BEAN BLOSSOM — A Wednesday night service at St. David’s Episcopal Church usually attracts about six parishioners.
On Nov. 16, 85 people filed in, past the hate spray-painted on the siding outside and 300 cards of support hanging on the walls, pillars and chairs inside.
“If you are here from another church or organization, can you stand up?” the Rev. Kelsey Hutto asked. More than half the room did.
“If you are here just to be supportive, stand up,” she asked. Almost the entire sanctuary was on their feet.
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“This issue of love and hate is bigger than the church, is bigger than the denominational lines; it’s bigger than political lines,” Hutto said.
“This is just pure human decency, people.
“Just the mere fact that you are here means the world to us.”
On Sunday, Nov. 13, the St. David’s congregation arrived to find a swastika, an anti-gay slur and “Heil Trump” spray-painted on the building.
“There is no doubt in my mind, whether this was a kid who was acting out or whether this was an adult who understood what was happening, that this was a hate crime,” Hutto said.
“This community was a victim, not just St. David’s.”
In less than a week, more than 300 messages of support arrived from all over the country and the world, some from as far as Australia. They came in emails, Facebook posts and voicemails, offering prayers, manpower and solidarity.
“I think it is very important to note that we are not alone,” Hutto said. “We have a lot of support out there.”
The story about the vandalism went national. Hutto even gave an interview on CNN.
During the service, she reflected on a question from a news reporter: “What did I find more offensive, the spray paint on the wall or the words that were written with spray paint?” she said, as some in the sanctuary wiped tears from their eyes.
“My answer is neither. What offended me most is the fact that this action hurt my congregation; it hurt my community. As a pastor, I am called to encourage and love these people. I knew from the moment that I stepped on the property that this is going to hurt. That is what offended me the most.”
Church members discussed covering up the graffiti, but decided to leave it up until Nov. 30. Hutto said that’s because the church is responding with love instead of hate.
“We are going to leave it up because symbols are what we make them. If we are making these symbols about hate, if we are embarrassed, if we are going to cover them up, then we’re giving in to the perpetrator. We are giving into the hate and giving them the power,” she said.
At Wednesday’s service, task forces were formed to organize the Nov. 30 cleanup and a yet-to-be-scheduled community concert.
“We’re going to do our best to make it a party,” Hutto said about the cleanup. “This is something to celebrate all of the support we have gotten.”
The pastor said whoever spray painted the church would be welcome to attend. Church member Erin Flesler invited the person or people responsible to join the parish family.
“I’m so sorry that you’re so full of fear, and that sometime in your life you didn’t get the love that you wanted, but we could provide that for you,” she said at the service.
The service was also a time for reflection, a time to pray for the parish, the community and the nation.
For 20 minutes, groups gathered to discuss two questions Hutto posed: What were your first feelings when you saw the graffiti, and how do we move forward?
“If they wanted to make us afraid or lose spark, they sure did not,” one woman said.
“The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways,” another said.
“In this community, the Holy Spirit has worked very well.”
Graffiti will be removed from the walls of St. David’s Episcopal Church beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30. The Rev. Kelsey Hutto said all are welcome to help.
The church is at the junction of State Road 135 North and State Road 45 in Bean Blossom.
Hutto asks anyone planning to bring specific supplies to contact the church first.
A community concert is being planned for a later date “in an effort to promote community relationships,” she said.