Church 'pushes envelope' with latest billboard

By Paul Harper

The new billboard outside Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City. Photo / Paul Harper
The new billboard outside Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City. Photo / Paul Harper

A new billboard outside Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City aims to prove you can't put all Christians in the same box, the church's priest-in-charge says.

In response to recent Hell Pizza billboards advertising its hot cross buns with the tagline: "For a limited time. A bit like Jesus", the latest St Matthew billboard reads: "Hell no, we're not giving up pizza for Lent".

Priest-in-charge Clay Nelson said the idea for the billboard came after reading a Herald story where Anglican Church media officer Lloyd Ashton said the billboards were "disrespectful to what a lot of people hold very dear".

Mr Nelson said not all Anglicans found the Hell Pizza billboards offensive.

"Some think it is kind of funny and clever," he said.

So St Matthew-in-the-City erected its own billboard - with an obvious likeness to the Hell Pizza ones - to show off their own sense of humour.

"The purpose of the billboard is to suggest that you can't put all Christians in the same box," Mr Nelson said.

"We want to engage society. In this case we want to engage the church that chose to be offended by what was really just a source of fluff and amusement.

"Sometimes we do take on our fellow co-religionists to say 'look, by making a fuss about this all you did was give them even more publicity - is that because you like Hell Pizza so much or what?'

"We are just reminding people we shouldn't take ourselves so seriously about such things."

St Matthews-in-the-City is no stranger to controversy; in 2009 a billboard before Christmas depicted Mary and Joseph in bed with the text: "Poor Joseph, God was a hard act to follow".

Mr Nelson said there had been "minimal" reaction to the most recent billboard.

"The congregation, except for one person, has expressed laughter - which is the hopeful response to it.

"Unlike our Christmas billboard I haven't been swamped by angry emails and phone calls. Actually that is helpful at Easter time ... I'm grateful for that."

Mr Nelson said he "did not want a billboard that could go in front of any other church".

"St Matthews tries to push the envelope about theology, about what it means to be the church, how to be Christians, how to relate to the rest of society that may not be Christians.

"We're looking at new ways of being a church. So what we have up in front of the church simply says 'well that's to be expected', no one is going to think twice about it," he said.

"Our purpose is to have people think 'what gives at St Matthew's? Maybe we want to check out what they are talking about'. Even if they don't show up on Sunday morning, we hope they'll go to the website, look at our sermons and articles and our stands on various things."

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