BEAN BLOSSOM — St. David’s Episcopal Church plans to leave a swastika, an anti-gay slur and the phrase “Heil Trump” on the church until the end of the month to show it is a safe place for all people, said the Rev. Kelsey Hutto.
The church was tagged with hate speech graffiti Saturday night or Sunday morning.
“Symbols are what you make them,” Hutto said. “And we can be embarrassed, we can be angry, but what we’re choosing to do is we’re choosing to look at them as an encouragement of doing the right thing.”
“We’re being open and we’re inclusive to people,” Hutto said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, what color you are or who you love, you’ll always have a place at St. David’s.”
The incident was reported to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department early Sunday morning.
Police said Monday they have no suspects and the church had not had any problems with anyone in the area.
The police report has been shared with a state hate crime task force investigator to determine if “there are any similarities to other crimes in the area,” Public Information Officer Greg Pittman said in a press release.
“This act does not reflect the values of the people of Brown County, who are generally very tolerant — except to people who commit crimes of this nature,” Sheriff Scott Southerland said in the release.
St. David’s had hosted a vigil on the eve of Election Day, inviting anyone to come in and “light a candle; pray for the nation.”
Before discovering the vandalism, Hutto had planned to discuss the election results during Sunday morning’s service.
“I was going to focus my sermon on the fact that our call as Christians is to love and it is to rejoice, and it is to live in the joy we experience as a child of God,” she said.
“What I told my congregation is we were targeted for doing the right thing. Sometimes doing the right thing is not the popular thing,” she said.
The congregation sang “Joy to the World,” she said. “We talked about how our response to the hatred in the world is love,” Hutto said.
The Episcopal Church has openly accepted homosexual people since the 1970s, and in 2003, the church consecrated its first openly gay bishop. In 2015, the canons of the church were changed to make the rite of marriage available to all people, regardless of gender, the denomination’s website says.
“We respect the dignity of every human being, and because of that, we were targets of what I can only define as a hate crime,” Hutto said.
This is Hutto’s first experience with anything of this sort. She’s been the rector at St. David’s for a little over a year.
“First time or not, I hope it’s the last, but I don’t expect it to be,” she said.
“I think some of the things that are the hardest are seeing how my parishioners are taking this.”
Rich Hill and Eli Rodriguez were married in June 2014 at the Brown County Courthouse and had their “lifelong covenant” blessed Nov. 8, 2014, at St. David’s.
Hill was the church’s choir director and Rodriguez its organist. The couple moved briefly to Texas to help Rodriguez’s parents, but returned to Brown County because “we love it so much,” Hill said.
“We’re all stunned that this is happening right here so close to home,” said Hill, who now works at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus but still considers himself a St. David’s parishioner.
He called St. David’s “a beautiful church community for us.”
“There’s certainly a lot of angst going on about what happened, but it’s a super strong group of folks,” Hill said.
“I’m just sorry this happened, and we are hoping for the best in terms of healing for the folks who feel like they need to be doing this.”
Gene Niednagel was one of the first congregation members to see the vandalism Sunday morning.
“The first rush was, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to cover it up or get it off before get there for church on Sunday,’” he said.
“Then we took a deep breath and said, ‘No, this is a bigger issue than just spray paint on the church. We need to take a step back from it and come together and decide how we can deal with this positively and even not condemn the people who did it, but we’d certainly invite them to come over and help us clean it up.”
Niednagel said he did not expect this out of the Brown County community and the fact that the story is gaining national headlines shows this type of behavior is a pattern in our nation right now. “We’re not immune to it here,” he said.
Show of support
Messages of support and sadness for the church poured in from across the country in via social media, from other Episcopalian churches and individuals.
Several local people volunteered time and materials to clean up the graffiti.
Harmony Church Pastor Rick Clayton said he drove straight to Bean Blossom after he heard the news after his service on Sunday.
“I saw the artwork and it just sickened me. I am kind of at a loss of words in terms of how I felt about it. I certainly feel the need to respond.”
Clayton said the vandalism was “a shame” for the church that always helps the community.
St. David’s participates in the Brown County Weekend Backpacks Program, volunteers with Mother’s Cupboard, hosts the Bean Blossom Farmer’s Market and throws holiday parties for the community. This Christmas season, the congregation will buy presents for two entire families.
Clayton said his congregation will be there to help in any way they can.
“We will help paint. We’ll pray for them, heal for them, play music (and) help them work through it, whatever we can do. We are a church that will stand with them. We are welcoming church and God’s grace extends to all, even the ones that did this,” he said.
“Racism and bigotry is not a liberal agenda; it’s basic human decency and it should be resisted by everyone, everywhere,” Clayton said.
The Brown County community has a lot of work to do, he said. “I think we have to quit listening to other people tell us how we should respond and turn to one another,” Clayton said.
“This is the work of a minority (group of people) and the people who would support them are in the minority as well. I have greater faith in the human community than to think that we’re beat.”
Niednagel said the reaction from the community is what he has come to expect from his Brown County neighbors.
“There has been an overwhelming outpouring from area churches and church members and neighbors who have just stopped by and said ‘We don’t understand why people did that’ and offered some help,” he said.
“People who are of other faiths, traditions, don’t want things like this to happen in the community.”
When the time comes to wash away the spray paint, there will be only a few extra hands needed and Niednagel said the church is considering hosting an event that will help the community move forward from this together.
“We’re trying to come up with a symbolic way of washing it away for anybody who wants to come by and share in that with us,” he said.
There is no indication the church vandalism is related to any other crime in Brown County such as the destruction of the Stone Head statue more than a week ago, this morning’s press release said.
According to the sheriff’s log, there were no other incidents of vandalism anywhere else in the county over the weekend.
In Bloomington late last week, the B-Line Trail was tagged with swastikas and “KKK” graffiti. At the Democratic Party headquarters, slogans were written on windows and doors including “Safe Spaces Aren’t Real.”
Groups around the country have been gathering for rallies and protests since the election.
In Indianapolis, a Trump Resistance Rally took place at the Statehouse, focused on ending bigotry.
In Bloomington, a rally was staged to “protect vulnerable groups.”
In Columbus, community members gathered downtown to “Stand on the Side of Love.”
On Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reported that President-elect Donald Trump was considering a former George W. Bush administration member, Richard Grenell, as United States ambassador to the United Nations. He would be the first openly gay person to fill a Cabinet-level foreign policy post, the AP reported.