The church building of my youth had this really nifty neon cross on the top of its steeple. While very cool from one perspective, from a maintenance point of view, it was a nightmare. Can anyone say lightning rod… yep, when storms would roll through, that neon cross attracted lightning like bugs to a flame. Sometimes lighting would destroy the tubes, sometimes the mounts, sometimes it would whack the wiring or control circuits. If it wasnt lightning, it was wind that would take it out. High winds up there can be pretty brutal on fragile glass tubes and mounting systems.
Granted, like all church steeples, lightning protection is a must… but its a whole lot easier to protect the steeple from becoming a roman candle, than it is to keep the thousands of amps flowing down the grounding systems from bouncing the neon system into failure land.
In the days of old, I’m pretty sure a guy would use a bosun’s chair for maintenance and repair. Sadly, I never got up high enough in the steeple interior to see if it had an access door like many churches of the late 1800’s (rebar pegs outside the steeple suggests a door existed at one time). I do remember a young fellow a few years older than me back in the 70’s offered to climb it and fix it for free. His offer scared folks to death! As such, maintenance equated to a sign company coming in with a crane during that time at substantial expense. I was amazed how really huge the cross was, it made the fellow on the crane look pretty small. Considering how much the crane moved in the wind… if I were to go up there, I think I’d rather go the route of the bosun’s chair.
In today’s world, it would seem a whole lot more prudent to use light pipes, and thus keep the electronics and control systems far removed from the steeple itself. It would be spendy upfront… but its pretty hard to induce damaging currents in acrylic, so its ongoing maintenance would be a tiny fraction compared with ballast transformers and neon tubes.
Beyond the tech aspects, there is another big issue… and thats the stewardship aspect. Certainly if its a matter of feeding the poor, or fixing neon tubes high in the sky, the answer is obvious from an immediate point of view. Over a longer period of time, things get a whole lot more grey. Art is expensive, but art has been part of the worship experience since the OT. It is a form of Christian symbolism to the world… some might try to discount a neon steeple cross as an example of excess and of very limited witness. In some ways and situations they are right. Ie, as an evangelism tool, its likely not very effective, but as an edification tool for fellow believers, I believe their is a place for such.
I attended Maundy Thursday services there last evening, and once it got dark, I noticed the cross was not lit. At the time, I dint know if its a technical issue, a stewardship issue, or whether they made the call to shut it off until early AM on Sunday. This morning I went to shoot some photos, and sadly, its quite damaged once again. It won’t be on for Easter morning.