The poster in St Matthew’s in the City – a prominent Anglican church in a busy part of Auckland – shows Mary in the style of a classic Renaissance painting.

The church set up a competition to come up with the best captions on its website.

Some have got into the spirit, with suggestions such as: “Yay! I hope it’s a girl”, “If I say I’m a virgin, mum and dad won’t kill me,” and “Which way to the abortion clinic?” and “Now to get that council flat”.

But others have condemned the billboard, with one person posting: “You have crossed the line! Mary should not be the object of a trite campaign, whatever your good or not so good intentions.”

Another says: “Can it be more offensive?”

Rev Glynn Cardy defended the billboard,, saying: “Although the make-believe of Christmas is enjoyable, with tinsel, Santa, reindeer and carols, there are also some realities.

“It’s about a real pregnancy, a real mother and a real child.

“It’s about real anxiety, courage and hope.

“Mary was unmarried, young and poor.

“She was certainly not the first woman in this situation or the last.”

The church’s website said: “As in the past it is our intention to avoid the sentimental, trite and expected to spark thought and conversation in the community.”

Two years ago, the church posted a Christmas billboard showing Mary and Joseph in bed after sex, with the caption: “Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow.”

%TNT Magazine% mary and joseph

The church was forced to take it down when it provoked strong criticism.

The pregnancy test billboard, which went up last night, will remain outside the church until Christmas Day.