The three crosses are a familiar sight to motorists traveling East on Highway 98. Their location close to the highway on property belonging to St. Paul United Methodist Church in Midway was a strategically chosen to be an eye catcher to passersby and a reminder of God’s love and mercy. The three prominent white wood crosses erected upon the outer portion of the property belonging to St. Paul United Methodist Church on Highway 98, midway between Gulf Breeze and Navarre, have been standing in the same location since 1987.
There’s an interesting story behind those crosses… not just the Biblical one related to Jesus Christ, but the historical one that explains how the crosses happened to be there and who put them up. The natural assumption that St. Paul UM is responsible for their erection is not correct, although the church granted permission for their placement in the present location.
According to a long time administrator at the church, one summer day in 1987 a gentleman by the name of Ed Schriefels dropped in to speak to the pastor at St. Paul who at the time was Reverend Doug Pennington.
Schriefels explained that he represented a Methodist minister and former businessman, Reverend Bernard Coffindaffer, who had initiated a ministry of erecting trios of crosses in highly visible areas around the world. According to the narrative, Coffindaffer had undergone open heart surgery in 1982 and during his recovery had received a vision in which he was told to begin erecting the “Crosses of Mercy”. The first group of crosses were erected in 1984 sixty-five miles north of Charleston. Over a ten year period it was followed by 1,842 cross clusters placed in twenty-nine states, the Philippines and Zambia.
Prior to entering the ministry, Coffindaffer had made his fortune as the owner of a coal-washing mill in West Virginia. Once the cross ministry was initiated Coffindaffer dedicated all his wealth to it, estimated at $2 million. The ministry was also supported by a nonprofit group call Cast Thy Bread. Over $3 million has been spent in the last ten years to erect the crosses.
In an interview before his death Coffindaffer said “The crosses are to remind people that Jesus was crucified on a cross at Calvary for our sins and He will soon return.”
When Coffindaffer asked Pastor Pennington for permission to erect the cross cluster on St. Paul’s property there was good reason for the church and its trustees to give approval. “With thousands of cars that go by each day those crosses are a constant reminder of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” said Pastor Ruel Ausley the present minster at St. Paul. “It is a daily witness and we pray continually that lives are touched and changed because of their presence. We have no idea of the results that come from that.” That’s where trusting God enters into the cross ministry.
Written by: Bobbi Haycox
Around 2005 the crosses were damaged in a hurricane. Many thanks to the members of the Faith Lessons Adult Sunday School class who purchased and installed the new crosses.