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2015 NHL Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning faithful, are you looking for a sign?

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A talk with the pastor in Largo who uses his church's marquee to praise his favorite hockey team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Hmm, allegory or parable?
Hmm, allegory or parable?
Courtesy of Tyler Moore

As the 2015 NHL Playoffs progress and each close call seems closer than the last, it's likely that some fans might be seeking Intervention of the Divine variety. Lightning fans looking for inspiration by casting their eyes to the heavens might want to consider bringing their gaze down to street level, at least if they're in the vicinity of 4825 East Bay Drive in Largo. That's where you'll find Our Savior Lutheran Church and School and a marquee by the side of the road that's as likely, at least right now, to reference The Triplets/TKO line as it is The Holy Trinity.

Tyler Moore (@TheRevTy on Twitter) is the Assistant Pastor there and he's the person responsible for posting messages like:

  • "AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE, WE ARE THE THUNDER"
  • "GOD CREATED TYLER JOHNSON. HE SAW THAT JOHNNY B GOOD"
  • "TURN THE OTHER CHEEK, LET EM GET 2 FOR ROUGHING"

As well as the current message "welcoming" a certain prodigal son back to town (see above). "Thursday's sign had 20,000 (Twitter) views, just over two hours after posting it", Pastor Moore says proudly. Outside of Twitter, where most of his signs usually draw between 7 and 10 thousand views each, his signs have been chronicled on the front page of the Tampa Bay Times as well as in The Washington PostPuck DaddyABC News and Fox Sports,

One may have even caught the attention of Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock."That one was my favorite", says Pastor Moore.

He says he has yet to hear from Lightning coach Jon Cooper or anyone else with the Lightning organization, aside from President Steve Griggs who thanked him and gave him some tickets, but if the need arises, they should have little difficulty seeking and finding.

Pastor Moore and I spoke more at length, see below for the details on that:

How long have you been doing these signs?

I actually really wanted to change our sign for the playoffs last year, but Easter fell right in the middle of the first round, and I didn't figure I could get away with doing a sports-related saying on the marquee right before one of the biggest religious holidays of the year, so I held off. But this year, the Bolts clinched the playoffs the week before Easter, so that next Tuesday, I figured I would have a little fun. Our first sign said, "Jesus Saves, Stamkos Scores. Go Bolts"... which looked a little foolish through the majority of the first round this year. We actually got a number of Lightning fans that came to a food truck rally event that we held solely because of that first sign.

What's your background as a hockey fan?

I grew up in St. Pete and Orlando, so I remember going to Lightning games as a little kid. But I went to college in California, and graduate school in St. Louis, so I somewhat lost connection with the Bolts. I always kept an eye on them, but the NHL didn't make it very easy to follow your team from afar. However, God smiled on me and I moved back to the Tampa Bay area a few years ago, and I was able to reunite with my team. I have become a massive fan and I always check on line for cheap tickets. I usually make it to 10-15 games a year. The Lightning are an excellent organization and make it very easy to support them, even to the point where I feel comfortable putting them out there on our church sign.

Is everybody at your church a Lightning, or at least, hockey fan?

We actually have two campuses - one in St. Pete, where our main office and school is located, and one in Largo. The sign that I always update is actually the Largo location, but I have had a huge response by the folks at our St. Pete campus. In fact, our school declared this past Monday "Lightning Day" and allowed the students to break dress code if they wore Bolts gear. There has definitely been a big response, and I've actually had some people whisper "Go Bolts" as they come through the Communion line.

Kids

Ever get any negative feedback from non-fans or opposing fans?

Whenever you put something on the internet, a certain number of trolls come out - double that amount if it has to do with religion or a certain sports team. However, I've taken the time to respond to a lot of them and try to set them straight. I know; don't feed the trolls.

There was one guy on Twitter who said something to the effect of, "With all the horrible things like human trafficking and hungry children, way to be selfish and pray for hockey." My response was, "You know, we may have funny hockey signs, but we also partner with an anti-human trafficking organization called STAAR, we feed over 200 kids in our local public schools through a group called Pack-a-Sack, and are involved in many other efforts to make the community in which we live a better place to live. Oh, and we love our hockey team." Overall, though, we've had thousands of positive responses, even from fans of other teams.

Do you come up with the ideas for the messages or do you get assistance?

I am the brains behind the operation, but my wife, Cassie, is my editor. It is a lot harder than you might think. I have to balance my theological background with my hockey background and let them meet in a place where the general population can understand the sign. So, for example, I could put, "Hedman and Stralman - Sons of Thunder" but only the most vigorous Bible readers would catch the reference to James and John, the disciples of Jesus. I've pushed a little further on the hockey side. Apparently my Triplets sign went right over a lot of non-hockey heads, but I figure it is mostly fans of the sport that are really paying attention to them.

Have any of your messages been inspired by, let's say, A Higher Power?

Well, all I can say is almost all of the signs were jotted down at like 2 in the morning, so whether I am awake enough to be fully conscience or not determines where these sayings come from... In all seriousness, I am a firm believer that God gives us our talents and personalities. God happened to bless me with a love of hockey and a quirky mind, so yeah, I guess it is from God.

How often do you change the sign?

Unless something big happens, when they fell down 3-2 in the Detroit series, for example, I change it two to three times a week. On Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday.

Does the church get more parishioners due to supporting the Lightning?

Our website traffic has gone through the roof. When we were on the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, our traffic hit 22,000 in one night, much higher than our monthly average. As for folks on Sunday morning, we have definitely seen an increase, though I'd always love to see more! Our St Pete campus has Sunday services at 8, 10, and 11:30 and our Largo campus, where I usually am on Sunday, has service at 10 AM. Come check us out; bonus points if you wear Lightning gear!

Any special words of inspiration for Lightning fans as the Eastern Conference Finals begin?

Well, I've been praying for each player before each game that they may use their gifts and talents to their utmost, and that all stay healthy. I guess I need to start praying on off days, too, what with cases of appendicitis going around. Just remember, these guys are pouring their hearts out to entertain us. Support them. Cheer for them. Let them know you appreciate it. Never leave the game early. And always Be The Thunder.