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Positive responses to Christmas billboard

Positive responses to St Matthew-in-the-City's Christmas billboard

19 December 2011

For Immediate Release

At St Matthew’s we know that controversy moves news stories and the news stories about our Christmas billboard have been about the outrage of some in the Christian community to our image of a very human Mary. However we would like to lift up some of the positive remarks made to us personally or on our website or on blogs throughout the internet as a comment that many found the image supportive and helpful.

Email that the clergy received:

We got many that echoed the sentiments of this one:

I just read a story about the billboard you sponsored. It is simply brilliant. I have forwarded the story to all of my friends and family. I just wanted to take a minute and thank you for such a thought provoking picture.

I'm in Luxembourg, my landlady is from New Zealand, and I\'m a committed Christian.

Thought you might need a bit of support, and positive feedback.

The widespread publication of your poster on BBC and French news websites has caused smiles and considerable, very positive, discussion with my (much, much) younger French, nominally Catholic colleagues about what we believe. One young colleague and his girlfriend are devout, very traditional, Catholics - they think the Tridentine mass a bit modern - and they loved it.

Having been adopted in 1949, in a less tolerant society, I have always admired Joseph and Mary. I can imagine the general mudslinging in a traditional village, like where I was brought up. I've had the nasty comments. I can imagine Joseph's feelings.

Nothing wrong with your poster. Seems to follow the literal truth of the Bible. After concentration for generations upon Mary's acceptance of God\'s will, your poster has sparked huge debate amongst my young male colleagues of Joseph\'s part in the Gospel story. Mathew 1, 18-24 seems to be very specific.

I have this strange, possibly heretical belief that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners... and to thoroughly shake up the establishment.

Well done. Maybe the paint-thrower should have read their Bible first and thought a bit.

Thank you for the provocative paintings. As a former pastor of a very large parish and now one of a small country church, I find your approach brilliant and relevant. Please keep up the radical work of love.

Hi, I recently read an article about your controversial billboard entitled "Mary is in the pink." I am a Christian woman, a mother, and just found out I'm pregnant (a little sooner than planned) with our second child. Looking at that billboard, I know that face, I know that pose, and I know that Mother Mary. Her heart is a little bit in my chest right now. Thank you for being so brave as to challenge the status quo, and to bring a new modern face to Christianity. You are reaching many people...even half a world away.

Brilliant sign...kudos from Toronto, Canada. As a former Catholic priest I struggled as to how Mary became an inhuman statue. This shows a human Mary was so fearful about what was about to happen. Two thumbs up from me.

I came a cross your innovative billboards through an article online and as a Roman Catholic in the United States- I have to say how encouraged I am that someone is taking a chance and pushing to inspire thought and not dogmatic obedience to doctrine or policy!

From our St Matthew’s website:

I love what you are doing. News about your posters flew around the world ;-)) I find it funny, yet purposeful and refreshing. It makes church seem like normal people. Very contrary to the Roman Catholics who give the impression that the pope's shit doesn't stink.
The greatness lies in being able to make fun out ourselves, no matter who we are or how important we are. You are doing that very well!

That's a brilliant way of making God's truth sink into the gift-centric , materialistic, contemporary, Christmas World. Bravo! Well Done!!!

Thank Goodness there are still some Christians out there who know fun and humor. I love this picture and the fact that it makes one think about Christmas and what it really means. Mary and Josef were poor guys and shortly after Christmas hunted and had to flee their own country. It wasn't easy for them.
The message of Christmas really is that the answer to the biggest question in the universe lies in the small breath of a little child. Christmas is about being human and staying humanly towards other. It is not burning and hating people who may think otherwise than oneself. Does the Lord need to burn victims to show his glory? So people if you are real Christians calm down and offer your other cheek and do spit at these Christians. Humor and loving feelings towards other this is pure Christianity.

Thank you again for reminding me that Christmas is the story of hope, joy and courage to be human.

"Oh Lord, please don't let the pit vipers at CNN, ABC or MS-NBC learn of this, or their broadcasting of idle speculations, snide accusations, and crafty misrepresentations will never end!"
The billboard is a great reminder at the right time that we all should take care to tolerate the splinter in our Neighbor’s eye, until we have removed the plank from our own.

I think the picture is lovely and i find that you just make a reflection quite different about Christmas, but to be sincere is a better one for this time we are living. We have to care for those who are suffering in any way. Christmas is about hope but it also is about helping others for Christ came to help us all.. anyway, it is a beautiful picture

A selection from 800 comments on Huffington post…

Conservatives hate this in part because they have sanitized the world behind the Scriptures in their minds.

While we have the story of the Annunciati­on in Scripture, it doesn't tell us how Mary felt to know she was pregnant. It doesn't say how her family regarded her, or how the community regarded her. No one would have believed her story. Even Joseph didn't believe she hadn't been fooling around until he was visited by the angel.

She would have been shocked. Yes, she said those formal words to the angel. But in her mind she was probably saying, "How can this be happening to me? Why me??"

Mary -- who was probably 14 years old at the time -- didn't blip through her pregnancy. She was a pregnant 14-year old, a pregnant UNWED 14 year old. She went through nine months of rebuke, scorn, people saying things behind her back.

