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This Sunday many congregations are observing the Epiphany. 

Of course, the Epiphany took place on Friday past, but our flexible liturgical observance allows us such freedom. Incidentally, my own congregation will be observing in a more focused manner today the Baptism of the Lord.

The Epiphany makes me think of the star that served as a sign for the wise ones from the East, “for we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

Therefore, today I’d like to share about our church’s actual sign — all incidences and reflections from this past year. Of course, if you read last Sunday’s post, all also including my co-pastor Hilde. 

Lumping together a year’s worth of observations like this causes me to wonder about how the church communicates the Gospel, how the Church itself serves as a sign.

Bearing Fruit

One of my Monday responsibilities is to update the church sign, as usual with the help of Hilde dog. As we change the sign we often get the chance to chat with folks as they pass by. Today we had a wonderful conversation with the woman who runs one of our Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as she came to set up in the church hall. Then Hilde greeted a couple of neighborhood pups—or at least ran around separated by a fence and barked at one. 

But back to the sign proper, I will state publicly that I’m not entirely sure about it. I do appreciate the ability to communicate with those who pass. A holiday announcement, worship times, advertising events — are all useful to get out to the community. But I find this particular sign aesthetically not pleasing. Maybe that’s just me. Dated in design and workability, and quite limited in what can be put up there too. 

Anyway, broadly and generally I put up the title for the coming Sunday’s message. I hate sermon titles, and because this is going out to the world, words or phrases may be somewhat altered, maybe a little less churchy sounding. 

I do not put up trite Christian messages! To those unaware, my words or phrases might seem a little random. Because we follow the Revised Common Lectionary this title is in reference to Jesus’ parable of the fig tree from Luke 13 about bearing fruit. 

Over the years I’ve received a good amount of feedback about the sign from different people, probably 95% positive — interestingly almost entirely from folks not part of the church. 

That brings me to what happened much later this evening coming back from walking Hilde around 6 pm. We were approaching the church from across the street and I noticed a young person (which is frankly anyone who appears 40 or below!) on the diagonal corner from us with their phone directed towards the church sign. 

I crossed the street as did they, and I simply asked, “Excuse me, were you taking a picture of the sign?” with a quick follow up, “because I’m the pastor here and put that up there and am always wondering what people think of it?” 

This opens the door to a lovely conversation, how this individual regularly runs past the church purposely, and regularly pays attention to the message posted with good interest (and not a negative attitude). Incidentally, this person is from a Jewish background but finds the short little message or phrases positive, and they’d like to come to church sometime. 

OK, I don’t hold out all hope that they will necessarily, but still that sounds great. We separate eventually, both mightily encouraged.

I still don’t really know what to think about our church sign. But in the last year and a half or so, this is the third similar incident that I’ve had—a person taking a picture of it, then me asking them why, and receiving  a positive response. Maybe the sign itself is bearing its own kind of fruit? (3/14/2022)

Dream Dreams

I am constantly intrigued by…I guess the best term is “the sociology of religion” as I change the church sign  

photo from a couple hours later when Hilde and went for a walk.

As to being intrigued today, I’m up on the ladder when an older woman walks by. My assumption is that she’s from Central Europe. We make eye contact and she crosses herself. My guess is because she’s passing the church and not because she sees something dark in my soul. Then a school bus stops at the corner, the African American driver with a thick Caribbean accent yells out, “Good morning, Pastor!” Then I chatted with a couple folks walking their dogs while I picked up some trash that had accumulated in the tree pits. 

None of this is particularly extraordinary. But sociologically, I’m still intrigued by the meanings behind all of these interactions, as well as folks’ overall reception of the sign, or for that matter any significance they feel about our church in general.

This coming Sunday is Pentecost where God pours out God’s Spirit upon all flesh and some have visions and others “dream dreams,” thus the direction of the message for this week. (5/31/2022)

Beloved Community

Evangelism. What does that word stir up in you?

I’m grateful that I have friends all over the spectrum of religion/faith/spirituality/belief. I can imagine that for some this word stirs up negative feelings. I get it. Sometimes, in some ways, it does that for me too. For others, this might seem a regular practice of their faith, an essential part of their religion. But I can imagine for the vast majority of my friends, especially my friends who are church related (“church” in a very broad sort of way), this term may stir up some ambiguity. It certainly does for me.

Following worship, I’m on the front sidewalk as a young couple walks past. They stop and the dude asks me, “Are you the one who puts up the sign each week?” He then shares how he takes a photo of it each week. He even shares it with a group of buddies. Where do the words or phrases come from? (Out of the scripture lections for that week, directly or thematically usually, although this “Beloved Community” is a series for this summer.) We chat for a wee bit. They’re not religious, not churchgoers. They’re interested in what we do. What’s the service like? It’s a good conversation! I invite them to church.

This sign has allowed me to talk to people I’ve never met before. For that matter, Hilde does too, along with some of the flowers and plants around the buildings. But it dawned on me today that this is a form of evangelism. And in a form that I actually enjoy, and am neither intimidated nor turned off by. Admittedly it has not translated into much direct church attendance…yet. And I’m not sure that’s exactly what it’s about essentially. Still, exchanges like this are real highlights! (7/3/2022)

This photo was taken a little while later, including three of my best outreach tools: church sign, flowers, and Hilde dog.

Thomas Goodhart

Tom Goodhart is the pastor of Trinity Reformed Church of Brooklyn (in Ridgewood, Queens) in New York City. A native Midwesterner, he has served churches in New York for over twenty years, always accompanied by his trusty canine co-pastors. He has served in various roles at the Classis, Regional Synod, and General Synod levels in the Reformed Church in America. Formerly an urban chicken farmer, he aspires to soon become a tender of honeybees.


  • I love the curiosity— on both sides — here. I’m trying to lean into curiosity more, especially when it comes to people (which can be harder for me than curiosity about things like books, blogs, and news reports). Thank you for your attentiveness, both in your ministry and in this writing. It’s encouraging.

  • Katy Sundararajan says:

    What a lovely pastor you are, Tom. I love that such rich, pastoral moments come from this sign that you, admittedly, don’t even really like all that much. It seems perfectly fitting for you.

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