'Bird of pray:' Does Madeira Beach church look like a chicken? - WFLA News Channel 8

'Bird of pray:' Does this Madeira Beach church look like a chicken?

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MADEIRA BEACH, FL (WFLA) -

One website calls the steeple the "bird of pray." That's right: P-R-A-Y. Another one simply calls it "the chicken church."

During these last couple weeks, people around the World have seen photos of the Church by the Sea, a non-denominational sanctuary on Madeira Beach. Websites like the Huffington Post have helped the pictures of the steeple "go viral."

"Apparently a lot of people have said that it looks like a bird...with the beak and wings and the two eyes," said Bonnie Ruth, the pastor's wife. "I think it's amusing that somebody got this much attention based on architecture that's 70 years old."

It turns out, the church's founder planned it this way. Well - sort of.

"The local fishermen believed a legendary bird looked after them as they built the tower," said Kathi Dunn, a longtime member of the church whose father was pastor between 1961 and 1991. "They constructed the windows to look like eyes of a bird so that - regardless of where they stood - the bird was watching over them."

The tile corners add in the noses.

"The church was constructed purposefully that way with the beak, the tail and the wings pointing north, south, east and west," Ruth said. "It is really special if you look at old pictures. The only thing around here is this building that was built by hand by the parishioners."

The Church by the Sea started in the early 1940s when a group of fishermen felt like they needed a local church near John's Pass.

"At the time they had to go way up to Pass-a-grille or down to St. Pete by boat," Dunn said.

So in February 1943, they began meeting at an old fisherman's union hall on Treasure Island. They would clear out all the beer bottles on Saturday, bring in a piano, and hold service on Sunday morning.

But that would change.

The fishermen, according to church history, purchased a piece of property where a sand dune stood. The first payment: $361. Originally they built a tower and a parlor. The 24 foot mast had a beacon on it, which helped guide fishermen into safety. The congregation started building the current church in 1947.

"Over the years - when the people in the church tried to build and fix things - the walls are crooked," Dunn said. "There's anchors in the walls because the fishermen to be very protective of the hurricanes."

Members are proud of the church's history, including that steeple.

"We've always called it - lovingly - the duck church but more than that it's a family here and the history's important to all of us," Dunn said. "Underneath that duck tower is a wonderful, loving church."

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