Really now. What would your reaction be if an angel came and said, "Congratulations! God has chosen you for his work. We are going to defy public expectatio­ns. Your life will be turned upside down and your reputation will be destroyed. People will want to stone you for adultery. But God is going to do it to you anyway!"

When people object to this kind of billboard, they are objecting to the intrusion of faith into real life. Which makes their faith more of a fantasy than otherwise. Perhaps instead of assuming this to be an offense, how about make it as a way for women of faith to come to a level of understand­ing with a key figure of said faith? Every woman I know who has had a positive pregnancy test no matter if they were happy, sad, shocked, nervous, scared to death, or praying to some divine being somewhere for a good outcome, had that look on their face. What better way to humanize and come to a place of mutuality with an icon of faith than to share those emotions? Its meant to be thought provoking.­..perhaps you should use it for its intended purpose and stop assuming it a slight?

Wow, they say a piece of art is worth a thousand words. This particular portrait is worth a million. It invokes a wide range of very personal reactions from predictabl­e religious outrage, to mild controversy, to bewilderment and curiosity, to complacenc­y, finally to outright LOL humor. A person's interpreta­tion largely depends on who you are and of course your value and belief system.

Mary better stick to New Zealand. If she finds herself unmarried and pregnant in America she can forget free social service care, she better have documentat­ion, and I'd suggest she doesn't dress like a Muslim.

What is disrespect­ful ? There are millions of depictions of Mary holding baby Jesus. What exactly do you perceive as disrespect­ful or mocking in the pregnancy preceding it ? There's nothing more natural than that, and the moment when Mary discovered she was pregnant EXISTED, if you are Christian.
I'm asking this, because pregnancy and childbirth have always been regarded as "shameful"­, "unclean" by the Church, and I never could understand if there's a meaning behind it or just misogyny and envy.

ANY woman that has become unexpected­ly pregnant has this exact same look on her face. Maybe, we should all be finding the "sameness" inspiring. Maybe this will help some woman or girl come to grips with her pregnancy, or seek comfort or guidance from a clergy member. At least women now do not get stoned for getting pregnant out of wedlock.

Good for these church fathers and mothers. Christians need to be shaken out of their comfort zone and need to become aware of the meaning and context of the Bible accounts really mean. Angel notwithstanding, Mary had to be disturbed and worried by her pregnancy. In that time and place an out-of-wed­lock pregnancy was beyond disgracefu­l, and there was no way a woman could support herself and her child. She did not know at that moment that Joseph would stand by her. If the ad shocks, good, we sometimes need to be shocked.

We often surround the Gospel stories with so much romanticis­m and fuzzy thinking that it distorts the message entirely. Is the ad blasphemou­s? No way. Mary was human; Jesus was human. To believe otherwise is what is heretical.

A selection from the many blogs that have posted the billboard:

My initial thoughts were that it bought the virgin Mary concept into a "today" kind of context, ie I could identify with the reaction/emotion of the character depicted. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, or that it's particularly shocking, I can't see how it could be found offensive anyway. Perhaps the very conservative would find it irreverent?

I think its great. It removes the whole fluffy image of the Virgin Mary..it is probably closer to the reality than the pretty paintings in art galleries.
I have seen Mary presented as a young, teen Mum in a modern context before - yanno, to make people think about the relevance of her story today - Mary would have been the kind of girl the conservatives would be hating on today (pregnant, single, young...SHAME on her...).

It certainly doesn't surprise me that this church has done this...they are very 'outside the square' - they have a fab billboard with a rainbow and Noah's ark with pairs of same gendered animals on it.

I think anything that provokes healthy discussion around religion is a good thing.

(St.Matthews) believed that Mary was in fact just knocked up by Joseph and she wasn't expecting it (hence the pregnancy test being the symbol of that).

I'm not offended and I do think it's great for the reasons they mentioned in the article. I like that they are liberal but I wonder sometimes why they bother considering themselves Anglican when they don't appear to believe in everything the bible promotes (eg, the gay thing). I guess that's why we became Unitarian and so many of the congregation are from Christian backgrounds. A lot of them just no longer felt everything in the bible was their Truth. So it leaves me pondering why St. Matthews clings on to the Anglican banner I guess. I like that they challenge ppl, it's great. And of course, I don't know enough about them to really be able to make any definitive points, I'm assuming some stuff here.

Answer to the above given on the blog from St Matthew’s website:

Why does St Matthew-in-the-City need to give a modifier to the brand of Christianity it practices? Because contrary to our human tendency to make sweeping generalisations, being “Christian” does not tell us much about a faith community beyond the probability that Jesus plays a part in its beliefs.
Neither does denomination. Denominations are historical in nature. That St Matthew’s is Anglican tells you only how we are organised (we are under the authority of a bishop in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, worship using forms originally based on the English Book of Common Prayer, and have historical roots in the English Reformation, when politically and theologically it made sense to look Catholic and sound Protestant. We call this the “middle way” (via media).

Every Anglican church has its own “personality.” Some emphasize tradition and look more Catholic. Some emphasize preaching and Scripture and sound Evangelical or charismatic (Pentecostal). Some are visibly and audibly a blend and focus on the importance of reason.

But those differences have to do with what authority is most important to them: Scripture, Church Teaching and Tradition, or Reason.

Progressive Christians take all three authorities seriously but make none of them supreme. Progressives are more interested in spirituality than right belief or proper worship. The identity of Progressive Christians is centred in ethical living.


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