(RNS) — Paul Knight was hoping to make a quick stop at home before heading back to church.
Then, like the 1990s Swedish pop band Ace of Base, he saw the sign.
Knight, the longtime pastor of Hope Church in Grand Forks, North Dakota, pulled into his driveway in early March and found a 15-foot-tall, red Kmart sign standing in his front lawn. He had a pretty good idea who put it there, though no one has fessed up.
“One of our staff values is ‘play hard, work hard,’” said Knight. “I’m pretty sure it was a couple of the staff — we have some ongoing pranks and this one wins.”
The sign itself was likely from the former Kmart store at the Grand Cities Mall, which Hope Church bought in 2015. The church, which had been meeting in the mall since the 1990s, recently sold off the mall’s former Kmart store and the sign from that store is gone.
Almost as soon as the sign showed up, people began stopping by and asking if they could take selfies with it, and eventually the pastor’s house became a kind of community hot spot. Folks even digitally added celebrities — Jesus, the pope, presidents — into photos of the sign. Those responses led to several local news stories and a mention on The Tonight Show.
“Basically, the pastor said, ‘Lord, give me a sign,’” said host Jimmy Fallon. “And God said, ‘K.’”
The sign stayed up for three weeks but came down after Knight, 63, had unexpected heart surgery. Some church folks who own a construction company arranged to have the sign taken away so Knight’s family would not have to deal with it as he recovered.
That was just as well, he said, as his wife, Bonnie, was just about done with it.
“I would have had to get a new wife if I kept it,” said Knight, a smile in his voice.
Once a congregation of about 50 people, Hope Church has grown to more than 1,000 over the past 30 years, which Knight attributes to stable leadership and a commitment to serving the community.
“Our mission statement is encouraging people to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, who believe God loves them, will love him in return and who love others in Jesus’ name,” he said.
The church, part of the Evangelical Covenant denomination, stepped up its community outreach in the past decade after a denominational leader challenged the congregation to do so by asking, “If your church disappeared, would anyone notice?”
The congregation took that to heart, said Knight. The church runs a major child care center and a food pantry, recovery groups and other community outreaches. The church is also helping revitalize the mall, which Knight said is important to the community.
“We want to make sure that people would miss us if something were to happen to the church,” said Knight.