One of my roles as Senior Associate Pastor is that I serve as Church Administrator. While ministry is about exalting Christ and sharing His love, administration often takes on the character of a secular job. On Tuesday, April 15, 2015, a young man entered the church office and declared that he had a “work order on our sign.” He said that our church sign, out on Hwy 87, was out of compliance with Florida Department of Transportation (FDT) rules. Although he produced no documentation other than a business card, I listened respectfully to what he had to say.
The background on our sign predates my tenure. The sign was already in place sixteen years ago when I first came to Hickory Hammock Baptist Church. My predecessor attained permits on property belonging to a private business, and had the sign installed. In the year 2000, a Santa Rosa County official came to my office to say that our sign had not been properly permitted with the county. After several trips to county offices, and a fee of $80, we came into complete compliance.
In 2004, the FDT sent a representative to say that we had to remove our sign, because its placement did not meet their guidelines. I insisted that the sign was on private property, we were properly permitted, and showed the documentation as proof. I explained the sign was important, in order for people to be able to find our church, and I was unwilling to take it down. In a few weeks they sent out another man to try to find a solution. During the course of our discussion, I agreed to move the sign, at our expense, to the opposite side of the road, if he could take care of the permitting with the state and county. He agreed and, after about four hours at the courthouse, returned with all of the permits and paperwork required.
Eleven years later, our sign is suddenly too big at 32 square feet. According to representatives of the FDT, our sign can be no more than 8 square feet. They will not “grandfather” our sign, but gave me an option of filling out a very complicated form, and if approved, pay $58 per year to keep it certified by the state. (Sounds a lot like a tax to me.) The man said to be very careful in the way we filled out the form, because its so complicated, and involved, that hardly anyone gets it right the first time. Even if filled it out correctly, there is no guarantee that the State will approve the application. When I produced the documentation to show our compliance, he did not bother to look at it.
In our discussion, the young man said some things that troubled me. He told me that he was out of Tallahassee and covered fifteen counties. He had a full book of work orders and they all addressed churches and their signs. At first I thought this might be a positive development, because surely traffic safety, road repairs, and new construction are the main priorities at FDT. If they are focusing on church signs, they must be caught up on their more pressing responsibilities.
Of course that is not the case, which anyone can see as they drive through our area. They are expending their resources in a deliberate push to focus on church signs. Why? In my flesh, I have lost respect for the FDT, but for the sake of my witness, this is not a hill I want to die on. While keeping our options open, at this point we will probably buy a small sign to replace the one we have used all of these years.
This goes to the issue of my previous post that deals with a Christian’s responsibility to government. As a matter of principle, I want to take every legal measure to fight having to remove our sign. As a matter of practicality, preserving our witness, and living at peace with the governing authorities, a smaller sign may be the better option. It’s not fair, but forcing churches to reduce the size of their signs is a priority, on someone’s agenda, at the FDT.