Is this church ad over the line or just tacky?


The above ad appeared in the Charleston City Paper, an alternative weekly.

The text:

The Virgin Mary Followed by Bloody Marys

The ad then goes on to list several restaurants in the area (Hominy Grill, Fuel, Cafe Lana, & Five Loaves) along with mentioning Spoleto festival venues are nearby. The ad was placed by The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, which bills itself as an “Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church.”

Reactions I heard from various people who saw the ad ranged from “tacky” to “over the line” to “seriously pushing it” to laughter. I heard some say it was “way too hip” or “offensive.”  The ad is obviously an attempt to stay relevant and hip and possibly appeal to a younger target demographic. My first thought upon seeing the ad was that they must be struggling with attendance issues. I really wonder if this ad will be effective. The cuteness factor aside, what does the ad say about the “product” being marketed that would make people want to attend church there?

Some background information on the parish reveals that attendance issues may indeed be why the hipper ad was tried. This church is part of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TEC-SC), which remains a part of the The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Communion. There are 27 parishes listed on TEC-SC’s website along with three communities in formation. TEC-SC consists of the churches that remained in TEC after the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina became the fifth diocese to leave in 2012 and joined the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. The path to this departure included opposition to TEC’s decision to open “any ordained ministry” to individuals in same-sex relationships and a later decision that allowed the blessing of same-sex unions. The Episcopal Diocese of SC lists 55 parishes and missions on its website.

As a result of the events described above, Holy Communion had a priest depart and a significant number of parishioners followed him to the newly-formed Corpus Christi Community, which is an Anglican Use Roman Catholic Community of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. That community meets at St. Mary of the Annunication Catholic Church, which was the first Catholic church in North Carolina, South Carolina, or Georgia when it was established in 1789.

In addition to parishioners departing to become Catholic, Holy Communion lost a significant number parishioners to other Episcopal parishes. In some cases, it may be people who now attend other TEC-SC parishes who don’t like the Anglo-Catholic nature of Holy Communion. However, I’ve heard many who left, for reasons that might also include an aversion to the parish’s Anglo-Catholic nature, have moved on to churches that are in the Diocese of South Carolina.

My personal view is that the ad focuses too much on brunch and not enough on the Gospel. If the restaurants wanted to advertise in the paper or the church bulletin to try to drum up business, this might be one thing they could try. I’m not sure this is the proper ad for a church to run, but I’m sure others will disagree with me.

One other note: neither the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina nor The Episcopal Church in South Carolina includes the whole state. The Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina covers the Midlands and the Upstate.

In contrast to that, the Catholic Diocese of Charleston includes the whole state of South Carolina. Some more back story for my friends reading this in Maryland – before the Diocese of Charleston was formed in 1820, the Catholic Church of the Carolinas and Georgia was part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

On another tangentially-related note, Church Marketing Sucks discussed the Episcopal Ad Project of 1979 in a past blog post.

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton is an award-winning blogger who has been aggregating and blogging since 1998. He has worked as a reporter, in government, and as a communications professional in Columbia, SC and Washington, DC.

Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore since 2006. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus. He has been involved in the pro-life movement nationally and locally since 2010.

Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.
Jeff Quinton


  1. Do you honestly have a problem with the fact that the ad told people where the church is located, including providing a few landmarks? It also strikes me as perfectly reasonable that it noted the parish’s proximity to Piccolo Spoleto venues; after all, the point of an ad is to draw the attention of people who aren’t aware of whatever it is you’re advertising. As a former Charlestonian, I can testify that Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto draw a LOT of tourists, so why on earth wouldn’t they mention their proximity to Piccolo Spoleto venues? Leaving all that aside, I think it’s clever. This, on the other hand, strikes me as needless carping that accomplishes nothing positive.

  2. I happen to know people at Holy Communion, so I checked. Of their 500 baptized members, they lost less than thirty to the Ordinariate. In addition, 29 transferred to parishes that left TEC – but another 30 transferred in.

  3. Why I find this ad problematic –

    Not because of the directions to the church—it’s kind of cute and funny to use the local restaurants as guideposts, especially during Spoleto.

    Not because of the priest or church herself—from everything I’ve heard (having been a St. Philip’s girl myself, I’ve never attended a service at Holy Communion), Holy Communion is a church committed to the Word of God and her preaching reflects that.

    No, this ad is problematic because it objectifies, trivializes, and belittles Mary, the Mother of God (the Blessed Virgin Mary to Roman Catholics and Theotokos to the Orthodox).

    1. It uses a play on names to try to be cute, but comparing the Virgin Mary to a Bloody Mary diminishes the sanctification of the Mother of God.

    2. Visually, it presents the Bloody Mary drink as equal to Mary by depicting both about the same size, thereby reducing Mary.

    3. It implies (although maybe I’m the only one who thinks this) that church is purely a social event without a fundamental seriousness. I don’t mean that a church service needs to be gloomy—that is not seriousness—but it needs to reflect the joy, humility, and awe that we experience in a relationship with Christ, not be likened to a bar.

    4. It seems to say that this church does not regard her saints and apostles (those who kept the faith and help show us the way of and to Christ) as being worthy of any kind of respect. Can you make jokes about Jesus, Mary, and the apostles? Of course—humor is from God as well. But this is not humorous in that way—this ad is trying to be humorous through objectification.

    That’s my take on it.

  4. I understand why some people find the ad distasteful but, I confess, I don’t. It strikes me as amusing and clever – especially when I consider the people who are the target of the ad.

    To be clear, the target audience would be readers of an edgy local paper, including tourists, and people who are most likely unchurched. The target audience would not be regular churchgoers, and certainly not regular churchgoers of other denominations who don’t even live in South Carolina – people such as the author of this blog post.

    I have to wonder what would motivate someone to try to stir up trouble in a parish in another state and of a different denomination. That is what I really don’t understand.

  5. I agree with A Coletta above with the points 1-4 above. Sounds like a desperate attempt by a parish with plumetting Sunday attendance to lure mere bodies for empty pews. I don’t find the add cute, funny, or amusing. If I were a parishoner, I would find it down right embarrassing.

  6. WL: Holy Communion is not a “parish with plummeting Sunday attendance”. As I noted above: “Of their 500 baptized members, they lost less than thirty to the Ordinariate. In addition, 29 transferred to parishes that left TEC – but another 30 transferred in.” Their pews are not empty. The parish is stable and healthy and, unlike many other parishes in SC, not roiled by the strain and expense of litigation.

  7. CS: “Baptized members” are not the same as actual “Sunday attendance”, as I am sure you are aware. It is no secret that average Sunday attendance in Episcopal Churches has been declining steadily over the past decades. I suspect that this parish is no different. A quick look at their recent news letter reveals they are trying to raise money outside their budget to make repairs (what appear to be routine maintainance) to their buildiing. This hardly indicates financial stability. I was also under the impression that the churches that remained in the Diocese of South Carloina are the ones who are in fact “stable and healthy.”