LUMBERTON – Pastor Doris Lee has always known that Christ was with her, and says all she has to do is glance over her shoulder as she addresses the congregation for that assurance.
Lee is the pastor of Cannon Full Gospel, a Lumberton church that is home to a wooden cross that is said to show the likeness of Christ — and two other people — in the wood’s grains.
“I hadn’t paid any attention to it until a little boy said, ‘That man on the cross is looking at me,” Lee said. “The child, he was sitting in the second pew, he saw it to begin with. Then we all started looking at it closer.”
The cross was built by Art Berrigan, who has been a member of the church since 2003. Berrigan lives in Tar Heel, but travels to Lumberton once or twice a week to attend services at the church with his wife.
Last year, Berrigan and another church-goer discussed building a cross for the church.
“One of the members of the church said I visited another church and I saw this beautiful wooden cross and it had lights behind it and he said we ought to get together and try to do something like that,” Berrigan said.
About a month later, Berrigan bought some spruce from Lowe’s and began building the 6-foot-tall cross. He sanded it and applied polyurethane three times.
“I never saw anything,” Berrigan said. “I put my finishes on there, even after it was hanging in the church I didn’t see it until one of the guys’ nephew said ‘I’m not coming back to this church, the cross is scary — the guy is looking at me.’”
After hanging the cross on the center back wall behind the pulpit, and using rope lights to illuminate it from behind, Berrigan didn’t think any more of it.
A few months later, the cross came up in a conversation after a service when the little boy pointed out the faces in the wood’s swirls.
Looking closer, Berrigan realized he could make out the face of Christ in the middle of the top part of the cross, facing to the right.
“What’s weird is it seems like the longer it’s up there, the more people seem to see it without being told,” Berrigan said.
Not only that, but Lee and others have noticed two other faces — one below Christ facing to the left, and one above Christ facing to the right.
“The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” Lee said.
Lee’s nonchalant explanation doesn’t surprise Berrigan, who said he loves her rousing sermons.
“If his face showed up in her cereal, she’d say well of course his face is there,” Berrigan said. “I believe in him and he’s always with me. … She’s wonderful.”
Berrigan said he has heard of stories of Jesus’ likeness appearing on objects, including at a hospital he used to work for in New York.
“They re-did the emergency room and modernized it,” Berrigan said. “… When they put the new wooden doors in, there was one room that had the silhouette on it. And somebody said that’s the silhouette of Jesus Christ. … To make a long story short, they had to take the door off. They had people coming in from outside to look at the emergency room door.”
The realization hasn’t caused as much of a ruckus at Cannon Full Gospel, as Berrigan said the 25-member congregation doesn’t discuss it very often.
“I tell you what, if you put ink on a piece of paper and 50 people will say they see a butterfly and 50 will tell you they see a blot of ink,” said Jewell Wilkey, who has been a member of the church for four years. “And both are right. I see an image of Christ on the cross and it makes me feel comfortable.”
Berrigan said Christ’s appearance wasn’t part of a plan.
“It’s so amazing and even leaving the religion part out of it,” Berrigan said. “If you go up close, the faces disappear. There’s no way anyone could fake that. I’m a real skeptical person and I’ve seen things like this on television and I always thought someone had made it that way. But I take it all back.”
Lee brings up her favorite Bible verse — John 3:17, which reads “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
“I think it’s just something the Lord wanted us to see,” she said. “This is his house … Not only in spirit, but so he can give us a wonderful sight — not just for us but for the world.”
— Features editor Amanda Munger can be reached by phone at (910) 272-6144 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.