At one point or another, we’ve all seen something unusual out of the corner of our eye, only to be swept away by life before we can find out more. But for reportage artist, illustrator and cartoonist Sanika Phawde, the urge to learn more about an unusual church sign proved too powerful to resist. And she put her on a journey to meet her maker.
The sign in question was emblazoned with the statement God is non-binary, which is also the title Sanika gave his comic strip about his experience investigating it. For a First Baptist Church in Massachusetts, this is a bit of a provocative message, so it’s no surprise that it forced the inquisitive illustrator to find out more.
“I love the sign outside this church,” he explains. “I walk past him every day, and every day he makes me laugh or reflect or both. The first time I saw him was the day we moved here, and he was like, ‘God is non-binary,’ and it made me feel like maybe he was going to be alright in Providence after all.”
The curious wording provoked a series of questions in the mind of the professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. Over several months, he reflected on who exactly made it, where they got their ideas from him, and how they organized their signage messages. Then, almost miraculously, it seems that he found out. The mysterious creator of the sign was none other than Pastor Jamie Washam, who was kind enough to be interviewed by Sanika.
The resulting comic sees the interviews conducted as a strikingly illustrated and thought-provoking story about the community. Over the course of 21 panels, Pastor Jamie reveals the thought processes behind her church’s signage messages and shares that sometimes humor can be the best way to encourage conversation about difficult topics.
Take the original sign, for example. While God Is Non-Binary could be seen as something of a touch paper for angry speech, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Pastor Jamie reveals that she received many moving endorsements and only one criticism. And with typical holiness style of hers, she responded to this complaint with kindness to continue the dialogue.
And as Sanika discovered during her interview, the reach of the church signs went beyond the traditional congregation. She learned from Pastor Jamie that an observer was contacted to tell her how reassuring it was to see ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ on a church sign of all places and that it made her feel right at home.
It is a feeling shared by the creator of the comic herself. “I love how drawing on location and reporting through comics teaches me to notice and love my surroundings and community more,” she reveals. “I like being a reporting artist because it helps me feel like I belong in my new town.”
To read the full comic, including revelations about how the signs are made, Pastor Jamie’s efforts to maintain them, and where she finds her inspiration, head over to Sanika’s website.