As landscaper Salvador Maya sawed into a large pine tree on the lawn of Escondido, California's First Congregational Church, he stepped back in awe, then spontaneously crossed himself.
He yelled at his boss, Jim Rants. "Look at this," he exclaimed. "It’s a cross ... something sacred!"
Rants and his crew from Star Landscaping had been called in by the staff to cut down the pine, which was leaning dangerously toward a neighbor's property -- along with some other brush and small trees.
But they did not expect what they all saw: a stylized Greek-style cross formed within the rings of the big old pine.
"With it being on church property, you come across a cross," Rants told local TV 10News, "it's like, I guess, divine intervention, something like that."
Within hours, word had spread. Even the Los Angeles Times sent out a reporter.
"A tree cut down at an Escondido, Calif., church is causing a stir among the faithful," wrote reporter Tony Perry. "Landscapers made the discovery on Monday. One of the workers, Salvador Maya, was the first to see the image."
“Salvador yelled at me, ‘Look at this, it’s a cross!’ ” Rants told Perry. “So I looked at it and thought ‘Holy moly, we’ve got something here. It’s just amazing, and to be on church property, it’s definitely something divine.”
Soon television stations and newspapers from San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, and radio stations from Texas and North Carolina, had checked in.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Debbie Cummings, the church’s office manager, told the Christian Post. “To people of faith, it’s very comforting.”
People have called the church asking to buy the stump, Cummings said.
Pastor Phil Corr said he plans to discuss the wood cut, which is safely stored in the church sanctuary, during his Sunday sermon titled “The Joy of Surprise.” He also will display the log and talk about what the church plans to do with it.
“People of faith have eyes to see this, but skeptics do not,” Corr said.
The rest of the wood from the downed trees is being chopped into firewood. Some may also be handed out to any attendees who are needing firewood and attend Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings at the church.