.”
Church members, she said, wanted to find ways to encourage their neighbors to reach out “across differences,” to “reset and find new hope and courage for the days ahead.”
“As we keep working for a world of God’s justice, change, love and hope,” Smith said, “we felt led to collect old political signs and recycle and reuse and repurpose them.”
So they put out the word out on Facebook and around the town, 11 miles north of Portland, and started collecting scores of signs.
“People have been delighted to know their signs are being reused for a community building project,” said Lalla Carothers, the church’s communications coordinator. She said one man had 30 signs, others offered more than 100. Members immediately got to work, using spray paint to cover the political messages. They came up with a few different ways to reuse them.
First, the vitality team painted new messages, using some of the repurposed signs. One reads “Differences Make Our Community Stronger – Reach Out with Love.” Then they cut up other signs, turning them into tree ornaments.
“Even in 2020 there are signs of hope everywhere,” member Karen Gallati noted in a Facebook post. “The Congregational Church in Cumberland, UCC, would like to celebrate all that is hopeful in our world.”
“We’ve invited folks from the community to come and share their messages by writing them on one of these triangular trees or by emailing us,” Carothers said. Those message-bearing ornaments are going up “on the crabapple tree in front of the church as a symbol of hope to folks who drive by.” They are encouraging folks to keep their messages short – to five words – and to add them to the “Tree of Hope” into Advent.
On Saturday, Nov. 21, the Congregational Church started collecting those messages in earnest during the Cumberland UCC Village Christmas Fair.
The churchwide event, in its 54th year, was vastly different in this time of pandemic. In the past it drew people from surrounding towns, Carothers said, with many of them returning year after year to shop for Christmas presents, handmade items and white elephant bargains, to eat lobster stew in the café, and to visit with Santa.
“It’s a huge fundraiser for the church – usually raising around $15,000 – and it’s very successful. This year was more focused on food – lobster stew and chili, frozen foods and baked goods, all made by church members, as well as wreaths, decorated by church members, who are integral to raising funds but also for building community.”
“I’d guess that attendance was less than half of the last couple of years. We were necessarily outdoors and that was great because it allowed the town to see what was going on and participate if anyone chose. We stuck to takeout food, decorated wreaths and the ‘Tree of Hope’ because we could do that safely,” said Ann Sawchuck, chair of the Christmas Fair. “Most of our sales were preorders but a few people stopped by and made purchases from the extra we produced for that purpose.”
“As people came to pick up goodies and lobster stew, we invited them to write something they were hoping for and hang it on the tree out front,” Smith said. “It was great to talk ‘socially distanced’ with people and offer them the chance to think about what they are hoping for.”
“Even though this year was a much smaller event – netting more like $3,000 to $4,000 – there were still lovely moments,” Carothers said. “Young families added their hopes to the tree; a man donated two frozen turkeys; teens ran up and down the stairs fetching food orders people had placed online; volunteers welcomed visitors who strolled along the outdoor tables, selecting from different homemade pies or cookies; many admired and purchased wreaths. The people of this church share their love and talent so graciously and in so many ways. That gives me hope.”
Messages adorning the tree urge “World Peace” and “No Hate,” “Compassion” and “Listen.” Community members are being encouraged to come by during December, or connect through Facebook, or email, to add to them.
Finally, some of the remaining political signs will become luminaries for the online Christmas Eve service. With the pandemic keeping loved ones apart during the holidays, the church is inviting the community to “help fill the night with light … as we wait for the dawn of a new day and the Hope of Christmas.”
Vitality team member Gail Witherill shared a pattern folks can follow to make luminaries from signs. Or they can fashion them from milk jugs and paper bags. People can bring their luminaries to a bin at the church from Dec. 13–23. On Christmas Eve, the Congregational Church in Cumberland is planning to turn all those collected into a “glorious display that lights up the night.” A celebration that folks are being invited to come out and see.
“This project keeps evolving as the Spirit keeps leading,” Smith said. “We hope this will inspire our church members, friends and people of the community to find hope and take part in the light and joy of Emmanuel!”
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