The church sign, it might be said, is the modern book of Proverbs.
That's the way it is in Sylacauga, Ala., anyway.
For 33 years, Pamela Ree Pearson has posted nuggets of wisdom on the sign in front of Living Word Church, the independent full gospel church she co-pastors with her husband, Michael, on busy U.S. Highway 280 between Birmingham and Columbus, Ga., the route that folks from Birmingham take to get to Auburn.
She was way ahead of the Internet on this, way ahead of websites from the sublime (www.sayingsforchurchsigns.com) to the ridiculous (says-it.com), way ahead of the dueling "Do Dogs Go to Heaven?" email signs to the clever "Easter is more than something to dye for" ones.
Pearson, 69, says it fell to her to put the first words on the sign once Living Word Church moved into the former home of Sylacauga's Avondale Mills in 1980. Her idea, which countered the usual wording on the sign for the former cloth outlet, was simple: "Open Sundays." She figures she's put up a new one every week since. That's 1,664, give or take.
The Sylacauga native has compiled a passel of the sayings into a new book, "A Heart of Wisdom," which was released by Inspiring Voices, the self-publishing arm of Guideposts. Grouped by themes such as faith, character, love, forgiveness and prosperity, the book was compiled to make people aware of how God feels about them, Pearson says.
"He wants people to know he loves them, he's not angry at them, he wants to bless them," she says. "Our whole purpose [at the church] is to bless people's lives, Christians or non-Christians. We want to give them a tidbit of the word, something to think about."
Pearson, a mother of one and grandmother of two, says she gathered some of the sayings while taking notes at pastors meetings or conventions over the years, and others came to her in the middle of the night.
Each one, she says, was "something that strikes my ear."
Many are clever, but that wasn't the intention, Pearson says.
• "Is your tongue a little red devil hiding behind pearly white gates?"
• "A dog has friends because he wags his tail and not his tongue."
• "Procrastination gives the devil time to talk you out of what God has told you to do."
"It was not my purpose to be funny," she says. "If it didn't line up with the Bible, I didn't want to say it."
Through the years, Pearson says, people joined the church after being inspired by the sign; an assistant principal told her it helped him get through the day, and one lady claimed it was a factor in her cancer being cured.
The sign that particular week, according to Pearson, played off a billboard in town that advertised an insurance company offering a cancer policy. The church's sign said, "Jesus has a policy against cancer. He heals."
The woman with cancer, she says, was on the way to the doctor in Birmingham, saw the sign, believed its message and learned shortly thereafter from her scan that her cancer had disappeared. The woman later stopped to tell the church folks of the incident but did not join the church.
That's fine, says Pearson. That wasn't the goal.
If the sign's saying caught their attention, if it made them think, if it made them test the saying in the Bible - those were the goals.
The old sign is gone now, replaced last year by an electric one which accommodates four announcements at a time. But that doesn't mean the sayings have disappeared.
They're still there, Pearson says, ready as ever to greet a searching stranger, to uplift a teetering teenager or to lighten a brother's burden.
The book is available at Barnes & Noble or through Amazon.com or Inspiring Voices.
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.