Drive past Our Savior Lutheran Church in the Tampa/St. Pete Florida area and love, joy and hope are on the building's billboard. It’s not about salvation, but more about optimism towards the Tampa Bay Lightning, and a few digs at their first round opponent, the Detroit Red Wings.
If only the power of prayer could help Steven Stamkos score a goal this series.
The man who created his idea is Tyler Moore, and assistant pastor at the church.
“I’ve been at this church in St. Pete now, going on two years, and I really wanted to do it when the Lightning made the playoffs last year, but as you recall maybe, it was right before Easter, so I couldn’t get away with a sign right before Easter, so this year the timing worked out,” he said. “I’m having a blast with it. The congregation, they’re laughing a little bit because they love it. It’s their goofy pastor having a good time with it.”
Moore isn’t seeking attention. He is just a big hockey fan who wants to have fun. A longtime Tampa resident, he loves the Lightning and hopes that some divine intervention can help his team thrash the Red Wings in Game 7 on Wednesday.
Ha, that’s a good one.
We chatted with Moore about how this all started and the community response in Florida.
Q: What can you do to help Steven Stamkos score a goal in this series?
MOORE: I can’t literally take the stick for him. Stammer is putting a lot of pressure on himself. He had the great assist the other night to (Jason) Garrison, but I was kind of laughing yesterday because the night before Game 6, I lay in bed and I prayed for each player on the roster. No lie. I was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this’ but I went through the roster. It wasn’t like to give them victory because I don’t think god cares much about that, but I definitely prayed … ‘Give Ben Bishop focus’ and ‘Let Tyler Johnson be fast’ and use their attributes. With Stamkos I prayed he wasn’t frustrated because that has to be so frustrating. You have 43 goals in the season and here he can’t put the biscuit in the basket in the playoffs.
Have you prayed enough for Game 7?
Last night I prayed for coach (Jon) Cooper. I prayed he would have clarity and focus and the ability to communicate properly and make adjustments. He showed a lot in Game 6, going with the 11 forwards and seven defensemen, and he’s showing he knows what he’s doing and that he’s a good coach. Obviously Mike Babcock is a great coach, but he’s showing what he can do there. I think because it’s on home ice and this is the game for the Lightning remember, ‘We’re the Lightning, we had 108 points during the regular season.’ I think they come out fast, I think they score first and they don’t let up after that.
What was the genesis behind this … get it? Genesis?
I see what you did there! Being in Florida, hockey isn’t something that is on the forefront of your mind. Everybody is into college football and this and that and the other. For me, I like it because it’s a different kind of game and the athleticism that’s involved in hockey … they’re doing it on ice. It’s ridiculous, and to watch it and to see it … I’ve been a fan for a long time. It was when Jeff Vinik took over the Lightning and I was like, ‘They have good ownership behind them, and a good direction, Steve Yzerman is the stinking GM for crying out loud!’ They started to get these young players like Stamkos and (Victor) Hedman, and now Tyler Johnson who was undrafted. It’s an easy organization to root for and the Tampa Bay area has been blessed, the Rays had a young organization for a while that was easy to root for. That’s what I like to see. I like to see teams that are involved in the community, being a pastor and definitely Vinik is involved in that. As I sit here, I see some of the kids from the school attached to the church, wearing Lightning shirts kind of breaking dress code, but we’re looking the other way because it’s Game 7. The community is definitely behind it. But my fandom has been really when Vinik took over was when it took off for me.
When you do your sermons, do they involve the Lightning?
I grew up in Tampa Bay and the area and so I’ve been a fan for most of my life. I like for me to reflect that and part of that is my sports fandom and so I definitely bring in … a lot of people may not catch the references sometimes. I’ll mention Hedman and people are like, ‘Oh yeah, OK’ because we’re in Florida and there are a lot of transplants and stuff. As I sit here right now I’m wearing my Lightning polo shirt. I’ve worn that to preach a couple of times and some people in my church are pretty big sports fans. I’ll reference the Rays sometimes too, so I definitely bring that in. We’re a community organization so why not reflect some of the community as well.
Is there any worry some could construe this as irreverent? (Pun intended)
I have like eight years of schooling for theology and my wife is trained in theology as well. I bounce my ideas off of her and make sure I’m not towing that line too much. I told her one idea last night and she said, ‘You can’t possibly put that on the sign.’ I try to tow that line. We’re a church, so I try to make it a funny reference to religion and things like that, but in the end we can’t take ourselves too seriously. I try not to be too irreverent or anything like that. But at the same time I believe it was Martin Luther because we’re a Lutheran church … he had a classic quote of something I love of something along the lines of ‘If there’s no laughing in heaven I don’t want to be there’ and so, I figured we’d have a good laugh and a good time with it. It’s a church sign. We have to keep it G-rated and PG. We have fun with it try not to be too irreverent but realize we’re not going to have a really lame church sign. We’re going to be someone who, people see as they drive by and get a little laugh at it as they go past.
What was it like for you when you put up the first sign?
The first sign I was a little nervous to put it up. I put it up and took a step back, and I laughed at it. I’m an assistant pastor, so I have a senior pastor who is my boss and I’m a little afraid … he’s from Cleveland so he doesn’t have a natural hockey team. He just laughed and rolled his eyes at me. When I went on the news the other day he said, ‘Don’t say anything too stupid.’ From the religious community the response has been universally positive. Yesterday, I got a lot of positive responses saying, ‘We’re praying for the Lightning too.’ The most negative responses I’ve been getting have been from the non-religious people. I had someone block me on Twitter the other day. It was an atheist guy who was telling me religion is stupid and this, that and whatever. Not only are we putting hockey signs up, we’re involved in the community and anti-human trafficking organizations, feeding kids … yeah we put up hockey signs but we’re also helping the community too. The only negative response I’ve gotten is from non-religious people, and that’s a good sign in some sense.
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